Interviews and personal stories

Q&A with Naomi Andjelic Bartlett of 'Autism Cafe'

Q&A with Naomi Andjelic Bartlett of 'Autism Cafe' pirates photo credit Autism Cafe[/caption]

 Why do you prefer an all-inclusive versus cruising?

There are a couple of reasons why cruising isn’t an option for our family at the moment:
  • Our son is on the severe end of the spectrum. He does not always sleep through the night and has strong vocal stims. Small cabin rooms with thin walls in close quarters is anxiety provoking for me. We enjoy the privacy and space that a large all-inclusive resort offers.  We choose rooms at the back of the resort during off-peak times for a quieter travel experience.
  •  Our past cruise experience showed that mealtimes were a group affair, and we had little control over where and with whom we sat. This will not work with our son’s current dining out skills.
  • We usually make use of in-room dining on our patio for at least one meal a day when we travel, and there is no way we would be comfortable showing our son how a patio door on a cruise ship operates.
  •  While our son has made significant gains regarding his ability to wait, long security lines with a lot of people can still be difficult.  We think the lines to get off and on the ship at various ports might still be troublesome, and we prefer to have the flexibility of hopping in a cab to diffuse and calm our little guy when and if we require it, or walking around the closest town at our leisure.

Q&A with Naomi Andjelic Bartlett of 'Autism Cafe' seaWhat is your favorite all-inclusive?

Our favorite inclusive is Beaches. We love traveling to Jamaica and Turks and Caicos. The people are friendly, the weather is beautiful when we travel, and the resorts themselves have a lot of amenities and features to keep our son, who always needs to be on the go, interested.  We like the fact that there are many restaurants to choose from, and the staff has always been helpful and accommodating.

What particular items do you pack for your kids?

I am not a light packer by any stretch. The items I always pack include specialty food items to support our son’s dietary needs, such as GFCF bread and muffins, CF cheese for grilled cheeses, hot dogs, and peanut butter. I also bring his favorite treats for reinforcement and desserts.  It goes without saying that we bring books, DVDs, favorite toys, etc. as well as our medical kit given our son is very particular about his first aid treatment.  

Have you had any bad flight experiences and what have you learned from that?

I have had two particularly memorable negative flight experiences. The first was on an international red-eye flight. Our son, who had fallen asleep, woke up about half an hour into the flight. He was screaming from being confused, disoriented and above all, tired. This led to a coughing fit. I was completely taken with trying to avoid an outright meltdown that I was in no way concerned with the niceties of him covering his mouth while coughing (which is difficult for him in the first place due to motor difficulties), much to the dismay of the passenger sitting behind us. This passenger happened to be married to a doctor and was concerned about germs. While trying to focus on my son, I was offered unsolicited medical advice about how my son had croup, and how regardless of his “status” (the word the passenger used when I explained that he had autism), should be covering his mouth to prevent the spread of germs on the airplane. My son has a lengthy medical file and has been followed by an ENT for a large portion of his life due to a very narrow throat that naturally forms the “steeple” sound heard in croup.  Consequently, I am very well acquainted with when he is sick and when he does and does not require medical attention.  Whenever he coughs, it sounds croupy, with or without a virus or bacterial infection, and in any event, any germs spread on an airplane were by far more hazardous to our son than to the 30-something passenger complaining. I didn’t bother going into this with the passenger, and I instead chose to ignore him and his wife. My husband found this more challenging and the men resorted to insults and yelling. That flight lasted 5 hours, but thankfully our son slept for about 3 of them in the end. Up to the very last minute as we were walking off the plane, the wife was signaling to me and mouthing that my child needed medical attention. This incident taught me to ignore and focus on my son without trying to read or care how everyone around me is reacting. The second incident occurred when a flight attendant refused to allow my son to wear his noise-cancelling headphones during take off to block out the sound. This was even after I explained that he had autism, which he was non-verbal and would require full assistance in an emergency because he would not be able to interpret any instructions given over the intercom in any event.  I further noted that I had neatly tied any I further noted that I had neatly tied any loose wires from the headphones that might pose a tripping hazard. This resulted in a full-blown meltdown in the middle of the aisle for the entire two-hour flight. I no longer back down on this issue, as you might imagine.

What’s the best tip for eating at restaurants?

I’m not sure if I have a “best” tip. We do so many things when we eat out to make it a pleasurable and successful experience for all. From eating when it is not too busy (11:30 for lunch and 5:00 for dinner) to sitting next to a window or outside where possible and bringing popcorn as an appetizer for our son. We have had more success at full-service restaurants than the fast food places because they are quieter.

Have you ever re-arranged a hotel room to make it more comfortable for you and family?Q&A with Naomi Andjelic Bartlett of 'Autism Cafe' slide

Yes, we sometimes have to move a bed against a wall to make sleeping safer  – especially where the beds are high and falling off in the middle of the night poses a hazard.  Also, we have had chairs removed where our son was moving them and climbing them to open patio doors.

What is your most memorable day trip so far?

If we are talking about day trips while on vacation, without a doubt, this is the dolphin experience in Ocho Rios.  Our son was able to watch a dolphin swim up close, touch and even kiss one! Given his love of the ocean, this was an especially moving experience. So many other dolphin encounter programs have inflexible rules and would not accommodate our son. For an authentic local day trip, we love going to Niagara Falls, ON, Canada.  Our son loves Marineland.  

Where would you go next if money was no object?

Right now I think we have great vacations down south given our son’s abilities. To try someplace more exotic, not only would the money have to be no object, but we would have to have a reliable Star Trek transporter to get us there! Naomi is one of three moms who started Autism Cafe, in the hopes of providing information to other autism parents that they wished they had at their fingertips after diagnosis. They provide local and relevant information and resources to autism families. They have recommended books, tricks of the trade, recommended websites, inspirational poems and sayings, autism facts, and GFCF recipes and resources.    

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Margalit Sturm Francus
A reformed dentist who gave up pulling teeth to show her son the world! Need tips on how to #travel with #autism? Follow me on Instagram & Facebook
Margalit Sturm Francus

Margalit Sturm Francus

A reformed dentist who gave up pulling teeth to show her son the world! Need tips on how to #travel with #autism? Follow me on Instagram & Facebook

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