Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism

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Originally opened at 6000 Universal Boulevard, Orlando, Florida as a single theme park in June of 1990, the famous Universal Studios Orlando still flourishes. Islands of Adventure was added later, and together these movie-inspired theme parks draw almost 30 million visitors per year.For visitors who have autism, visiting a theme park can be fun but also quite challenging. To help families plan their visit here are our tips and suggestions.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism fire

What You Will See

Rides

The rides in the park range from mild to extreme and may present some sensory challenges for visitors with autism.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism ride

Children on the autism spectrum can range anywhere from thrill seekers that crave G-forces, and sharp roller coaster turns to being sensitive to even the slightest of motion. Many rides include moderate to high movement while others are tame. Furthermore, many of the rides are digitally simulated which involves being rocked in a seat.
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The park’s most extreme rides include Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, Revenge of the Mummy, and Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. All of these rides feature sudden stops, spins, and turns. Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts is a simulated coaster but still features extreme movements in all directions except upside down.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism river

 

More moderate rides include Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, Transformers 3D, Pteranodon Flyers, and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. In Despicable Me Mayhem, guests can choose immovable chairs for a more surefooted experience.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism boat
The feet of guests dangle on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, which can prove a problem to some kids.  While Pteranodon Flyers is a smooth ride, it does suspend riders in flight over the Jurassic Park and is therefore not for those afraid of heights.

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The milder rides include Men in Black Alien Attack, Hogwarts Express, and The Simpsons Ride. The Simpsons Ride is another simulated roller coaster that’s mostly a mini Simpsons cartoon with a few ups and downs. The Hogwarts Express features mild train movement and can, in fact, be relaxing. For visitors who wish to experience very mild rides the Suess Landing area in Islands of Adventures is recommended.

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Effects

Many of the attractions at Universal feature loud noises. Some especially stand out with loud explosions, gunfire, and screams.  For example, Diagon Alley’s giant dragon often growls and spews real fire, while the train to Hogsmeade features whistles and screams.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism train

Though several rides at Universal are virtual they employ special lighting, darkness, and 3D glasses for their effects. The 3D glasses are not a requirement, so those sensitive to 3D effects can choose not the wear them during the ride or attraction. Those scared of the dark can wear a glow in the dark armband in attractions such as Revenge of the Mummy, Knockturn Alley, and Poseidon’s Fury.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism show

 

Other attractions involve water sprays, winds, and smoke effects, which can prove a challenge to some kids. Water based rides include Jurassic Park River Adventure, Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls, and Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges.
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Most rides have riders wear a helmet or seat belts which again might bother some kids.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism claws

Shows

Macy’s Holiday Parade, the Mardi-Gras parade, and the Superstar Parade all run outdoors in the afternoon with spectators lined along the parade route. People can sit on the sidewalk or stand during the half hour ceremony. Parents of kids who can’t sit through the entire show can leave at any time.

 

 

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism car

Families can also visit the Character Party Zone where they can find dancers from the parade performing and gsigning autographs in front of Mel’s Drive-In.

 

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism mel

Throughout the parks, there are also mini performances where spectators can stand and attend like the Blues Brothers concert stage in front of Rip Ride Rockit, and Hogwarts Frog Choir where performers sing songs from Harry Potter movies.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism parade

There are plenty of character Meet and Greet opportunities in the parks. Though there are no accommodations for them, the lines are usually short.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism potter

Finally, there’s Shrek 4D, a 3D movie with extra sensory effects like smells and water sprays. This show is an unusual attraction but can be scary or challenging for viewers with sensory issues.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism train

 

Playgrounds

Universal boasts several playgrounds like Curious George ,If I Ran the Zoo and The Olive where antsy kids can let out steam. Many of these places feature water spray areas.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism park

For kids that are temperature-sensitive, the Camp Jurassic and Jurassic Park Discovery Center are recommended.
The former is a shady playground where children can explore secret caves, climb through nets, run across bridges and slide down slides. The latter features an air-conditioned educational area focusing on the prehistoric past.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism hat

Food

Restaurants inside the parks as well as Universal City Walk feature several vegan, kosher, halal, dairy-free, gluten-free, or nut-free options for those with special diets.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism restaurant

Guests can make reservations at most sit-down restaurants on the property. However, except during very busy times of the year, one can usually just walk into most restaurants. Diners can ask about the dietary options when they book online or by phone.
Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism hall

 

Souvenirs

Like a so many other theme parks, Universal is a souvenir heaven.
Each area has unique merchandise so guests can get items ranging from favorites like Dr. Seuss, Despicable Me, Shrek, Marvel heroes like Spiderman and Hulk to Terminator, Transformers, and The Simpsons.

