Autism Awareness at Super Bowl XLVIII

Last January, when we were scheduled to fly into NYC for our  Norwegian Breakaway cruise, I realized the city was going to be hosting Super Bowl XLVIII the very weekend we were in town!

For many people, especially NFL fans, this would sound like a fantastic opportunity; but for our family with autism who shies away from crowds, this was not welcome news in any way.

Making matters worse, we realized that Super Bowl XLVIII Boulevard activities were going to be located next to our hotel and that the weather for the weekend was grim – with a blizzard and freezing temperatures forecast.

So, the trip sounded like it had the makings of a potential disaster right off the bat and had the plane tickets been refundable, we would have probably opted to cancel the trip.

But sometimes things have a strange way of turning around and proving even the most experienced mom wrong.

Not only did we end up participating in three Super Bowl XLVIII related activities, but encountered a level of kindness and autism awareness that was so amazing, it totally blew us away.

Autism Awareness and Sweet Surprise at Super Bowl XLVIIIpuppy

 

The Puppy Bowl

Our first stop was the Puppy Bowl Experience at the Discovery Center,  showcasing Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl decade of success.

For those of you who don’t know, the Puppy Bowl started as part replica/part parody of the Super Bowl back in 2005 with half a million viewers. It subsequently ballooned into an annual TV event with over 12 million viewers by 2013.

Broadcast every year on Super Bowl Sunday, the show consists of adoptable shelter puppies playing in a miniature stadium. The show features instant replay shots, a ‘kiss camera’, its tailgate party and even kitty halftime show. With comments from Dan Schachner using football terminology, and ‘Meep the bird’ as the official social media blogger tweeting about the game in ‘real time’, viewers find it highly entertaining!

The 15,000 square foot Puppy Bowl experience turned out to be quite the crowd pleaser with a Puppy Hall of Fame, several interactive booths filled with games, face painting, and even an area to create a customized dog tag.
The exhibit’s highlight was a replica of the show’s stadium filled with puppies playing with various chew toys. Our son with autism loved the guide dogs section and couldn’t get enough of playing with and petting the docile service dogs.

Autism Awareness and Sweet Surprise at Super Bowl XLVIII lounge

 

Chase’s VIP Lounge

As we were leaving, the Puppy Ball we stumbled upon another surprise.
Chase was hosting a free Super Bowl VIP lounge for its United Airlines credit card users next door at Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen restaurant.
After having our ID’s and credit card checked at the entrance, we got right in with less than 5 minutes wait which was great considering it was 20 some degrees outside!
After we were all fitted with a green wristband, my husband and I  (the adults) were handed three tickets for free alcoholic drinks.

We discovered pretty soon that the lounge was popular, in other words — we couldn’t find seating at all.
My son was getting tired, a bit anxious and close to melting down when the manager himself saved the day and personally brought an extra table and chairs from the back and finding us a spot in a corner of the locale.

Autism Awareness and Sweet Surprise at Super Bowl XLVIII food

The sports bar offered a buffet with several hot dishes, salads, fruit and mini petit four cakes, as well as servers that came around with appetizer platters throughout our time there.
My husband and I exchanged our drink tickets for a Cosmo while our son ordered pineapple juice.
Did I mention that all the juices, soft drinks, coffees, teas and hot chocolate were complimentary and unlimited?

Overall, we were surprised to discover the food was pretty good and replenished promptly unlike our experiences in many hotels and airport lounges we’ve visited over the years.
To add to our wonderful experience, we were each handed a gift on the way out that included a blue plush bag with fleece gloves, hat, and scarf, which was perfect since we had forgotten to pack our gloves for the trip.
Autism Awareness and Sweet Surprise at Super Bowl XLVIII attractions

The Activities

The Super Bowl XLVIII Boulevard that stretched over thirteen blocks in the middle of Times Square was the third free event we attended that day.
It featured an autograph stage, a place to take your picture with the Lombardi trophy and 20-foot Super Bowl XLVIII Roman numerals sign, spots to practice football like in the ‘rush hours’ and ‘play 60’  games, as well as NFL, ESPN, and FOX, broadcast stations to gawk at.

As we passed by the different displays, we saw sponsors like Papa John’s, McDonald’s  and M&M giving out free samples, but didn’t stop since we were still full from the food we had eaten at the lounge.

Our son with autism was only interested in two activities; checking the Xbox One display which didn’t hold his interest for long, and riding the 180-foot long toboggan run.

Autism Awareness and Sweet Surprise at Super Bowl XLVIII toboggen
When we approached the toboggan ride, we were told to go and purchase a $5 ticket in an office around the corner.
The temperature was dropping fast, and we were thoroughly discouraged to discover there was a huge line of thirty minutes just to buy the tickets. Did I mention there was a separate even long line for the ride itself?
I was tired, cold and about to call it quits but our son decided that this was the moment to self-advocate and ask for help.
He went to a young lady who was in charge of the line and explained his disability.

The next thing we knew, she went to purchase his ticket and proceeded to escort him to a special VIP line for the ride, so he didn’t to wait in either line! She came to us and explained that she had worked with special needs kids, so she was aware of the challenges involved and wanted to help.As parents to a special needs child, I can say it is a rarity to find a complete stranger who shows such an understanding of autism and is so helpful. Both my husband and I were moved to tears!

Needless to say, her gesture set the tone for the rest of the day -in a positive way!
Our initial anxiety and hesitation at the thought of participating in these events turned to the enjoyment and profound gratitude.
For being such reluctant Super Bowlers, I can say that we are now big fans!
In fact; the whole experience was so uplifting it turned out to be one of the best memories of our entire year.

 

 

 

Top Boston Travel Suggestions for Children with Autism

Boston is one of our favorite cities to visit in the US.
It is very autism and family friendly with many activities that are sure to engage and please kids and adults.
For those who have not visited Boston yet, here are our top suggestions to try.

Take the water shuttle

The most economical way to see Boston is to take the MBTA Harbor ferry from the Aquarium Long Wharf to the Charlestown Navy Yard and back.
The Ferry runs every 15 minutes and gives you an excellent view of the city not unlike a harbor cruise.
For many travelers unaccustomed to water travel, as well as children with autism that love the repetitive activity, it can provide a real adventure.

 Promote map reading skills for the subway 

The Red and Green lines are most useful for seeing the sights while the Blue and Silver are useful for getting to and from the airport.
Boston boasts the Tremont Street Subway – the first active subway in the States that started operating last century.
For travelers with autism, this is an excellent opportunity to learn and practice reading maps and coordinate multiple means of transportation such as buses, ferries, and subways to get to the required destination.

