Downtown Dallas Doesn’t Disappoint

My son is in love with anime, so when a major anime show was coming to Dallas, we knew we had to go. I was worried that downtown Dallas might be too loud or overwhelming for him. Boy, was I wrong. Downtown Dallas is pretty calm, particularly during the weekends when businesses are closed. For some, this might have seemed boring. For us, this was a welcome respite.

We booked a room at the Springhill Marriott (can’t really say I adored it, but it did the job) across the street from the Dallas Aquarium. As we arrived in Dallas on Saturday morning, the lines at the Aquarium were forever (no surprise) by Saturday afternoon. I would not recommend this outing at this peak time for someone with waiting issues, and that describes most people with autism.

My son had no interest in the lines so I took my typically developing daughter and it was still overwhelming and too crowded. So, I cannot give this a Travels With Autism thumbs-up. Perhaps the Aquarium has special days for people with autism, but a regular Saturday is just too crowded.

Our hotel staff (very helpful with recommendations) suggested we visit a gorgeous new science museum–the Perot Museum of Nature and Science— within walking distance of downtown or a short cab ride away.

Even though the Science Museum is very popular, the exhibit halls are spacious and you can find areas that are not too crowded if you want to just hang out in a less popular gallery and chill. That’s what my son and I did.  There were lots of exhibits that would appeal to people on the autism spectrum–birds, sports, science, outer space and all very interesting and well displayed. A big thumbs-up for the Perot Science Museum!

My son and I spent most of our time in the bird area, pretending to fly (very cool) and learning about bird sounds. Other galleries were more crowded but we just steered clear of those. I didn’t even need to get out his headphones for this museum. I really cannot say enough nice things about the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. Dallas is lucky to have it!

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Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Image from DallasArtsDistrict.org

Also, our hotel staff recommended visiting a really interesting park in Dallas, the Klyde Warren Park, that was built on top of I-35 and opened a few years ago. This unique park features loads of interesting areas to explore for kids and adults. There are food trucks here on the weekends, a restaurant, a water feature for kids, a playground, and there is cultural programming and free performances. It’s another absolute gem in downtown Dallas. It was a welcome surprise for our trip.

For dining, downtown is a little challenging in the area that we were staying in. Luckily we had brought most of our own food as our son is on the gluten-free, dairy-free diet and this constraint makes grabbing food on the go challenging. From our hotel, we were within walking distance of a TGI Friday’s restaurant and there were a few other dining options in the West End area. The Perot Museum also had a really nice cafe and we ate one of our meals there.

I would highly recommend a weekend in Dallas, which honestly, surprises me to write, because you think of downtown areas as too overwhelming for people on the spectrum, but Dallas’ downtown has so many museums, that you can find a weekend’s worth of things to do. I would recommend that you take your own food for dietary needs, and stick to the museums and the parks instead of the Aquarium for a successful sensory trip.

If someone has a recommendation for a good, updated, downtown hotel/extended stay hotel, please write to us in the comments. I looked up hotels and didn’t find one with a pool and a kitchen in the downtown area. So, I’m still looking for just the right “Travels with Autism” downtown Dallas hotel. Happy Travels!

 

Museums meet the needs of more diverse disabilities

I’m excited by the recent additions of more and more programs offered by cultural institutions to provide services to differing types of disabilities. For years, ADA has meant wheelchair accessibility, and that’s very important, but also important is meeting the needs of those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, those with visual impairments and other types of disabilities beyond providing a ramp into a building. Speaking from the perspective of a parent with a child with autism, I can tell you that my son benefits ENORMOUSLY from cultural institutions like libraries, museums, and concerts when he can manage the sensory issues. I’m happy to share that our local museum the Thinkery here in Austin has provided several days a year specifically geared to the needs of children with autism and other sensory issues. It’s a great way to enjoy things that typical families take for granted. We all want our kids to enjoy being kids. These community initiatives allow us as parents to help provide that. If you know of a good cultural program that benefits people with an intellectual or developmental disability in your city that you’d like to share, please feel free to add a comment and let us know about it.

San Antonio Way

As San Antonio is within an hour or so of our house, it is one of our favorite (and easiest) vacation destination. Each summer, if my son has “earned” it, through reaching his behavior goals (don’t tell him, but we arrange it to where he is always able to earn it!) we travel to a close-by hotel for a night away.

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La Cantera Resort, San Antonio, photo from Destinations Resorts

This summer, as with last summer, the travel fates smiled upon us and I was able to find a Groupon Coupon for a $149/night room mid-week at this gorgeous resort–La Cantera Resort, San Antonio. 

We swam, ate by the pool, took a beautiful nature hike on the hotel’s trails that wind around the golf course (NOTE: These trails are not ADA accessible.), and enjoyed a spa treatment. Yes, you read that correctly. My son requested a spa treatment “for a man” he said. So, we used the WoodHouse Day Spa services that are right on site. They were able to accommodate a child with special needs as long as I was present in the treatment room. My son chose a calming 30-minute hot oil scalp massage ($45). He was in heaven. It seems extravagant, but truly, it calmed him so much that it was worth it. Those of you with autistic kids know that calming their minds and bodies is a big part of the experience of parenting our special children.

We were able to secure a late check-out the next morning and then sadly said goodbye to our 24 hours of bliss at La Cantera. Hasta next summer La Cantera! 