 

 

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism potions
But none can compare to the memento explosion of Harry Potter items to choose from: T-shirts, school uniforms, and even owl cages. Of course, most people want to get the new interactive wands. These devices interact with various locations in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. Guests can purchase these wands in several spots in the two parks, but by far the most popular place is Olivander’s Wand Shop.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism wand

Location, Hours, and Admission

Families can buy tickets online or when they get to the park. Multiple day passes are the best deal. However, the park does offer three great options for children with autism.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism duff

Universal Express Pass

The Universal Express Pass, or UEP, is a paper pass with a printed bar code that can be used around most areas of the park (excluding some Harry Potter rides). Parents can get one for everyone in the family at no additional charge when staying at any USO properties (excluding Cabana Bay).

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism coaster

They can also purchase the pass separately when arriving at the park. The UEP itself features two kinds of express passes. One offers a limit of one entry a day for each attraction. The other offers unlimited entries. Parents of children with autism who like to go on the same rides over and over again should get the unlimited pass.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism betty

 

Attraction Assistance Pass

There is also Universal’s Attraction Assistance Pass or AAP. This feature is a free pass given to accommodate guests who can’t wait in regular standby lines. One can use this pass for any ride or attraction, even one without a Universal Express Entrance. Parents can get their AAP card upon arriving at Guest Services and present identification while describing the accommodation needed. A doctor’s note explaining limitations can be useful but is not legally necessary.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism seat

The card can accommodate up to six people. It also remains valid at both parks for the entire length of one’s stay. Families just need to show a cast member their card. If a ride’s wait time is less than half an hour, they will get in immediately through the express lane. Otherwise, the cast member will write on the AAP card the attraction name, time of day, wait time, and a return time.

Navigating Universal Studios Orlando with Autism street

Guest Assistance Pass

Finally, there’s the Guest Assistance Pass or GAP. These passes are identical to a one day/two park unlimited UEP. They provide immediate entry to any attraction’s Universal Express queue, regardless of the standby wait. Guests can only get these on a strictly limited basis.

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Autism Travel Tips:

  • While the park features monthly events, summer and Christmas time are the most crowded times of the year.
  • The best way to dress is in layers since conditions vary from attraction to attraction and throughout the day.
  • Non-slip shoes are a must.
  • Parents should pack a change of clothes if anyone wants to do any water rides. The park does offer blow dryers for rent for five minutes at a time.
  • We recommend bringing a poncho to protect family members from getting soaking wet on some water rides along with flip flops.
  • The park can get crowded. Parents should snap a photo of their child to show authorities if they wander or get lost.
  • In addition, parents should get temporary tattoos or patches with their child’s name and the parent’s phone number in case they get lost.
  • Families should prepare children ahead of time that there are height restrictions on some rides.
  • Guests that can’t climb the two flights of stairs at Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade can ask staff to use the elevator to take them straight to the train platform.
  • There are no accommodations for attending parades.
  • At night, some parades may have fireworks.
  • Parents can use available lockers for shoes, socks, and small backpacks.
  • While the pathways are all paved and accessible, there might be slippery or muddy areas due to water attractions.
  • Orlando can get hot during the summer. This fact can make it uncomfortable for those waiting in outdoor lines for extended periods of time. Thankfully, many attractions at Universal are indoors and have air conditioning.
  • Those who don’t want to go on the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride can go through the queue line and experience all the Harry Potter items and scenes from the films. Interested guests just need to tell the attendant they are not riding. The attendant will then show them the exit.
  • Though the park allows guests to wear noise canceling headphones, some roller coasters like Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket and other motion intense rides won’t allow it.

 

Seven Pre-Flight Tips for Autism

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It is never too early for parents to start preparing their special needs child for any future vacation.
In fact, the sooner parents begin to practice the tips below, the more equipped they will be to travel and the more enjoyable their experiences will be. For those who might be unsure how to start the process;h ere are our tips for preparing to take a child with autism on a flight.