Boston - Top Ten Tourism Suggestions for Children with Autism sea

 Walk the U.S freedom trail and relive history

Check out the NPS free tour by following the red brick road!
Many kids with autism will enjoy seeing the historical Revolution places up close and personal instead of merely reading about them in school books.
Start with Paul Revere’s family home built around 1680 that qualifies as one of oldest buildings in downtown Boston.
It served as a dwelling to Boston’s pre-revolution silversmith who became famous for his “midnight ride” to Lexington, Massachusetts informing Samuel Adams and John Hancock that the British were coming to arrest them.
Continue to the Old North Church famous for the evening of April 18, 1775, when the church sexton, Robert Newman, climbed the steeple and held high two lanterns as a signal, after being informed by Paul Revere that the British were marching to Lexington and Concord by sea and not by land.

Next visit the Old South Meeting House best known as the site where the Boston Tea Party began in the winter of 1773. Envision Samuel Adams announcing, “This meeting can do nothing more to save the country!” and loads of protesters dumping three shiploads of tea into Boston Harbor.
Culminate the historical adventure at the King’s Chapel, and Granary Burying Grounds.
The grounds as the name suggests were used for grain storage but later became a cemetery for many famous clergymen and politicians like Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Robert Treat Paine.
An interesting fact to know about the Granary Grounds is that although over 5000 people are buried there, there are less than 2000 headstones since in many cases families used a single one headstone for several family members to override the high costs.On select

On select dates, volunteers dress up as historical characters and speak to visitors ‘in character.’ For details, guests should contact the National Park to find out more information about their Revolution reenactment dates.

 Relax in the Commons and make room for ducklings

The fifty acres Boston Commons is the oldest park in the country.
In the past, the park was used for many purposes ranging from cattle grazing, public hangings to historical speeches. Nowadays it serves as a recreational heaven.
The park is one of these multi-sensory places where visitors with autism can enjoy and create memories.
Kids can climb Nancy Schon’s statues of Mother Duck and her ducklings traveling to their new home on a lagoon island in Boston’s Public Garden after reading or the book by Robert McCloskey,(makes a great souvenir), or just run around the grounds.

Another Bostonian staple is riding the park’s Swan Boats.
Inspired by Wagner’s opera Lohengrin in which a knight of the Holy Grail crosses a river in a swan-drawn boat to defend the innocence of his heroine, Princess Elsa.
The park ride, originally introduced by Robert Paget as a foot-propelled catamaran in the shape of a swan could carry eight visitors. The current boats are replicas of the originals, but are more spacious with five or six benches, carrying up to 20 passengers.

Have a beer or burger where everyone knows your name

The actual bar that inspired the famous TV show, Cheers, formerly known as Bull and Finch Pub, is located on Beacon Hill across from the Swan boats and the public garden.
A second location of the bar,  in the renovated Faneuil  Hall, features a replica of the TV show bar interior.
For travelers with autism that enjoy TV trivia or huge burgers like ‘the NORM’, it is the perfect place to eat, look around and buy souvenirs!

 Have Pizza at Regina’s North End – the Original Boston

The evening that we visited, the line was around the block, and locals assured us it was a slow night!

Apparently, even law enforcement officers and first responders frequent the place and don’t hesitate to park haphazardly on the street to get their coveted slice. We found the servers and cooks very friendly, and grateful they even took our kids for a ‘behind the scenes’ kitchen view!

Boston - Top Ten Tourism Suggestions for Children with Autism swans

 Have chocolate cannoli

“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli!” Peter Clemenz says to Rocco, in The Godfather, after killing Paulie in the car.

The Modern Pastry Shop on 257 Hanover Street is mentioned on many travel sites, including Tripadvisor and Yelp as the best, and rightfully so.
This place, too, has a huge line to walk through until you get inside to choose a cannoli.
What we liked less was that once we finally got to the counter to order, we were somewhat rushed into making a decision .We understood the servers at the cash register wanted to help as many customers as possible, but our son with autism found it a bit daunting.

With that said, this bakery makes the most incredible chocolate and ricotta filled cannoli you can imagine. In fact; our kids were very disappointed to find out that they couldn’t find any similar ones during our cruise around  Italy the following year!

Turns out, the Italians do make fabulous cannoli, but they don’t use chocolate in any of their recipes; So, the chocolate cannoli is a Bostonian spin on the original concept.

 Catch a free Boston Pops Orchestra concert 

Best known for its July 4th extravaganzas, the BPO was founded in 1885 as a summer alternative of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
The Orchestra that achieved world fame under Arthur Fiedler, its long-time director specializes in performing popular and light classical music in casual settings at Symphony Hall, and outdoors at the Hatch Shell.
Our son with autism enjoyed the concert so much that he forgot to complain about sitting on the grass and being surrounded by bugs, a rare occurrence in his case!

 Gaze at the skyline or catch a sunset

You cannot leave Boston without taking a step back and enjoying the skyline.
Consider staying in a hotel like the Hyatt or the Marriott on the city wharf.
We stayed at the Hyatt that has excellent grounds, including a paved veranda that overlooks the harbor, where kids loved running around. On late afternoons and early evenings, we pulled up lounge chairs and just gawked at the beautiful sunsets!

 

Taking your Kids to the Minnesota State Fair

 

This week we finally managed to scratch off a bucket list event – Taking our kids to the Minnesota State Fair.

The ten day long fair in August, nicknamed “The Great Minnesota Get-Together” is the largest US State Fair boasting  1,824.830 visitors this year!
The fairgrounds are midway between St Paul and Minneapolis and feature various livestock competitions, carnival rides and, of course, an unhealthy abundance of fried foods, mostly sticks for quick and easy snacking.

 

Taking your Kids with Autism to the Minnesota State Fair HORSES

Getting There

We chose to visit on opening day.
Tickets were slightly cheaper, it was a working weekday, and there was no rain in the forecast!
The Fair bus took us straight to the entrance of the fair from our hotel the Radisson Blu at the Mall of America.
Most locals pre-purchase their tickets, so we got ours quickly and headed immediately for our very first tasting – the fried pickle followed by a giant cream puff.

Taking your Kids with Autism to the Minnesota State Fair RIDES

The Rides

Our son wanted to check out the Mighty Midway thrill rides and skill games, but his visit to the Nickelodeon Universe theme the previous day tired him. out .He finally decided on riding the iconic SkyFlyer that carries riders across the fairgrounds, and the gyrating Space Tower that rotates and lifts one in the air. The long line deterred him from trying the fair’s oldest ride, Ye Old Mill, since, as we expected, there were no accommodations for autism offered.

