The first time I was asked by a reader how to start traveling, I thought she was pulling my leg. However, I soon discovered that many families with autism had no idea what to do and how to get the process going. Since summer is almost here, I’m sharing some of my tips with you in the hope you actually will be inspired to become more adventurous.
Buy a yearly membership to your local zoo, aquarium or hands on museum and start going at least once a month. Prepare your child by showing him or her social stories, pictures and videos ahead of time. Don’t be discouraged if the first few times’ things don’t go as planned, just continue going until you’ve covered most of the exhibits. Your child is bound to learn something from the exposure even though they might not interpret it the way you envisioned it.
A friend of mine kept taking her son to the local aquarium and got pretty frustrated when all he wanted was to ride the escalator. I advised her to persevere as eventually he will be curious to see something other than his favorite area. A few weeks ago she called me up and told me they reached a compromise. Now they ride the escalator for ten minutes before they head on and check out the other exhibits, and she added proudly, she’s considering taking him to his first museum this summer!
Share your love
As time went by, she started attending free public concerts with him, and later took him to some of the bands’ concerts in local venues. The boy now in his teen years still uses 60’s and 70’s lyrics to express his feelings. This story shows she not only got to share her passion but bonded with her son over something they now both enjoy.
If it takes a village, get the villagers to join you
Sadly, many families feel uncomfortable about taking their special need kids on outings due to people’s stares and insensitive comments. My opinion is that parents should focus on their child’s need to experience his world rather than be affected by society’s disapproval. Hence, if you feel you can’t face the crowds on your own, ask interested family members or friends to accompany you on your venture.
Another possibility is to join outings organized by religious or support groups where you are bound to experience tolerance and wider acceptance of your child.
Mix in some life skills
As I remind my readers, travel does not necessarily mean transatlantic or transpacific fancy explorations. In fact, for some autistics, it might only mean a daily tour of the neighboring town or village. I encourage parents to take a day off and ride the public transportation with their kids in their immediate area. By doing so, they can teach or reiterate some important safety and life skills such as crossing the street, reading transportation maps and signs, paying the fare and checking change among others.
When and if you do get bored, you can easily diversify by taking the bus in an opposite direction or by getting off at different stops to explore the local stores or restaurants.
Indulge your senses
One of the cheapest but most satisfying ways to travel is to venture into your city’s ethnic neighborhoods. Start the day by visiting the different stores with their unique merchandise and go inside for a closer look.
My son’s favorite in the LA area is the city of Artesia, where he can enter the Indian shops and listen to Sitar (Indian guitar) music. When he is hungry, he usually wanders into a restaurant that smells good and orders some of their delicious dishes.The best idea is to order multiple small portion dishes for everyone to sample so all family members can choose their favorite. We used to play a family game in which we would vote and select a winner dish. The prize was taking an extra order home for everyone to enjoy.
Reward with souvenirs
Make sure to bring something back from the trip that will provide a constant reminder of much fun everyone had. Over the years, we rewarded our son’s good behavior by letting him choose souvenirs from the different places he visited. He claims that they help him relive all the great times he’s experienced.
The trick here is to teach your kid with autism to choose an object from each place that is meaningful but not necessarily expensive or factory made. Over the years, we’ve brought home seashells, rocks, feathers, napkins, t-shirts, snow globes, miniature clocks and multiple stuffed animals. Make sure you create a travel corner in your home, preferably in your child’s room and display each and every one of the collected items.
Have you started traveling with your special needs child?
Come share your stories and experiences.