Prepare your kid

Parents should print or download a social story about flying from the internet to read to their child. Nowadays many airlines and airports have useful links including printable social stories to refer to on their websites. These stories can introduce the kids to the topics of airplanes and airports in a straightforward and fun way.

For kids that like watching Youtube channels, parents can look for videos online showing the particular airport they will travel from along with any eye-catching and funny airline safety commercials.

Seven Pre-Flight Tips for Autism safe

Study the airport layout

Families should download  a map of their local airport and clearly mark on them the play areas, restaurants, and restrooms. In addition, travelers can check the airport website to see whether it offers any family TSA lines or disability accommodations.

Some airports offer free mobile apps that parents can download on their phones to use when they travel. Having the app ready on their phone can aid parents in finding the different areas in the terminal faster as well as come up with alternate plans if they encounter unforeseen delays or changes.

Seven Pre-Flight Tips for Autism seat

Find places to relax

Many airports have areas for families to regroup and relax.
US airports like Minneapolis and Boston offer secluded sections with rocking chairs for those who feel stressed which are perfect for kids with autism.

Another option for families is to obtain access to airport lounges. Some lounges offer access as a credit card benefit, while for others day passes can be purchased. Depending on the frequency of travel, parents can decide whether it is a good idea to apply for a credit card that offers lounge privileges or not

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Know the different routes to the airport

Parents need to familiarize themselves and their kids with the different ways to get to the airport whether by private car and public transportation.Those planning to go by car should drive there at least once ahead of any planned trip to know exactly where to park and how to get to the different terminals.

Likewise, parents planning to arrive at the airport by bus or light rail should take a ‘dry run’ practice trip to know which station to get off and how far they would need to walk to get to the different airport areas.

By familiarizing themselves with the route, parents will not only know what to do if something goes wrong on the actual day of travel but help their kids with autism be less stressed since they will be able to recognize the different spots.

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Try the airport’s program for autism

Parents should call their home airport and ask whether they have programs for autism.
Some programs allow visits within the airport terminal, checkpoints, and inside a parked aircraft. Others like the one in Minneapolis airport even lets autism families explore the stores and different food venues in the terminal.
Moreover, to help their children remember the different places they see on tour, parents could take pictures and create a social book for them to use as a reference when traveling.

Seven Pre-Flight Tips for Autism plane

Get medical paperwork ready

Even if they have no plans to go anywhere, parents should still keep an updated printed copy of their child’s medical papers ready to use when necessary. The documents should detail the child’s diagnosis,  medicines taken along with any special accommodations they might need.

When signed by the child’s physician, these papers can be useful in communicating with the TSA, the airlines as well as mitigate misunderstandings with the flight crew while traveling.

Seven Pre-Flight Tips for Autism food

Apply for Global Entry or TSA pre-check

Parents wishing to go through a shortened TSA line with no hassle can apply for Global Entry or TSA pre-check. Though the initial vetting can take 3-4 months to complete, the good news is that once approved the card is valid for five years. Participants in the programs are allowed to keep their clothing and shoes on, and there is no need to take out the various electronic devices and  3 oz liquid bottles at the checkpoints which is helpful for families with autism.

 

Are you thinking of flying with your special needs child? What special preparations are you making?

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Pros and Cons of Wheelchair Assistance When Traveling With Autism

Pros and Cons of Wheelchair Assistance When Traveling With Autism

 

Hi Margalit,

I’m Darla from Florida, and I read your blog regularly.
It helps reading and being able to relate to the things you write. I have a daughter who is seven years old and diagnosed with severe autism. She is non-verbal but not aggressive to others. It doesn’t happen often, but when she gets stressed out in a public setting, she flaps and pulls her hair and bites herself and refuses to walk.

We have a family reunion coming up, and we’re planning to fly with Swiss Air to Romania. Unfortunately, I couldn’t book anything direct so that we will be taking multiple flights in a thirty hour period.

Our itinerary is Florida to Newark, Newark to Frankfurt with a short layover and then Frankfurt to Bucharest. I know that we can ask the airline for accommodations for our daughter and I was thinking of requesting wheelchair assistance.