The Food

We continued full speed towards the food court not before sampling what the stalls had to offer.
The grilled corn on the cob was ordinary while the Korean BBQ collar with kimchee pickles at Famous Dave’s turned out to be just ‘OK’.
We discovered the fried Twinkies were an acquired taste, and the fried green tomatoes and hush puppies were almost as good as the ones at Hudson’s in Hilton Head.

The food pavilion itself was the size of ten mall food courts put together with surprisingly almost no lines for anything.
Everything was well organized, and the multiple bathrooms were EXCEPTIONALLY clean.

We did wander about somewhat aimlessly unsure what to choose for our next tasting. One of the friendly locals (they were all so nice and helpful) pointed out that newbie visitors should come prepared with an action plan. We certainly didn’t have one since we weren’t sure how our son with autism would react to all the smells and sounds of it all, and how much time we’d  even spend there.

Taking your Kids with Autism to the Minnesota State Fair FOOD

On our quest to find that ‘IT’  Fair food that we would remember forever; we proceeded to sample the lobster mac and cheese (uninspired), the chocolate dessert pastrami ( boring), and Stromboli (salty!).None of us wanted to brave trying the famous Lutefisk some locals delight in! Our personal favorites were the fried chocolate filled dough and those cheese curds everyone recommended!

 

To appreciate Minnesota and the fascination with agriculture, we were told that one must see the displays and the tremendous year-long efforts of some people who present.We realized there were competitions for just about everything; best vegetable, best honey, and even best pies.

One of the older ladies we spoke to told me as I was photographing, “You haven’t lived until you’ve seen the President immortalized in seed!” and after seeing the exhibit, I tend to agree with her.

Taking your Kids with Autism to the Minnesota State Fair EXHIBITS

The Exhibits

As The West Coast city folks, we did pass by the different types of corn and feeds but we were much more fascinated by the bee colonies and the honey ice cream we were given a free sample of.
Who knew honey ice cream could be so delicious?

We were originally going to see the’ Princess Kay of the Milky Way’  but got sidetracked with the different foods.So.instead of seeing butter carvings of local beauty queens’ busts; we ended up at the barns ready to see the livestock.

Our son was able to tolerate the rabbit area reasonably well, but once we entered the sheep and pig pens, the stench overwhelmed him, so we had to leave.

Taking your Kids with Autism to the Minnesota State Fair LIVESTOCK

 

Unfortunately, the same thing happened when we reached the horses exhibit though I have to mention that for a stable housing so many majestic beasts, the stalls looked pretty orderly and clean.

We decided to try and check out the birthing pavilion if our son could tolerate the smells.
We managed to see a newborn lamb, a pregnant cow and witness a litter of piglets being born. Out of all the Fair exhibits, we all agreed this was the most noteworthy.

Tired by the time we finished, seeing the live birth, we headed back to our hotel but not before stopping one last time at Tom Thumb mini donuts and Sweet Martha’s chocolate chip cookies to buy a box for later. Seems like even though we might not have found a particular food item to wow us all; we still found a few to call favorites.

Taking your Kids with Autism to the Minnesota State Fair ANIMALS

Autism Travel Tips

  • Choose weekdays as they are less crowded
  • Plan a checklist to avoid being overwhelmed
  • Find quiet and calm areas, benches, and rockers behind the buildings
  • It’s cheaper to bring your own water.
  • Bring a very necessary package of Tums and a fan.
  • Wear comfortable closed shoes as you step in animal feces and can be stepped on by other visitors
  • Download the State Fair App on your cell phone to help you navigate the fairgrounds using GPS coordinates in real time.
  • Try to negotiate a reasonable budget with your child for food and rides
    so they know ahead of time what to expect. Fairs are notoriously expensive.

Taking the Kids to the Walt Disney Museum San Francisco

As an avid Disney fan, our son had been begging to visit the Disney Family Museum for the past year.
Last week while attending the “BlogHer 2014” conference in San Jose we finally got the chance to grant his wish and ventured into San Francisco for a tour.

The museum run by the Disney family is located at 104 Montgomery Street, The Presidio, San Francisco, CA and is housed in two red-brick historic buildings, one of which was originally army barracks in the 1890’s and the other a military gymnasium from 1904.
Both were restored, and their interior spaces adapted skillfully to focus on Walt Disney’s life and career.

First  Gallery

The exhibit’s first gallery showcases the animator’s childhood mementos from Missouri, illustrations for the high school newspaper as well as some of the laugh-o-grams he created before the company he worked for in Kansas City went bankrupt.

Taking the Kids to the Walt Disney Museum San Francisco Paintings

Second Gallery

 

In the second gallery, the focus shifts to his early Hollywood years describing the launch of the world famous studio, the ‘birth’ of iconic Mickey Mouse and how Walt finally established himself as a leading animator by creating ‘Steam Boat Willie,’ an animated film with synchronized sound. Some of this section’s highlights are rare Mickey Mouse illustrations and business letters between the two Disney brothers.

The third area concentrates on the years before WWII when the studio experimented with mini-movies (one reels) called “Silly Symphonies“, and went on to create the first three-strip Technicolor cartoons, by using multi-plane cameras. Our son loved the display where he got to add sound effects to an animated film!

Taking the Kids to the Walt Disney Museum San Francisco posters
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was pivotal for the studio’s evolution and is well depicted in the museum’s collection of three-dimensional model figures that were used in the movie as well as magazine cuttings from that era. The Snow White movie not only won a regular sized Academy Award for innovation but also received seven miniature castings Oscars one for each dwarf. In the following years the studio expanded, moved its headquarters to Burbank and produced classics like Bambi and Fantasia. Some of the museum’s actual art gems can be found in this section as well as a perfect replica of an animator desk.

The Other Galleries

Probably the biggest surprise for us was visiting the next gallery, which described Disney’s participation in the Second World War efforts.
Apparently the studio produced multiple public announcements and morale-boosting movies alongside its features like Dumbo, as it was struggling to recover from a major strike that almost impacted its existence. The colorful army insignia displayed along with the wartime bulletin makes this gallery a must-see.

