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!

 

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Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

On Black Friday, while millions were flocking to the malls and superstores for deals, my family relaxed at a beautiful Austin location–The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

famgarden_nowopenImage from Wildflower.org website

The new “Luci and Ian Family Garden” is just wonderful. In fact, my son says it’s like “A Village of Wonder!” He could have stayed for a few hours which is really saying a lot because we normally just spend around 30 minutes at most places due to the usual cuprits–crowds, noise, or boredom. While we were there, he was wandering around and exploring and really grooving on the beauty of this new addition to the Wildflower Center. It’s “autism friendly” because there is just so much space to roam and no prescribed way that visitors are expected to interact with the park. This kind of natural setting + open areas = our most successful outings.

Also, as a bonus for the entire family, the Lady Bird Center boasts a restaurant. It’s small and quiet (perfect for keeping sensory overload at bay) and has several gluten-free options. Nothing specifically gluten-free, but there are options, like baked potatoes, salads and chicken dishes. From this limited menu, we were able to cobble together a very healthy meal for our son who is on the gluten-free, dairy-free diet that many kids on the spectrum live on.

On the Autism Friendly scale: Our family gives this family field trip location a BIG thumbs up for beauty, calm, and best of all, wonder.

Austin’s Gluten-free, Dairy-free Dining Options

Many kids on the autism spectrum are on special diets. I think one reason parents put up with the insanity of the gluten-free, dairy-free diet that autism doctors recommend is because there is so little else we can really do. Without biomarkers, we don’t even know what and where autism is in the body. So, diet is one thing we can control. I have seen some improvement for my son’s symptoms on the diet and each time I try to reintroduce dairy, my son’s agitation does seem to increase, so we leave it out.

But, when you’re traveling, having access to a kitchen and a specialty grocery store is rough. Luckily, Austin has plenty of options. Here are my son’s favorite places to eat:

1) Tarka–This Indian restaurant is a cheap, good place to get Indian food. Many dishes are made without cream or wheat. The staff is very helpful and understanding of differences.

2) Zen–When my son first started on the gluten-free, dairy-free (GF/CF) diet, I didn’t know where to go and we ate at this Japanese “food fast” restaurant almost daily. They know my son at the North Austin location we frequent and are willing to turn off their sound system when we’re there. I don’t know why restaurants even play music, it’s really nice when it’s quiet. I think my son improves the ambiance of most places by having them turn their music off.

3) Central Market salad bar–These grocery stores also have restaurants inside. We go to the salad bar for its selection and it amazes people at nearby tables to see a pre-teen boy eating seaweed and spinach salad. He really likes tofu and other foods that I don’t keep in the house, so it’s a win-win.

4) Chipotle–A chain of mostly organic meats and fresh ingredient Mexican food. My son and I were watching Oprah and came across a segment on how their food was locally sourced and the meats organic, and that was important to him. He’s funny. I never know what is going to impress him, but a restaurant with organic meat seemed to catch his attention.

5) Chuy’s–An Austin institution with locations across Texas now. This is harder for GF/CF options. Ask to talk to the manager to get a list of GF/CF items. There are few things on here that are purely gluten-free, dairy-free, but my son loves the carnival-like atmosphere and I love the margaritas. He says, “When you have a margarita, you will be in paradise.” He’s pretty dramatic, but he’s right.

If you have good restaurant options that are GF/CF in Austin, write a comment. We’d like to add to our list of options.