I feel a bit uncomfortable since my daughter is not wheelchair bound per se, but like I said before if she is going to get stressed and have a meltdown, chances are it will be in a new environment like an airport especially when we will have had to change planes quickly. 

Do you have any thoughts about this? 

 

Pros and Cons of Wheelchair Assistance When Traveling With Autism hall
Dear Darla,

Thanks for contacting me. I’m glad that you have been able to get encouragement and support from my blog.
It is true that wheelchair assistance was initially created to help passengers who were specifically wheelchair-bound or who may have any other mobility issues; temporary or otherwise.

With that said, I feel that certain families traveling with autism should and can use this service. This service will help parents negotiate larger ports especially if their kids tire easily or get stressed out fast like you said your daughter does.

I need to tell you, however, that this service offered is not foolproof.

 

Pros and Cons of Wheelchair Assistance When Traveling With Autism car

 

Wheelchair Assistance Pros

The pros are that passengers are picked up literally at the aircraft door in a wheelchair. They are then taken to their next flight by the airport staff without having to wait or stop for most airport checks.

Passengers using the wheelchair service are shuttled through the airport by designated carts that are reserved for that purpose. The staff also helps with luggage or any personal belongings that these passengers might have.

This assistance can help families especially when airports are large with multiple terminals they are not acquainted with and if there is quite a distance to walk between the buildings. Also, airport staff helps passengers requiring wheelchair assistance not only with immigration and security checks but to board the aircraft before the other passengers and even settle in their seats.

 

Pros and Cons of Wheelchair Assistance When Traveling With Autism chair

Wheelchair Assistance Cons

However, there are also several cons that the families should think about before opting for this service.

The first is the fact that although you board the aircraft first, you are usually last to get off. Therefore, you have to wait patiently in your seat for the airport staff to come and get you. This wait may not be feasible for a child with autism.

Sometimes if the airport staff is busy, they might make you wait even longer until they come and get you which can amount to additional waiting time. That extra time can be frustrating and add to the meltdown.

Another issue is if you have a couple of hours in between flights. The airline may request that you wait patiently in a designated area instead of walking around the airport or going off on your own to eat or shop. The designated area is not necessarily kid-friendly, so you need to provide some toys or electronic devices to occupy your kid during the waiting time.

In your case, since your child is rather young and nonverbal, it may be beneficial for your family to use this service. This way, you can get the extra help you need in both Newark and Frankfurt airports. They are both large and maybe somewhat daunting especially for those not acquainted with the layout.

You didn’t mention the duration of your layover in Frankfurt, so I assume it is short. If it is longer than two hours I recommend that you contact the airline. Ask if you can be directed to the airport children’s play area and food venues to pass the time.

 

Pros and Cons of Wheelchair Assistance When Traveling With Autism seat

Concluding Thoughts

In my opinion and experience, I think that in some cases such as yours, the pros outweigh the cons.
I would suggest that you make use of the wheelchair assistance for your outgoing journey. If it is not beneficial for your needs, then you can cancel it for your return trip.

Have a wonderful reunion with your family, and I wish you well on your flights.

 

JetBlue Airline’s Autism-Friendly Service

When it comes to airlines offering top-notch autism-friendly service, JetBlue has been one of our favorites.We recently had our first opportunity to test their accommodations for ourselves and see exactly how autism-friendly the airline truly is.

For many years I’ve been following with interest JetBlue’s efforts to help travelers with autism get accommodations when they fly to their intended destinations. In fact, many of you can attest to the fact that I am one of their biggest fans; I’ve been thrilled that the company makes such a concerted effort to reach out to the special needs community especially those with autism. I have personally attended mock flights which are created to encourage families with autism to fly and I have written several posts about the airline.

Here’s my overview of our own experience flying JetBlue.

Booking

For starters, I booked my flight online and was thrilled to see how the airline has specific forms parents can fill in and explain their kid’s diagnosis and specific accommodations needed. Later that same week, I followed up with a phone call to the airline customer service. It is important to state if you need pre-boarding as well as specifying either bulk or aisle seats. Even though at that point I was informed by the rep that my request would not be possible because all seats were already booked; they arranged for us to be seated close to one another, which was great.