Taking the Kids to the Walt Disney Museum San Francisco booklets

The exhibit continues through the Disney brothers’ efforts post-war to expand into live action films like 20 000 Leagues under the Sea as well as maintain its lead in animation with cinematographic favorites Cinderella, Peter Pan, and Alice in Wonderland.
If you are a fan of Disney memorabilia, this gallery for you as it includes the animator’s collection of miniature figures.
The second to last gallery explores Walt Disney’s fascination with quality family entertainment through movies (Mary Poppins was created during this time), television programs like The Wonderful World of Disney (I was a huge fan) and recreational parks like Disneyland and later Disney World that several decades later we still enjoy and cherish.
You have to check out the Disneyland Diorama and how it compares to the real park.

Taking the Kids to the Walt Disney Museum San Francisco tickets

 

The most moving display of the exhibit is the part housing the newspaper clips and cards of condolences from around the world when Walt Disney died so be sure not to miss it.

Taking the Kids to the Walt Disney Museum San Francisco illustrations

Autism Travel Tips

Don’t miss out on the movie included in the entrance fee.
Allow between 1.5 to 2 hours for your visit.
If your child is antsy, you might want to walk around the Presidio area for a while before entering the museum.
It may look compact from the outside, but it is filled with artifacts and memorabilia that take the time to read through.
The museum is geared more towards teens and adults who are Disney aficionados since there aren’t many interactive exhibits.
Don’t miss the museum’s l Autism Friendly events coming up in October if your kid with autism is a Disney fan!

Entertaining Children with Autism in the Mall of America

 

Guest post by  Denise Klipsic Ochsendorf

As mentioned in my previous post, a visit to the Great Mall of America can offer your  kids with autism a fun filled day trip when carefully planned.
Here are my tips for shopping, entertainment, dining and quiet areas if your kid gets overwhelmed.

Entertaining your kid with autism in the mall of america HALL

 Shopping in the Mall of America

Now, I don’t know too many children with autism or not that make this their primary reason for the visit to the mall, but I do know plenty of parents who do!
So, if shopping is on your agenda, I recommend one of two options: Planned Map or Spontaneous Circle.

The Planned Map Option is for those visitors who have specific stores they want to visit.
This option will minimize stress and let your kids know where you are going ahead of time.
Print out the current mall map from their website and highlight the stores you want to visit.
Have the map with you during your visits and travel to each store in order of their location.
Be sure to mark the elevators you want to use, so you do not have to spend time looking for ways to get up and down.

The Spontaneous Circle Option is for those visitors who don’t have specific stores they HAVE to visit but are here to shop in general.In this option, shoppers just start out on the main level going in one direction and go up one floor each time you complete the circle. This option is one we use a lot.
It is more casual and allows for deviations if our children become anxious or irritated.

Each shop is uniquely designed and pose different obstacles for families with kids with autism.
We find just maneuvering the stroller around difficult, let alone those hands that like to touch everything.The good news, if you are not shopping alone, the mall has plenty of benches in the main corridors that kids can wait with others while you check out a shop or two.

Our Kids’ Favorite Shops: Discovery Store, Lindor’s Truffle shop (Ask for a free sample), the Disney Store and the Lego Store.
Entertaining your child with Autism in the Mall of America AQUARIUM

 

Entertainment options for your kid with autism in the Mall

There are plenty of things to entertain your kids at the mall!
There is the American Girl Experience, the movie theater, Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium (formerly Underwater World),  exhibit center, theater mirror maze, mini-golf, Build-a-Bear Workshop, theater, Lego store and the big one: Nickelodeon Universe.
There are also other small events, like Santa’s workshop during holidays.

Tips for Nickelodeon Universe

  • My recommendation for Nickelodeon Universe is to go early if you can, but if you can’t, get comfortable with the park layout and leave the park if your child becomes agitated.
  • There is no fee to enter the park, so this makes it easy to come and go as needed,  as Nickelodeon Universe is full of lights, sounds, smells and people.
  • The park itself is not big and is located in the center of the mall.
    It is lit up by the huge skylights during the day and gets pretty dark at night with blinking ride and carnival lights.
  • There is a central walkway around the park with walkways through the center.The walking paths in the center, however, are confusing around the rides and can often lead you back where you started, so avoid them if you can.
    There are areas with benches in the park for waiting for riders or resting, but there is no quiet area in the park.In fact, the park is the best and worst place for an autism meltdown.

  • The noise level is so high that my daughter’s screams are muffled by those on rides, however, the noise does nothing to calm the situation, so often we leave the ride area for the quiet in comparison mall corridors.
  • You have different options for tickets which include wristbands or a point pass.Unless you children with autism are going to go on all the rides, good with lines and are fearless in their adventures, the point pass is the best option.We like the point pass because it can be used anytime during your visit (multiple days), and it is transferable (if your child goes on one ride and is done or has a meltdown, you can always gift the pass to someone else). Make sure before you buy you know your point values on the rides your child wants to go on.The more points, the better deal the pass, but if you are only going on a few rides, the smaller point passes are better options.
  • Though the rides in Nickelodeon Universe are geared for all ages, those geared for older children take up the bulk of the park.
  • Entertaining your child with Autism in the Mall of America THEMEPARK
    Though the rides in Nickelodeon Universe are geared for all ages, those geared for older children take up the majority of the park.So finding the rides for younger children can be hard.If your kids are younger, be sure to ask for a list of those rides when you purchase your tickets.
    There is no special access for people with disabilities or parent swap for rides.

    If your child is not good at waiting in lines, I recommend having another parent or person with you wait in the bulk of the line and then jump in the line when they get the closer to the front of the line. This will work on some of the smaller rides, but not all of them.
    Scope the line to see if this in option for your family)
  • Nickelodeon Universe does have character meet and greets (Sponge Bob, etc.).Posted times are available at the location daily.Let the workers at the meet and greet know your child has autism before meeting the character.This will give them time to let the character know and possibly give your child more time to them.

Other attractions at the mall are in much smaller venues and much more autism-friendly environments.

  • The Sea Life Aquarium is busy, but is much more relaxed in its attractions and allows for some hands-on experiences. It is a good place to visit to let your children (and you) a little time to unwind and relax.It is located on the bottom floor and is open daily.
  • The Lego Store has an area outside its store where kids can build different Lego Creations at no cost. The Legos are to be played with, in that area only, while sets are available in the store for purchase. It is good place to relax and let the kids play. (Note: If your child like mine likes to taste or put things in his mouth, skip this area. Too many hands on too many Legos makes this a busy one for germs.)
  • The American Girl Experience includes a variety of events from, scavenger hunts, meet and greets to a Doll Hair Salon.
    Let the staff know your child has autism, they can cater your experience if it is not too busy.
  • Build-A- Bear involves your Bear purchase. If you do not intend to buy a bear, I would recommend you skip it.
    Otherwise, it is quite fun. Again, let the staff know your child has autism, they can cater your experience if it is not too busy.
  • The mirror maze & mini-golf are located close to each other on the third level/Northside. They are fun to do together as a family. Although my daughter got frustrated with mirror maze, when we could not get out.