Sleep Away Camp is a Dream Come True

I never dreamed my son could manage sleep away camp. His autism used to impact him so severely that he wouldn’t leave our house for days at a time if there was cloud cover. He hated gray skies. And now, he was a part of a camp experience (as an inclusion camper with a 1:1 counselor) where every other week, they went out of town. And this camp was not special needs camp with specially trained counselors and an itinerary with sensitivity to autism. This was for typical children and wouldn’t have the kind of daily structure that his brain craves for a successful experience. But one day recently he said, “I want to go on the camp overnights.” Dumbstruck I asked, “How will you handle this?” And in a very nonchalant way he said, “I’ll be fine.”

I’ll Be Fine.

Oh my.

For years we’ve managed his every new experience, through writing social stories (copyright Linda Gray), prepping him, preparing his caregivers, having lots of options if Plan A doesn’t work out, you name it.

And now, in early teenage years, he’s telling us, he’s fine.

And he was. We held our breathe, packed him up and let him go. For days he had to wander around San Antonio doing what the group was doing, managing the sounds, the sites and the smells of a large group of middle school kids. None of whom had autism. My son was the camp’s first overnight camper with a disability. He is breaking barriers, and more importantly, changing hearts and minds about what people with autism are interested in doing. Autism for him means not talking to others much, but he likes to be with others. That’s his brand of friendship–presence.

The week wasn’t completely glitch-free. On the last night, the counselors, not trained in autism tantrums, accidentally made the group late for a concert that my son was excited to go to. When they were late, he threw a pretty big fit on the bus, but recovered once they arrived at the concert venue. I think the counselors learned, “don’t be late!” as a primary autism imperative when traveling.

When he triumphantly returned home, I asked, “How did you do that????!!!”

And he said, “I just stayed flexible and survived the heat.”

 

Trail of Lights–Better late than never

trail of lights

Well, I’m running about a month behind on this post, but didn’t want to let the year go by without saying that The Austin Trail of Lights has special needs accommodations and we found the event to be a really great experience for our son with autism and our typically developing toddler.

The event was a success because they had early entry (around 6:15 p.m.) for anyone saying they had a special need, or at least this is what the organization told me when I wrote them an email asking about early entry, or special entry. However, I didn’t take any chances, and went ahead and bought the “fast pass” parking called the ZiP pass and the ZiP pass entrance, which allows you to enter 45 minutes before the big crowds of people and at the same time as the special needs visitors. I highly recommend this ZiP pass if you can afford it. I was told in an email from Trail of Lights that anyone with a disability could enter at 6:15, but when we got there, none of the volunteers were familiar with this, so I’m glad that I bought the early entrance package for $60. (I think that’s how much it was, if it was a little more, it wasn’t much more.)

My son cannot handle large crowds, so I went expecting to just leave right away, but the early entry allowed us to enjoy this experience together and I was so thankful for it. If you have a child with special needs, you know that it’s sometimes hard to find activities that you can do as a family and I was so grateful for the magical experience we had together at the 49th annual Austin Trail of Lights in Zilker Park. We will make this an annual visit as long as their are special accommodations. Without it, I think it would prove too challenging to wait in long lines and be so crowded while looking at the colorful displays.

So, now you’ve got 10 months to plan your visit for the 50th anniversary Trail of Lights coming in December 2014.

New Thinkery Museum is amazing

I took my son to visit the new Thinkery Museum, formally Austin’s Children Museum, at a special Members event and boy was it a blast. There is 40,000 square feet of things to do, climb, create, draw and learn. What an improvement over the previous downtown Children’s Museum. The official opening is December 7, 2013. It’s just a great space for roaming around.

Currently, it does not have any special program for autistic individuals but I did speak with museum staff while I was there and they said that “sensory” days for special needs kids were in the works. I will keep you posted, dear readers. I also recommended that they speak with Dr. Wendy Ross, developmental pediatrician out of Philadelphia, PA, and one of the country’s leading experts on museum and airline accommodations for children and adults with autism. They are looking into accommodating kids like our kids in the future. We’ll see. But the space is just great, so I’m hoping that they are indeed able to find ways to incorporate autistic kids into the museum experience and really let their minds find new ways to experience the world.

Even with a crowd of wall-to-wall kids, here’s my son’s review of the Thinkery:

“It was really fun and really creative and I just played in it and it was so much good.”

If you want more information on the Thinkery, check out their website.

ACL Festival and autism–Do they mix?

I know that ACL is technically ADA compliant, but does that mean that people with disabilities can enjoy themselves? I went to the Austin City Limits concert last weekend and it was amazing. In addition to seeing Fun. and Vampire Weekend, my secret mission was to determine if my son with autism could attend. He loves music and he loves spectacle, but I wondered if he could manage the crowds.

My initial diagnosis–no. I don’t see how he could handle the crowds. I hadn’t been in 10 years, and the throngs had grown from 30,000 to 75,000. Shockingly, most everyone there was pretty chill, so it wasn’t the type of people that I thought he could not manage, it was just sheer numbers. I thought “This is a really mellow 75,000 people, not crazy, just jam packed.” But, still 75,000 people.

I’m bummed he cannot manage it because I think he’d LOVE it. He would just be jamming out and loving life.

What are other people’s experiences with the ACL Festival and autism? With ACL and disabilities? Do they mix?