At the Airport

Upon arrival at the airport, the ticket counter was well organized with many self-service machines and staff to help. I spoke to the representative again explaining our needs and she managed to reassign our seats and seat us together in row 6 since the aircraft didn’t have many bulk seating rows available. We were grateful for that.

JetBlue Airline's Autism-Friendly Service Ticket Counter

JetBlue doesn’t offer any lounge service at the Fort Lauderdale airport yet, so we ended up just sitting at the gate.

JetBlue Airline's Autism-Friendly Service Gate

I need to mention that at this point there was a slight uncharacteristic hiccup. My son’s accommodation was mentioned to staff a fourth time at the gate when we got there 45 minutes before take-off. I was assured that the staff was fully aware of our needs and we would be called to board early. Much to my surprise there was no verbal announcement or call to board for people with disabilities whatsoever. This was really upsetting because we were in plain sight of the gate staff.

Boarding

When I approached the gate supervisor I was told that they board people with wheelchairs first and that travelers with autism are just put first in the regular passenger line. So, we were finally allowed to board with 250 visibly impatient passengers behind us rushing us and pressuring us to get out of the way.

JetBlue Airline's Autism-Friendly Overhead Bin

Out of breath and stressed, it took us a few minutes to put our luggage up in the overhead compartment, find our seats and settle our son which led to some dirty looks and grumblings from fellow passengers who had no choice but to wait behind us. Thankfully, as I mentioned above, this was a one-off glitch and JetBlue has definitely more than made up for it as you will see.

We already felt much better when the flight purser, Brett, came over after takeoff and apologized for the service we had encountered at the gate level and did ask whether we needed any help on board.

So, How was the Flight?

The JetBlue aircraft was a Boeing 777 with three seats on each side. The seats were moderately comfortable and made with leather.

JetBlue Airline's Autism-Friendly Service Seats

Each seat had a built-in screen where travelers could watch movies and DirecTV or use the WiFi; both purchasable. Most seats also had an outlet that passengers could recharge their electronic devices in underneath the seats. The overhead compartments were average- sized; our 20-inch carry-ons fitted well and the leg room was just as comfortable as other domestic airlines we have flown with.

JetBlue Airline's Autism-Friendly Service Television
The printed menu onboard offered the free sodas, water bottles (yes, you get your own bottle!) and snacks that were nut-free chocolate chip cookies and gluten-free potato chips.

JetBlue Airline's Autism-Friendly Service Meal

The airline also offers some purchasable food choices that include several healthy choices like chicken and steak sandwiches, salads, cheese platters and several mixed snacks packages-basically something for everyone.

JetBlue Airline's Autism-Friendly Service Flight Attendant

Overall—with the exception of our incident at the beginning of the flight—our experience with JetBlue was pleasant and comfortable and the staff gave really good service.

Lessons to be Learned

When I contacted the airline after our return to complain about the pre-boarding snafu, I am delighted to report that they apologized, acknowledged their mistake, and credited our account for the inconvenience. Best of all they reassured me that they‘ve changed their protocol so other families with autism won’t face the same situation.

JetBlue Airline's Autism-Friendly Service Pin

Trekking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela with Autism

As some of you may know our readers are always invited to contact us to ask for advice, tips or any other help planning their trips. The service is free and is available through private email on our contact us section on tour navigation bar or via our FB page. 

In this case, Lisa’s question about taking her son with autism on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela was first posted on our FB page and as we thought other readers might benefit we decided to turn it into a post.

 

Dear Margalit

Do you have any thoughts on taking one’s adult autistic offspring on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela? I am considering doing just that, although would take it a lot slower than most people, and have more rest days.
I would spend about two years physically and mentally preparing my son to go.
As my son is also intellectually disabled, an epileptic, as well as a coeliac, am I crazy to even consider it?
Any feedback would be gratefully received.
Thanks, Lisa.

 

Dear Lisa,
Thanks so much for your question.
The Camino is quite different than some of my other destinations as it is really ‘off the beaten track’, so to speak, and unique in its place in the travel industry.
It is, of course, a magnificent part of the world; with some routes and their monuments in both Spain and France even earning UNESCO World Heritage status.
Known as a predominantly Catholic pilgrimage route for centuries and called Saint James Path or The Way of Saint James; it used to be referred to as a means for spiritual growth or soul-searching for a few dozen pilgrims each year.