 Our Kids’ Favorite Entertainment Options: Sea Life Aquarium and the Carousel at Nickelodeon Universe.

Entertaining your child with Autism in the Mall of America FOOD

Autism Friendly Dining Options:

There are a lot of dining options at the mall that include Sit-Down and Fast-Food. Packing snacks is the easiest way to curb your child’s cravings, otherwise there are snack and dinner options at every turn.

Fast Food and Food Courts:

There are two food courts in the Mall, both on the third level.
There are a variety of options to choose (Gluten or Dairy Free are few and far between, though.)I recommend if you want to stay on a budget and need to visit the food court to visit the food court on the North side (Stay away from the Southside court).The difference is the layout, noise, lighting, varying floor levels and entrances and exits!
The Northside food court which is all on one level makes it easy for parents with children with autism to maneuver get to and find seating and each other with its skylights and wide-open floor plan.
It does not have as many options as the south side food court, but this makes it often less busy as a result.

Sit-Down Dining:

Sit-down dining can be an experience for the whole family, but you may have to wait.
Rain Forest Café and Bubba Gump are unique restaurant choices.
If you opt for a sit-down restaurant, be sure to get on their reservation list if they have one.If they do not, ask about the best time to dine and explain your unique situation.
We dine at Bubba Gump when we visit the mall, and they usually try to find us a place away from the busy seating areas.)Be sure to check out the décor, as fun as the Rain Forest Café is, it is dark and can be scary.
Ask if you can walk your child through the restaurant to see what and how they cope to see if it is worth the wait.
If you are looking for quiet options, your best options are going to be those familiar restaurants live Famous Dave’s and Ruby Tuesday.These restaurants are not the go dining in the mall, which make them quieter and less busy.

Gluten and Dairy Free Options:

Each Sit-down restaurant in the mall offers different Gluten/Dairy Free options.There is not one restaurant I can recommend over another on your choices.Check out the menu before you sit down and ask the hostess for those unique menu items.

Our Kids’ Favorite Dining Options: Bubba Gump, Famous Dave’ and  Twin City Grill

Denise Klipsic Ochsendorf  is an  autism mom of two active kids  and  happy owner of a Twin Cities Kids Consignment Sale (Just Between Friends) as well as  an avid Autistic Globetrotter who  loves to travel the backroads of America and hopes someday to make it Europe with her family 

Taking Kids with Autism to the Mall of America

 Guest post by  Denise Klipsic Ochsendorf

Shopping and visiting the Mall of America with Children with Autism is a challenge, but with careful thought to visit, it can still exciting, fun and a great day of shopping.

Taking your kids with Autism to the Mall of America columns

When to go to the Mall of America

The Mall is a Shopping complex, so its traffic patterns fall in line with any other retail outlet.Exceptions would be for special events and holidays which usually bring in a lot of people.
Recently, the Halloween event at Nickelodeon Universe and then an appearance by the cast of the Hunger Games paralleled the holiday traffic in the mall’s main corridors.
So it is important to check the mall’s event schedule before you go.You may not be able to plan around such events, but you can, at least, plan for them, if needed.

Taking your kids with Autism to the Mall of America logo
Regular Mall traffic patterns, I find mirror that of many theme parks.
Weekdays are the least busy.We find Monday and Wednesday are truly the best days to go if you are trying to avoid crowds. Mornings are also nice.
The Mall’s regular hours are 10 am, but they do open early for mall walkers.From 10am-Noon, even on weekends, there are relatively fewer shoppers, pending events.Holiday shopping hours are little more hectic, but the same rules apply: mornings and weekdays are the best, just not on Black Friday.

Taking your kids with Autism to the Mall of America escalators

It is important to note that Tuesdays are Toddler Tuesday at the Mall.
This can be either good or bad for families with kids with autism. Toddler Tuesdays are good for free dining options for kids under 6 and discounts at various attractions, but it does bring a lot of young children to the mall (Crying babies, etc.)

Taking your kids with Autism to the Mall of America coppola

Getting to the Mall

If you are staying Minneapolis or coming from the airport- the best bet is to take the light rail to the mall.
The light rail is relatively new, so it is clean and comfortable to ride.The Mall is its last stop, so it does take about ½ hour to make the journey from MPLS, but the time you save on parking is worth it.
Your children will love it too!
The train goes through tunnels and over bridges making it an added experience to your trip to the Mall.The ride will cost each person up to $2.75 a person with reduced fares for people with disabilities. Kids 5 and under are free.

Taking your kids with Autism to the Mall of America first floor
If you come by car and are staying closer to the mall, you will want to park in the West Parking lot.
Both Parking Lots can be busy, but the west lot does not fill up as fast and has far less traffic.
One reason I recommend the west lot is also its location to nicer bathrooms, less busy entrances to the mall and elevators and the elimination of up/down steps to get to the skyways. Try to park on the lower level if you can, this just gives you different options to enter the mall and also is the same level as Guest Services if you need to rent a stroller or need other assistance.

Taking your kids with Autism to the Mall of America ceiling

Planning the day when your kid has autism

Based on where you come in, you will have different options.
If you come in at the center main Mall entrance, you will want to take the elevator/escalator to the main level if you need Guest Services.The elevators on this side are a little hidden if you come to the main entrance.
If you go towards the center of the mall, you should see the elevator closer to the inner walkway.

Taking your kids with Autism to the Mall of America lego

Guest Services:

Check in here to rent your stroller ($6 single, $8 double).Wheelchair rentals are also available.
You can let Guest Services know you are traveling with a child with autism.
Make sure you have a picture and information for your child in case she/he gets lost.
You can leave it with them. (This is not a common practice, so you may need to fill in the details.
You can stop back after you leave to get your paperwork)  *Paperwork can consist of a picture, your child’s name, and a telephone number. For more info:

Taking your kids with Autism to the Mall of America lockers

If you choose to skip Guest Service, my recommendation is to stay away from the elevators in the Mall’s main corridors.
They are SLOW and Fill up fast. The Macy’s Elevator is nestled by the SW entrance door and is easy to use and it located right next to the bathroom. Other Anchor Store Elevators are tucked back a little bit but are a little less busy.
The Mall Corridors on the corners have a few elevators that I would recommend as well.

