New Nonprofit for Special Needs Travel

One of the special needs travel discoveries I made during 2017 was the existence of a travel company and nonprofit in Central Texas focused on serving families that care for a special needs child.

I learned about this incredible resource at an Autism Treatment Forum meeting where the group heard from speaker, Karen S. Duncan, MS, about her nonprofit organization, AWADAE (Adventures with Autism, Down Syndrome and Epilepsy). Ms. Duncan is a certified travel counselor who created AWADAE to help special needs families have the chance to travel together as a family. She arranges trips that pair therapists with families along with any other wraparound resources that a family might need to make their trips run smoothly. Currently, Ms. Duncan is focused on cruises and tours for these adventures.

Recently, I got a chance to sit down with Ms. Duncan for an interview, and I will be sharing more about this important nonprofit in future blogs.

 

TSA Cares program helps disabled travelers

Of the many horror stories that I see on social media about traveling with a disability, the ones that usually scare me the most relate to getting kicked off of an airplane or having a terrible time at security. So, to assist passengers with disabilities or special healthcare concerns, the TSA has created a program called TSA Cares that allows you to call in 48 hours prior to check-in and request assistance getting through security.

I called TSA Cares yesterday (1-855-787-2227) at their Kentucky-based offices and spoke with an incredibly helpful young man about how I could get through the TSA security lines with my son with the least amount of worry. He told me that at any time, you can request “going to the front of the line” with a person with a disability. Make this request to the TSA supervisor at the airport you are using. Ask if there is a Persons With Disability (PWD) line that you can utilize. At some airports, they will direct you to the TSA fast pass lane. TSA did not require this, but I also always travel with my son’s doctor’s diagnosis letter with me along with passports and IDs. Since autism is an invisible disability, I like to have all of my paperwork handy so that there is no confusion about the need for accommodations.

And if you are inclined to complain that people with autism should have to wait in line like everyone else, that’s like holding a grudge that those with physical disabilities get the best parking spaces. P–u–leez. Give me a break.

It’s really really hard to travel with autism and every effort should be made to be inclusive and helpful to those traveling with challenges. We all want to experience life, and travel is a part of life.

My next phone call is to the Vancouver Airport to see what kinds of accommodations are available for autism as we make our way for the first time through customs and immigration. Wish us luck.

And Travel Well.

 

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.

 

 

All I want for Christmas is a passport

Traveling with our son is pretty complicated. We have to write social stories, pack all of his food for his autism diet, and troubleshoot as much as we can with the condo we’re renting, to make sure that there will be no obvious problems for our son’s sensory issues.

We have gotten very used to doing lots of homework, preparation and mental jujitsu to manage our son’s anxiety when we leave our house. Each and every time is a challenge.

But, oh, so worth it.

Whenever our son has a new experience, he adds it to his creative world. And we are enriched from it. He speaks rarely, but when he does, it revolves around where we’ve been and where he wants to go.

When he was asked what he wanted for Christmas he answered with serious focus, “I want a passport.” Why? “So, I can go to faraway places.”

Oh, my wish is for the world to get flexible enough to handle our son’s autism and allow him to experience all that he wants in this world.

Santa did grant our son’s wish. Santa brought Jackson a passport application in his stocking. Now, we just have to figure out how to get him on an international flight.