Holiday Travel–Do’s and Don’ts

When you’re traveling with autism, usually the holidays are not your best choice of travel dates. Today’s blog entry will be a good primer in what NOT to do when traveling with someone who has autism. As we left with little notice, we did not do our normal protocol of traveling–like researching food options at our destination and writing a social story for unexpected flight delays. We did pay attention to our son’s internal timetable though, and that’s the number one way to make trips a success.

For flights, I have always tried to book our air travel portion over weekdays and far from national holidays like Christmas. But, this past holiday season, it couldn’t be helped. Our son really wanted to visit his grandmother and requested this at the last moment. As our son rarely makes requests, we wanted to honor this.

We ended up booking the flight with only a week of notice, we got terribly expensive tickets, and packed at the last minute, not really getting him prepped or his food prepped properly for a trip out of state to a place where we were not familiar with the restaurant options.

The flights going to grandma’s were okay, but his main concern the entire trip was trying to get wifi. A new obsession for us to worry about is his need to get wifi access for his devices. In the past, we didn’t need to worry about this issue. So, this was a new stressor. I cannot say that we had a great plan, other than using our hotspot from our own phones to boost our son’s device. If you have a brilliant idea on this, please leave a comment!

For food, again we needed to have planned ahead better. Looking for gluten-free food when you’re traveling in the U.S. Deep South is not an easy feat. We found a Japanese/Thai fusion place that was not what I would call amazing food, but was edible and gluten-free, our only real concern. Again, we should have planned ahead better knowing the regional options for food.

However all is saved by staying in a hotel with a pool. Our son loves hanging out in hotels, so this is always a good thing on any vacation. For food at the hotel, he was able to find some gluten-free options but not any bread options as few hotels at their free breakfast bars have gluten-free bread. Again, since we traveled at the last minute, we did not do a good job of planning ahead. We should have packed a loaf of our own bread in our carry on.

He also only wanted to see his grandma for the day. He wasn’t there for a long trip. I’m not sure about other children with autism, but for our son, he is checking off a box mentally. Did he see you? If he saw you, then he has “visited” you. There is no sitting around for days chatting with him.

For our son to feel that the trip was successful, he wants to see you, spend a little bit of time answering your questions and then is ready for a restaurant and a museum or zoo! Something fun and visually appealing for him. Again, nothing that involves having to talk, but just looking at things together. That is a huge happiness for him.

And I think this is the most important point of traveling with someone with autism. What makes the trip a success TO THEM? Not to you, not to someone else, not to your relatives who will have expectations, but to the person with autism. Try to see the trip through their eyes. This will save you a lot of frustration.

Our son just needs to be doing something with someone, not sitting and talking for him to stay happy. He doesn’t have to be interacting like in a conversation. To him the shared experience IS the conversation.

When he’s ready to go, he’s ready to go. So, it’s back to the hotel. And then the next morning, he doesn’t want to see anyone, he’s just focused on getting on the airplane and heading home. He doesn’t maximize time with someone he loves, he just enjoys the time that makes sense to him to spend.

 

 

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Magical thinking in Texas special education

I never post political information, but as my son is a child in the Texas schools, and this blog is about life with autism, these series of articles from the Houston Chronicle deserve wider publicity. According to amazing reporting by an investigative team at the Chronicle, we learn that the state legislature cut the Texas Education Agency’s budget by $1.3 billion in 2004. The agency’s possibly illegal, and definitely immoral response? Set an arbitrary target of 8.5 percent for special education (lower than any other state), cap it there, and call everything else, “over identifying.” Justify to the federal government, that Texas education “cures” disabilities through “unique teaching methodologies” (ie. magic!) and force tens of thousands of children to receive no services, leaving thousands of parents to drop out of the workforce and home school. This “target” must be repealed and the state is going to need to raise taxes to plug this gap they created. I know, when hell freezes will taxes be raised in Texas for education, but this is an outrage. We are the state that cuts taxes on the backs of DISABLED CHILDREN. Okay, rant is over, now back to a blog about traveling with a disability.

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!

 

Independence is our goal!

Last spring break, when my son and I were en route to Salt Lake City on our way to the National Ability Center ski program in Park City, UT, we sat in front of a representative from Nike Shoe. I talked to him about how amazing my son was and yet was still dependent on parents or an aide to tie his shoes for him. And low and behold, Nike was already working on this, a shoe called the FLYEASE. Another really important piece of the independence puzzle for people with disabilities–shoes that work for people with motor challenges! Click here to read about it. The shoe was inspired by a teenager with cerebral palsy that wrote a letter to Nike asking for their help in creating a shoe that he could put on himself once he went to college. It’s a great story.

My son has since learned to tie his own tennis shoes, which as a teenager, is a great great victory for all of us. It means he is less dependent on an aide or a caregiver for getting dressed. He still wears all elastic clothes because zipping and snapping are difficult with his low motor planning, but he can now get his shoes on himself. Last year, he bought his very first pair of lace shoes.

Anyone with a disability can probably relate to my son’s sense of accomplishment when a new task that has been very hard to accomplish (years of occupational therapy spent trying to master this skill) is finally conquered. The first time he was able to tie something was on a hoodie he was wearing. We were in a restaurant and he screamed, “Mom, I am cured of my untying!” We are so proud of him!

 

Love this blog on wheelchair travel

Check out this really well written blog about traveling in a wheelchair. What a great guide. And the layout of the site is just beautiful. Puts my little diary-like blog to shame. But, it gives me something to go for in the future. It also encourages me to get more opinions from my son as he grows up. He was a small boy when I started the blog and not one to have many things to verbally communicate. He’s made more and more strides in the last 5 years that I want to have a he said/she said blog post in the future. I do get his opinion but I’d like his voice to come through more clearly in future blog posts.

Happy Travels!

ACL Rocks!

Well, we finally did it. We managed to make it to ACL (Austin City Limits Music Festival) and enjoy it without a hitch. My son and my husband enjoyed the Monsters and Men show on Sunday afternoon at the last day of the ACL Festival. Also, if you have a disability, there is an ADA station that you can go to near the entrance to the festival where they have ADA porta potties that are locked and only for people with a disability. They also provide you with an ADA wristband, and if there is room, you can watch some of the bands from an ADA access stage.

The one hiccup is exiting the festival. Once my son is done, he’s done. So, we needed an exit that didn’t require fighting our way back through the huge crowds. To hopefully figure out a solution, I wrote a letter to the ACL festival after we went and asked about next year’s exit plan for people that have autism and need to leave from another exit without fighting through 70,000 people to get back to the one exit gate. The promoters said they would look into this issue for the 2016 concert. So, we’ll see.

I never thought ACL would work, but my son asked to go, he said, “Pretty please, por favor.” So, how could I refuse such a polite request?

My philosophy on outings is…I just try different events with my son and sometimes they’re just not fun and we leave early, and sometimes, with the right supports, we can make it 20 minutes or an hour and that makes everyone really happy. When we left he was very proud of himself and said, “I made it through the whole concert.” Meaning, he made it through an entire act before leaving. We will be back next year!