Taking your kids with Autism to the Mall of America stores

If you need Lockers, there are lockers at all main entrances to the mall on level 1. Levels 2 & 3 have them as well, but only on the East and West Side.
They come in all sizes and range from $6-$16 depending on the size. Lockers are great to use for those winter coats, as the mall gets pretty warm as it fills up.

Mapping out Bathrooms before you get started is a good idea.

The Mall has plenty of Bathrooms, but not all of them are suitable for families with children with autism.
I mentioned the Macy’s Bathroom before. This is a favorite of ours not only for its location but it usually pretty clean and it has a separate quiet area which is good for getting your kids away from all the noise and avoiding meltdowns.
Nordstrom’s have similar bathrooms. In the main mall corridors, you do have some options. I recommend the Family Restrooms. These are nice because they give you the space you may need and are private. They are next to the regular bathrooms on the first floor only. (They are quite busy, though, so you may have a wait.)

 

Taking your kids with Autism to the Mall of America lego store

One final note before you get started

The Mall is full of sensory overload for many children with autism.
Depending on your child, you may want to have a plan for some way to deal with meltdowns if they occur.

There are quiet areas like those I mentioned in the mall, but you may find other areas that may work for you as start your day.
You will want to note where these areas are, as you can get turned around in the mall quite quickly.
Also, headphones or ear plugs are always a good option for your kids.We have a set of heavy duty sound masking headphones our daughter uses.
We also use blankets in the stroller to at least minimize the visual stimulation for our son, when he lets us.

Taking your kids with Autism to the Mall of America themepark

 

Denise Klipsic Ochsendorf  is an  autism mom of two active kids  and  happy owner of a Twin Cities Kids Consignment Sale (Just Between Friends) as well as  an avid Autistic Globetrotter who  loves to travel the backroads of America and hopes someday to make it Europe with her family

10 Autism Friendly Experiences in Hilton Head, SC

Hilton Head Island is an excellent place to visit and experience especially during the spring and summer months.
In our home, we fondly refer to it as ‘our summer home’ since we’ve vacationed there consecutively for the last seven years.
Here are some of our favorite autistic friendly experience to do when you visit the Island.

Ride a bike around the island

The island is a biker’s paradise!
Everyone we’ve met is always so friendly (part of that famous Southern hospitality) and riding will help you lose the extra pounds gained from eating those delicious fried green tomatoes and hush puppies.

Autism Travel Tip:
Some places don’t have kids’ helmets so you’ll need to bring your own.
Also, make sure you rehearse road safety rules and how traffic flows in ’roundabouts’ with your kids before going.

10 autistic friendly things to do in Hilton Head tree

Meet the’Salty Dog.’

One of the best places to eat on the southern side of the island , known to the locals as ‘the big toe’,is at the Salty Dog Cafe’.
Though their primary grub is seafood based, they also have burgers and macaroni cheese combos for picky eaters.
The seaside complex is a fun place to wander around and shop for unique souvenirs.
Our son begged to buy the mini version of the restaurant’s black ‘salty dog’ mascot after reading the tear-jerking story about the brave dog on the venue’s placemat.

Autism Travel Tip:
Bring something to occupy the kids while you wait for an indoor table since the place seems to be continuously busy even during off hours.
The complex is a bit of a tourist trap so make sure you establish a reasonable budget for souvenirs before you get there.

10 Autistic Friendly Experiences in Hilton Head,SC beach sunbathers

Lunch at the Bamboo Hut

Our favorite spot to grab a hearty well-stacked BLT or homestyle burger is the Bamboo Hut in Coligny Circle.
Your kids will find the South Pacific decor (think late 1960’s South Vietnamese shack catering to foreigners) fascinating to explore with the different wall hanging nicknacks.Our children particularly enjoyed drinking their freshly squeezed lemonades in recycled mason jars.

Autism Travel Tip:
Ask your server to rush your order or even pack it to go if your kids get too antsy.

 boat10 Autistic Friendly Experiences in Hilton Head,SC boat

Take an Eco-Tour

Tour the island’s coastline in a WWII zodiac boat that oddly sails smoother than many cruise ships we’ve been on.
On a clear day expect to see groups of playful young dolphin calves swimming together protected by their watchful moms against territorial males and hungry sharks.

Autism Travel Tip:
This is not recommended for travelers who get motion sickness (the boat still sways somewhat) and those who are temperature sensitive as it can get rather hot in the open boat especially during the summer months.

10 autistic friendly things to do in Hilton Head pier

Get lost on Daufuskie Island

Unique with is its Gullah population (descendants of African slaves), the island is a tourist gem.
Take the ferry that runs on the hour and spend a few hours on Daufuskie Island that prides itself on being one of the few remaining places in the US with absolutely no car traffic.
Our kids loved collecting shells on the clean beach front and visiting the local artisan studios.

Autism Travel Tip:
Wear comfortable shoes as there is quite a bit of walking involved and don’t forget your sunscreen and bug repellant.
Also, remember to bring your water and snacks since there aren’t many places on the island to stop and purchase anything.

10 autistic friendly things to do in Hilton Head waves

Travel back in time

Go back in time to the sixties; when father knew best, and Jeannie was a household name and shop at the old fashioned Piggly Wiggly’ grocery store in Coligny Square.
The store is a little small, and slightly crowded but for those seeking bargains or plain island ‘atmosphere’ this is the ‘IT’ spot.

Autism Travel Tip:
This is the place to stock up on sundries and beach supplies cheaply.

10 Autistic Friendly Experiences in Hilton Head,SC sand

Get De-Disnified

Venture to the center of the island and tour Disney’s non-Disneyesque Vero Beach resort where the only ‘character’ you’ll find is Shadow,their mascot dog who looks nothing like Pluto,but who is the inhabitant of a fancy dog house next to the reception area.

Autism Travel Tip:
Ask the front desk if you can pay and participate in their planned activities like Shadow’s Meet and Greet’ as they sometimes let visitors who don’t stay at the resort participate if they have space.

10 autistic friendly things to do in Hilton Head lake

Try Kayaking

Step out of your comfort zone and try kayaking in the island’s dolphins feeding areas like Broad Creek (very calm) and Calibogue Sound (can get rough .)
This trip can provide your thrill-seeking kid with a great sensory adventure; while learning about the oyster beds that provide shelter for the local sea life and food for wild birds.

Autism Travel Tip:
Not recommended if your kids cannot swim and kids that are temperature sensitive.

