Yumi Yasuyama lives in Aichi-Ken, Kariya City, Japan and is a mother to two sons, one of which (Aki) has autism and ADHD.She and her husband Junichi love to travel with their kids and share their family adventures on their Facebook page called-Adventures in Autism. In this interview, Yumi sheds light on what motivates them to travel as well as describing the different challenges associated with planning their trips.
How do you choose a destination?
Most of the time we chose our travel destination by ‘pirate’ aka our kids’ request.My autistic son loves to look at travel photos from local tours companies like Rakuten Travels, on the internet, and travel magazines.
When he stumbles upon a word he can’t yet read in Japanese, he asks his brother or us to read and tell him where the picture was taken.When we first started traveling we used to take them to places they were not interested in; that usually ended up with meltdowns and returning home faster than planned, so now we try and accommodate them as best we can.
The best part of letting them pick the trips is when something goes wrong they don’t complain since they know it was their choice.This way works better for us-we are all calmer and enjoy our trip more.
What do you look for regarding education and fun when planning a trip?
Our sons love experience-based tours, like learning clay pottery, wood crafts, glass art, and making lanterns.
They enjoy love attending different festivals and eating different gourmet foods from different areas.They also like exploring different architectures so visiting different World Heritage sites is high on our priority list.They love trying out different sports, from marine to mountain activities.But sometimes they just simply enjoy exploring nature; so we take our cues from them.
How long on average is a vacation?
Everything depends on their school and therapy schedules, and the location where we are headed to. Sometimes it’s just a day trip or a weekend, other times it can be three nights or even a month. I think the longest we did so far is one month.
What particular items do you pack for them and do you have any packing tips to share?
We have the family rules that they have to pack their things.
We start by making a memo list—what they need—, and they can check everything that is in the bag already.
We’ve made it clear to both of them: there is no helping or carrying someone else’s bag.They need to be responsible for their belongings.If they forget their stuff it’s their fault; if they lose it during our trip, it’s also their fault—no blaming us! And somehow since the boys are close in age(14 months apart.) I was lucky enough and did not have a hard time training them.
In the past, my autistic son ‘shadowed’ his brother but nowadays it’s the other way around; he wants to lead our tours. He will show me some photo from his smartphone where he wants to stop over.
One item we always bring is Aki’s [my autistic son’s] doll.He calls his doll Kiki. He can’t sleep without his doll. For those Just in case moments, we pack art bags with markers and sketchbooks.The markers are easily erasable because Aki sometimes ends up writing on the bed sheets and furniture of the hotel or the train or plane tables.
What particular accommodations if any do you request on flights?
With flights, I usually tell the airlines ahead of time that I am traveling with a person with disabilities- autism.I show them his disability pocket note ID (we get one in Japan) so we can get discounts for him and me as his caregiver.
I prefer to ask for help in advance, in case I need that. I do explain to them that autistic children have little patience for waiting, during check-in, passing the custom/ immigration, or boarding process.I ask ahead of time for all the papers I might need during the trip, so, at the airport, it’s always smooth.
The crew usually give my autistic pirate a sticker that identifies him as eligible for their guest support assistance.They give us special treatment so we won’t have to wait too long.
Since we usually travel in economy class, we book ahead of time and avoid flying during the busy seasons.We always like to request the window seats. The flight crew is always supportive, so there is nothing wrong with asking for help. My advice for families is: make sure you ask and get all the help that you can get to make your flight go smoothly.
What do you do if your son becomes hyper during the flight or hotels?.
During the flight I let them draw, play puzzle, watch movies or play games.
If they get hyper, I take them to the washroom and talk to them in a whispering voice to calm them down.
In hotels, I put them in water therapy (pools, spa, massage or just hot water tub or bubble bath).
Do you choose one room or adjoining rooms?
My two pirates are thirteen and fourteen years old, so I get the connecting rooms.
What amenities do you look for when choosing a hotel for your family?
First and foremost we look for affordable pricing, but we also look for clean, convenient, and with WiFi. Before I book a hotel, I do call them first and explain that I am traveling with a child with autism.
If on the phone they already sound unresponsive to me, I will find another hotel that is willing to give us some a more pleasant service. So far we have not encountered bad experiences from any hotel, domestic or international.
Has there been a hotel experience (a positive one) you would like to mention?
The best stay was at Grand Pacific Le Daiba in Tokyo, as they gave us an affordable price.The minute we arrived at the parking lot, someone was already waiting to help us not just with our bags but also with my autistic pirate.They tried to be friendly with both of my kids.
Also, they put us up in a breathtaking room with a view and every time the hotel staff saw us they greeted us and kept offering help.They talked more to my pirates than I did!They asked them what their plans were and gave them tips on how to manage the events on their schedule.
Have you taken cruises, and if so, did you enjoy it?
We’ve been on multiple cruises: from dinner show tours to Kyushu Island to international destinations like California, Mexico, and Hong Kong.And yes, we all love cruising.We enjoy the buffet food, the dance parties at night and all the water activities offered.
Do you plan your outing in advance or not?
It depends on the location. If we travel internationally, we’ll plan everything well ahead of time.When we travel domestically: sometimes we just go, and sometimes we plan ahead like if there is a festival going on and we know that the hotels would be crowded.
What type of adventures do you like?
We love anything to do with nature and sports. My pirates are always interested in trying everything.
So far we’ve tried: scuba diving, mountain hiking, paragliding, parasailing, waterfalls, and kayaking.
What would you like to try next?
This summer we are hoping that the pirates will be able to try acrobatic skydiving.
Where have you been so far?
Beside Japan where we live, we’ve been to Hong Kong, the Philippines, Taiwan, the United States, Mexico, Canada, and Denmark.
Where would you like to go if you had unlimited money and funds?.
We want to visit all the places included in the World Heritage Map!
Also, we would like to climb the tallest mountain in the world. And my little pirates also want to explore space in a rocket ship.
* All photos credit: Yasuyama family