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.”

 

Link

“Traveling with Autism” article in the Austin American-Statesman

I wrote this article a few years ago about the challenges of air travel with my son who has autism. Those of you with kids on the spectrum know that routine is pretty important. Air travel offers very little guarantees on routine. So, with this in mind, I’m going to re-read my own article as I am heading out next week with just my son, leaving my husband and daughter at home. Hoping for travel mercies! And good snow. We’re going back to the National Ability Center in Park City, Utah. More to come next week.

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.

Everyone’s Surfing

Surfing and autism have a unique history. There are some great special needs surfing programs around the country, mostly started by surfing parents who had children with autism and saw how much they loved the water.

My own son is no different. Of all of his phobias, the ocean is not one of them. He could live in the water. He will swim far far from shore, and I have to struggle to keep up. So, after reading stories of California surfing camps and not wanting to spend that kind of money to get there from Austin, I looked into my closest beach’s program–Port Aransas, Texas (also known as Port A). On a trip last year, I just grabbed a flyer from a tourist kiosk in the Port A grocery store and called them up to see if they could accommodate my son. They were friendly, helpful and really interested in helping my child try to learn to surf even given his huge motor deficits. He scores consistently in the fifth percentile for gross motor planning tasks.

When I asked my son what he thought about trying surfing, he said, “Sure.” So we arranged a private lesson at $80/hour. Pricey, but not expensive given that we drove to Port A and he would carry this memory for life. For the same price, they also included my typically developing niece in the lesson to give my son a chance to feel comfortable and also to help us get “two for one” value on our private lesson.

I tell you, things were a bit dicey in the beginning. My son had a hard time practicing on shore, where they like to start beginners and I thought he would quit before hitting the waves. But, once in the water, he was so happy and the instructor helped him so much that he was able to first “surf” on his belly on a wave all the way to shore and eventually was able to “knee surf” all the way to shore. He never was able to figure out how to stand up but he didn’t really care. He said, “I can knee surf!” and he was really excited about it.

He learned how to “Hang Ten” and we had a great beach memory.

Here’s how to contact the “Texas Surf Camps”. Call (361) 749-6956, or www.texassurfcamps.com. They have weeklong surf camps for typically developing children, but have been known to accommodate autistic individuals in the camps as well. The best way to figure it out is just to call them and speak to someone on staff about your child’s likes/dislikes and strengths/challenges.

If your child likes the water, I think they’ll like surfing. There is no feeling like cheering from the shore as your child smiles and struggles to surf. It was a beautiful day and a great memory. Worth 80 bucks!