10 autistic friendly things to do in Hilton Head umbrella
Go to the Beach

Most Hilton Head beaches are equipped with lifeguards who provide extra peace of mind for parents. Also, the beaches have showers, clean restrooms and chaise lounges with attached umbrellas for daily rental.
Our all time favorite is the Harbor Town Sea Pines Beach, which is less crowded than the neighboring beaches making it a much better choice for families with kids on the autism spectrum.

Autism Travel Tip:
Best time to go to the beach is actually in the late afternoon when the crowds are mostly gone,the water is still warm, and the sun is past its peak so you need not worry about sunscreen or renting a lounge chair.

10 autistic friendly things to do in Hilton Head sunset

It’s all about the Lighthouse

Bring your kid and climb the old lighthouse stairs to the top to witness those picture-perfect Southern Carolinian sunsets.Then join other exhausted parents under the old oak tree to sing along with long time island legend Gregg.

Autism Travel Tip:
Arrive on the early side if your kid likes to sit in the front row.
Remember to bring insect repellent unless you wish to literally be ‘eaten alive’ by the local mosquitoes.

10 autistic friendly things to do in Hilton Head hush puppies

Stop by Hudson’s and eat puppies

Someone told me a long time ago you can often judge a restaurant’s quality by the line of patrons waiting to be seated.In Hudson’s case that line is on the long side and be advised the restaurant doesn’t take reservations.
If you decide to go, remember to order their unlimited bowl of hush puppies that are well worth braving the line!
Our all time favorite is their ‘Neptune Platter’, which comes with an assortment of freshly fried seafood items and is large enough to share.

Autism Travel Tip:
Bring electronic devices or toys to entertain the kids while you are waiting for the line to help pass the time.

Have you visited Hilton Head with your kids- What did they like best?

Five Sensory Attractions Worth Visiting in Dallas

When someone mentions Dallas, Texas, some of us envision wealthy oil tycoons driving fancy cars, their wives shopping at all of the luxury stores, and of course, BBQ brunches.

Perhaps the successful 80 series with the same name fueled that stereotype a bit, but regardless, I admit that I never thought of Dallas as a place to take kids, especially kids with autism.
This all changed last November when we went to the family travel conference and attended some of the post-conference trips.

We discovered that Dallas is the perfect place to take kids with autism because it has multiple museums and tourist attractions that will provide an educational experience for your children without putting them into sensory overload.
We particularly enjoyed the Zoo, Aquarium,  Arboretum,  Perot Science Center, and the Sixth Floor Museum.And yes, we even got a chance to visit the TV set and gawk at the replica of Southfork, TV’s most famous ranch.

Five Sensory Attractions worth visiting in Dallas view

The Dallas Zoo

The zoo was founded in 1888 as the first zoo in the southwest, and over the 100+ years that it has been operating, the zoo has grown from two deer and two mountain lions to over 2,000 animals.
Visitors can find a variety of unique exhibits, such as Giants of the Savannah, which is an exhibit that mixes elephants and other species within the same habitat, and the koala exhibit, which is the only one in the state of Texas, and one of just ten across the United States.

Five Sensory Attractions worth visiting in Dallas lions

We’ve always enjoyed close animal interactions, and in Dallas, we were able to feed giraffes (we discovered their smooth tongue), hold an owl like Harry Potter (with the appropriate glove), watch young lions in training, and walk next to a hyperactive penguin.

Five Sensory Attractions worth visiting in Dallas giraffes

Dallas Aquarium

With performances, restaurants, and (of course) the aquarium itself, the Dallas Aquarium is ideal for families with different interests.
There is a rainforest exhibit, several conservation projects with endangered animals, and an outdoor South African exhibit with penguins. The aquarium also has the more traditional aquarium animals – sharks, rays, sawfish, and more.

Five Sensory Attractions worth visiting in Dallas fish
What is great about the Dallas Aquarium is the fact that it is on the smaller side, self-contained, and temperature controlled, which is a good option for kids that hate to be outdoors or that are temperature sensitive.
Our son loved standing in the glass shark tunnel viewing the giant predators swim overhead.

Five Sensory Attractions worth visiting in Dallas shark tubes


The Dallas Arboretum
 

The Dallas Arboretum covers 66-acres of display gardens with seasonal flowers, ornamental shrubs, trees and plant collections, creating quite a lovely setting on White Rock Lake.
The Arboretum also has seasonal outdoor festivals, concerts, and art shows.

They also have two restaurants – Restaurant DeGolyer in the historic DeGolyer House, or the Lula Mae Slaughter Dining Terrace, overlooking downtown Dallas.

 

Five Sensory Attractions worth visiting in Dallas pumkins

We discovered the Dallas Arboretum is so much more than “boring plants”, which was my son’s initial thought when he first heard of our plans to visit.
We were treated to a magnificent array of colors, and especially enjoyed the pumpkin village, feeling new textures (they have over 28 types of pumpkins in various shapes and skin textures!), and enjoying the fragrant smells of fall.
Best of all, we got a rare chance to see a sampler exhibit from  Seattle’s famous Chihuly  Museum.

 

Five Sensory Attractions worth visiting in Dallas chaihuly
The Perot Museum of Nature and Science Center

The Perot Museum opened in December of 2012, is on a mission to “inspire minds through nature and science”.

Five Sensory Attractions worth visiting in Dallas entrance

The exhibits here involve ALL  senses with interactive stations for the visitors to get information from buttons that provide sounds and smells of different animals and plants.
The earthquake simulator and motion activated lit walls, along with the stairs that make bubble sounds occupied our son for half an hour!

Although we’ve visited other science centers in the past, this one was different in that it provided a broader interactive platform for kids, and also provided an insight of how one’s interest in a particular aspect of science parlays in the real world into a career.

Five Sensory Attractions worth visiting in Dallas dinasaur


Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza


The Sixth Floor Museum gets its name from its location on the sixth and seventh floors of the Texas School Book Depository, which is the actual building from which Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated U.S. President John F. Kennedy.

The permanent exhibit on the sixth floor features memorabilia of JFK’s life, death, and legacy while the seventh floor shows temporary exhibits.

Five Sensory Attractions worth visiting in Dallas sixth floor

The museum is compact, indoors, and temperature controlled, all bonuses for travelers with autism.A walk among the exhibits takes guests back to that period through visual and auditory items that help them relive history in a way few museums do.

Visitors can listen to emotional radio broadcasts as well as newspaper clippings that describe one of the hardest times America faced as a nation, from the actual place where it happened.

Five Sensory Attractions worth visiting in Dallas memorabilia

 

Have you been to Dallas and explored any of these places? What are your favorite sensory attractions across the world?

