Q&A with Jennifer Byde Myers of ‘Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism’
“I don’t think traveling with my family will ever get old. As my children mature and learn new things, it’s great to watch them enjoy road trips differently.”
Who you are:
My name is Jennifer Byde Myers. I am a writer, editor, and one of the founders of Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism. I live on the San Francisco Peninsula with my husband Shawn and our two children.
Introduce your kid/s:
We have Jack, who is 11 1/2, and Katie, who will be 6 in June.
They both love to travel and adventure and have virtually no fear of new places, new foods, or new events.
Jack is autistic and has cerebral palsy ataxia, so while he does walk, we usually take his wheelchair to make sure he is comfortable for long rambles since he tires out more quickly.
Katie is a very active kid who loves to take walks, hike, and swim.
Jack and Kate are very fun, curious children, and unless there is whining, they are great to be around.
Describe your philosophy to educating them:
My husband and I both come from families that cherished the outdoors and with parents who have a love of travel.
We live in such an amazing country with all sorts of natural wonders and beautiful roads, and I am grateful that our parents instilled in us a reverence for nature and a sense of adventure.
As we raise our children, we hope to show them as many National and state parks, monuments, and memorials before they grow up and leave home.
We hope that they will have that same appreciation for our country’s natural resources, and some of the history of the United States. And of course, there are so many things to learn on any road trip, from evaluating what we need while we are packing, to working on spatial awareness as we load the car, and even how to tie the best knots to keep things secure.
We talk a lot about how to interact with other people, and what is considerate or inconsiderate, which is always easy to demonstrate on the roads. We try to eat at small, neighborhood restaurants, and we love it when we end up in a town during a celebration that is all theirs, like a Founder’s day, or a food festival. I’ve always thought that if you never leave home, you can’t fully appreciate where you’ve come from.
Describe your travel or outing-how do you prep your kid, what’s your alternate plan, what you pack/take with you:
Sometimes people think our family is spontaneous, and perhaps we are, but if you set things up well enough, with “go bags” or the collective idea of what’s needed for a trip, it is very easy just to throw a few things in the back and hit the road.
We always take a spare set of clothes for each kid, sunblock, bottled water and a jacket and hat for each member of the family. We fill up one grocery bag with dry snacks from the pantry, where we always have granola bars, dried fruits and nuts, beef jerky, and pretzels, and then we fill a small cooler with cold drinks. We also have a swim bag if we are headed towards the water.
When the kids were younger, we had the diaper, wipes, and gloves bag (the gloves make changing diapers in the middle of nowhere a lot easier, and provide an excellent way to package up anything smelly when there is no trash can around.) We still carry wipes and gloves because we have used them in so many other instances.
Things rarely go exactly as planed, so we try to be flexible. We’ve discovered that as long as we do not let anyone get hungry, we can do almost anything as a family. This might mean that we stop for dinner at an inconvenient location, or have to spend a little more if we get stuck in a touristy place, but if we just get a little bit of food in, at the right time, we get more mileage. My son has now had ice cream in 14 states and Washington, D.C. and it has filled in for lunch more than once (though it is usually paired with a healthier early dinner).
Why you still enjoy it:
I don’t think traveling with my family will ever get old. As my children mature and learn new things, it’s great to watch them enjoy road trips differently.
Katie is reading signs on the road now, and working on her navigation skills using a real map (before she moves to GPS mapping.)
Jack, who has always been a “good eater,” is enjoying trying new foods, and is more comfortable in restaurants that we wouldn’t have tried when he was younger. And I will always adore traveling with my husband. When we are on the road, all of the trappings of daily life are left behind, and we can talk and laugh and be reminded of the people we are when he’s not working late night at the office, and I’m not struggling over my keyboard. I think it’s one of the best parts of our marriage. We rarely have a disagreement on the road, and I find that the division of labor, decision-making, and caretaking is always very balanced when we travel.
When we are traveling as a family we are sharing a smaller space, collaborating on our next move, and eating all of our meals together; it makes us more connected. The memories we make on these little journeys are what we carry around with us, and keep us connected even when we aren’t together.