Dr. Stephen Mark Shore was a typically developing child until around 18 months old, when he was, in his words,“ hit with the autism bomb”.
He became nonverbal, but due to the early intervention by his parents, his speech ability began to return at the age of four.
Refuting the doctors recommendations for institutionalization, his parents continued their intervention to help their son in his schooling and life.
Nowadays, Stephen is an internationally renowned author, an Autism and Asperger Syndrome advocate, and a professor of Special Education at Adelphi University.
I recently had the honor of interviewing Dr. Shore about his travel experiences.
How do you prepare for a trip to a place you have never been before?
I get my trip arrangements made well in advance, and I try, as much as possible, to plan ahead to avoid extra layers of hassle that might arise.Since most of my travels are business related (conferences and speaking engagements), I will ask the organizers for someone to pick me at the airport and drive me to the hotel, so I don’t get lost. Sometimes you need to advocate for yourself and ask for that extra help.
For example, when I went to Paris to speak at a conference, the organizers suggested I take the subway. I knew it would was noisy and a sensory overload. Additionally, since I did not know French, there was a high probability of getting lost.Therefore, I requested my hosts to provide transportation (or, at least, send someone to go with me on the subway if need to be).
Staying within my comfort zone is important to me, so I try to prepare for transitions by researching visual aids, like videos, on the Internet. I found that especially important for countries where the food and atmosphere are so odoriferous and different like Thailand or India.
Most of all, I know my limitations, and if I do need help I will ask for it!
What are your preferred methods of transportation?
I’ve tried many different types of transportation depending on where I’m going. Trains are excellent as they provide more space and legroom. They don’t require any seat belts, and there is no restriction on when you can get up and stretch, which is always a major plus for me.
I do drive occasionally, but never internationally. Unfortunately, renting a car while you travel comes with two additional layers of uncertainty –when you rent the car as well as when you return it.There is also added unpredictability with road conditions where the car can break down, and that you can get still lost even with a GPS system.
I also have to say I do like cruises as an option since, in addition to providing comfortable transportation, there are additional fun activities to help occupy your time while you travel.
What is your packing philosophy – over pack or under pack?
I would call myself an under packer. I like traveling light with only carry-on. I don’t want to deal with lost luggage or have to wait extra time around the conveyor belt especially after long haul flights. I agree to travel with carry-on luggage does have its limitations, so I have my “bag of tricks” for how to bring on stuff I need and somewhat bypass weight limitations.
My two favorite tricks are putting items I need for my flight (like a jacket, book, drink, and snack) in a separate plastic bag and wearing a Scottevest that has multiple pockets to carry electronics and extra stuff. Sometimes I take an extra backpack that I can later pack in my carry-on. I’ve also learned to leave certain things like heavy shoes at home and take lighter substitutes like sandals most of the time.
What is the one electronic device you refuse to travel without?
I travel with multiple electronics, all of which I use. Nowadays I use an iPhone since it can multitask, and a laptop for my work.
The one place on a plane you won’t sit in?
I avoid the very back next to the toilets, where it smells and passengers either leans on your seat or bump into you while waiting their turn.
What is your favorite pastime on the plane?
I don’t have a favorite pastime per se. I do the usual mix of reading working and watching movies.
Which hotel amenities do you look for when making your lodging arrangement?
There are distinct features I always look for. A non-smoking room is important, as, outside the U.S., many properties still permit rooms smoking. Abroad, that sometimes means they just aired the room after the previous occupant smoked in there. Noise can also be an issue – anything from elevators, a wall unit A/C or even a refrigerator can bother may be people with autism, so noise proof walls are a plus.As a frequent traveler, I also appreciate properties that offer chemical free rooms, decent water pressure, and soft bedding.
If money was no object, what would be your top criteria for selecting a hotel at a destination?
It would depend on if I were looking for a boutique or chain hotel. I would get one close to the attractions or landmarks. Another feature I look for is for hotels to be close to outside food venues, so you don’t depend on pricey hotel restaurants or cabs to go anywhere.
Many hotel chains are now trying to cater to travelers with autism. What would be your tips to make their properties more “autism friendly”?
One of the most overlooked things is the cleaning process, which usually involves powerful chemicals. An autistic room should be cleaned with chemical-free products to minimize allergies, and have soft bedding, noise proof walls, and is away from the elevators.Many travelers with autism now use iPads and other electronic devices, so several outlets in the room are useful.
How has traveling made a difference in your life?
It made me more aware of cultural differences. I try to promote autism awareness and get in contact with different autism organizations worldwide wherever I go.
One of the things I like to do, especially on Friday night is look up the local Habad House in the various countries and attend their Friday night services. That gives me a sense of familiarity and belonging to the community.
Why would you recommend traveling with a child on the autism spectrum in spite the challenges?
I think it is important for kids with autism to be exposed to as many different situations as possible, so travel is an important tool Parents can use to educate their children. However, I would like to advise them to plan their trips in detail and allow adequate transition periods between activities to avoid sensory overloads and possible meltdowns.