Disclaimer: The tours were hosted by VisitDallas for the participants of the Family Travel Conference.

 

 

 

Chicago’s Architectural River Cruise

The Chicago Architectural Foundation river tour takes you up and down both prongs of the Chicago River and out to Lake Michigan providing a memorable, excellent introduction to the city from a unique vantage point.

With that said, we found the tour highly informative, too long (over two hours) and geared more towards architecture buffs than the general public. After having taken the trip, I can’t recommend it for kids under the age of ten or any autistic with moderate to severe sensory issues.

Illinois Chicago's Architectural River Cruise WHEEL

 

Illinois Chicago's Architectural River Cruise BOAT
Illinois Chicago's Architectural River Cruise VIEW

Illinois Chicago's Architectural River Cruise SKYLINE

Illinois Chicago's Architectural River Cruise BUILDING

The first obstacle our son had to overcome was standing in a rather long line of several hundred people to board the boat even though we had reserved the cruise a day in advance.I did go and ask whether there is any way to accommodate my son but my question wasn’t even gratified with an answer.

It is advantageous to be in the front of the line and snag seats next to the boat’s sides for better views during the tour so travelers wishing to enjoy a better vantage point for photographs should arrive at least half an hour earlier than the set departure time.

The boarding process was smooth, but the lack of assigned seating might be problematic for families wanting to sit together and autistics with sensory issues trying to avoid noise.

We were forced to sit near to a loudspeaker and endure the continuous noise for the two and a half hours onboard which significantly hampered our enjoyment of the tour. Several pleas to the guide to maintain some distance between his mouth and the microphone or speak in a softer tone went entirely unanswered.Apparently, the staff on the boat wasn’t trained in handling passengers with autism or in offering superior customer service in general.

Two other problems our autistic son encountered were the gridded metal seat that felt highly uncomfortable as well as the fact that with overhead cover provided passengers can be exposed to the scorching sun or harsh wind of Chicago.

In hindsight, it would have been more enjoyable for my family to take the city’s hop on and off to see the different landmarks since passengers can get off whenever they wish, and most seating is offered in closed areas that are not open to the elements.

Have you taken the Architectural Riverboat cruise; if so how did you like it?

 

 

Autism travel tips.

*Buy your tickets ahead of time they sell out rather fast especially in the summer time.
*Arrive at least half an hour ahead of scheduled departure to get a proper place in line.
*If your kid can’t stand and wait have him/her sit in the nearby Monet Cafe. If they can stand in line, bring electronic entertainment to keep them busy.
*Bring a mini fan, water bottle and a seat cushion for your autistic traveler
*Try to sit in the first few rows so you can leave faster when the tour is over.
*Watch out for the loudspeakers hanging on the sides on the boat and make sure you don’t sit in proximity to any of them.

 

 

 

 

Visiting New Orlean’s Lower Ninth Ward

Reading Peter Greenberg’s post about New Orleans’s Lower Ninth Ward tours brought back thoughts and memories of our tour in 2010.
We went on the Katrina Tour on our last vacation day in New Orleans. My husband wasn’t feeling well, and the weather was a nasty blend of rain and wind.

We had already marveled at NOLA’s main highlights, sampled the incredible Creole cuisine, paid our pilgrimage to Cafe du Monde’s beignets and cruised the Natchez down the Mississippi.

However, it was the visit to the devastated Ninth Ward we found the most compelling and memorable out of the entire trip.

Visiting New Orlean's Lower Ninth WardXSUNSET

A glimpse of the neighborhood

.
Roll back five years: our kids were twelve and ten-year-olds when Katrina struck New Orleans in September of 2005. We all became glued to our TV sets as the reports continued to pour in of the massive destruction, panic, and helplessness in the city. You just couldn’t escape the intense media coverage.
It became the topic of conversations in the workplace,  school settings even in our home. Our son with autism was extremely affected, almost obsessed by the subject.

It was the first time he had been exposed to a disaster of this magnitude (he had been only seven during the 9/11 attacks and did not remember them).

He and his younger brother decided to organize a yard sale (the first one we’d ever haD) and sell some of their most prized possessions, including his Disney DVD  collection he loved. Other neighborhood kids chipped in, and the yard sale( proceeds went to the American Red Cross) ended up a huge success.

 

Visiting New Orlean's Lower Ninth Ward HOUSE

A newly renovated home

Our Ninth Ward Tour

So five years later, when we visited Nola for our first time, booking the Katrina tour was on our ‘Must -Do’ list! We all wanted to see the rebuilding progress made not as a way to scratch it off some imaginary travel bucket list but to express our on-going support for the people who had endured that awful first week of September 2005.

The tour started with a view of Lake Pontchartrain and its refurbished levees as a backdrop to some powerful images to come.

We were first taken to observe the newly built homes. Seeing these neighborhoods was a heartwarming experience – akin to witnessing a  green leaf resurface on a plant that survived an incredibly harsh winter. But then the tour proceeds to drive through the non-refurbished areas with marked doorways, and wood boarded windows.

Coming from California and having completed our  CERT (community emergency response team) courses, we recognized the grim meaning of the black markings still visible on the doors marking the number of the living or dead persons found house after house. And that’s when the enormity of it all hit us.
It is such a different experience to watch gruesome news reports unfold on TV than to have to face it in person. And that’s where I have to admit the tour did an excellent job in making us understand the discrepancy between what the recovery made and what was still needed to be completed.

Visiting New Orlean's Lower Ninth Ward BOARDED HOUSE

One of the many homes still marked by the different rescuers-check the door and the caption on the right next to the window

Over the past years, I have heard  some criticizing these tours as “exploiting the devastation and the people living in the  run-down neighborhoods.” I respectfully beg to differ.

For us as travelers and parents to an autistic teen, it provided an extraordinary visual aid of the ravages and suffering a natural disaster can inflict, first hand. It turned out to be an excellent way to start the conversation and educate the kids about the importance of helping fellow citizens.
It also contributed to raising awareness to the steps we can take as individuals to protect ourselves against natural disasters

Just like other sites of immeasurable human tragedy around the world, the Lower Ninth Ward should be remembered not so much as a symbol of destruction but as a testament of human determination and endurance.

I, for one ,would like to see these tours continued and expanded to include featured docents relating personal experiences with pertinent monetary proceeds donated to help rebuild the shattered communities.

 

 

Visiting New Orlean's Lower Ninth Ward MEMORIAL

The Katrina Memorial in the Lower Ninth Ward

 

 

 

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