Trekking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela with Autism view

Photo credit: Bev Kelly

Nowadays, it has become far more familiar with a few hundred thousand travelers making the journey annually and not only for spiritual reasons.
A lot of people like the idea of peace and quiet and the tranquillity of the path that the Camino offers for an alternative holiday or getaway. Some hikers use it as a personal conquest and for some, it is not unheard of to walk the Camino to find a spouse.

Trekking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela with Autism hikers

Photo credit: Bev Kelly

In years gone by pilgrims did the journey on their own, but now there are even organized tours that make arrangements for singles, couples, and groups.
In recent years, there have been some unique accounts of people making the trek in wheelchairs with the help of their family or friends. The ultimate aim of the journey is to be able to receive a certificate of accomplishment (Compostela) to say that the pilgrim has completed at least 100 kilometers by foot; the only thing that is required for this is to walk, eat and sleep.

Trekking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela with Autism boot

Photo credit: Bev Kelly

What you need to know.

  • Good hiking boots are vital and then one has to decide on food and lodging.
  • Some people complete the walk with the bare minimum; camping out in the open and really ‘roughing it’.
  • For those who don’t like sleeping under the stars, other options are little hostels called refugios that are economical and give one the opportunity to contribute to the community’s economy.
  • The route passes through small villages and towns, and there are cathedrals and chapels along the way that appeal to religious and non-religious alike.
  • The architecture and views are spectacular and along the whole route, care has been taken to show hospitality to pilgrims with trails marked out accurately and foot fountains to soothe aching feet.
  • As a bonus, these days, all the refugios offer free WiFi, really appealing to the modern pilgrim.
Trekking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela with Autism car

Photo credit: Bev Kelly

Regarding special needs and autism, it absolutely can be done and has been done.
A woman with autism from the United States completed the route in 2013 which was a fantastic achievement.
It is, of course, imperative to plan, like you said.
Every single need and possible concern should be discussed and taken into account.For most people with autism, a schedule is vital.In an unusual way, walking the Camino provides a routine in itself.Even though you wake up in a different place every morning, the pattern of the day is the same, and there is an end goal.Your son would not need to feel pressured; walking pace and resting times are flexible.

Trekking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela with Autism road snacks

Photo credit: Bev Kelly

Autism Travel Tips

  • How comfortable is your son with sleeping in a different bed than his own? Part of your preparation can be to expose him to sleeping in different motels.
  • If he is sensitive to light, make sure that he has a sleep mask as each refugio will have different arrangements regarding blinds or curtains.
  • If your son is noise-sensitive, then earplugs or headphones will be very beneficial.
  • If your son is sensitive to heat, then choose to travel in the cooler months.
    Most hikers start out early in the morning also to avoid the heat of the day. I suggest you break-in new shoes a few weeks before to avoid getting blisters.
  • You mentioned that he has celiac disease so you would need to make allowance for carrying extra weight in gluten-free substitute foods and snacks in your backpack.
    There are stores and stalls for purchasing food along the way, but there is no guarantee that it will be suitable for your son’s digestive system.The meals at the refugios are simple, and if you are in a town or village, there is the possibility of eating at a tavern or restaurant.

 

 

Trekking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela with Autism solo hiker

Photo credit Bev Kelly

  • If your son is on medication for epilepsy, for example, you will need to take an ample supply and also a means to keep it dry and at a suitable temperature no matter where you will be staying on the route.
  • If you choose to go with a specialized tour, they do provide you with water, food and first aid as well as the option of a ride to the closest medical center if necessary. It should go without saying that travel insurance is a priority.
  • If your son enjoys the outdoors, gets a sense of accomplishment from completing goals and embraces the challenge of doing something new, then walking the Camino might be just the thing for him.
Trekking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela with Autism mountains

Photo credit: Bev Kelly

Please let me know if you are going to do it. We, at Autistic Globetrotting, would love to hear about your experience.

 

Disney’s BOMA :Introduce your Kids to African Foods

Disney’s BOMA African Food: Ceiling Decor
Disney’s BOMA African Food: Weird Decor
During our last Walt Disney World vacation, we had the opportunity to introduce our kids to the foods of Africa at Boma restaurant located at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Boma’s Decor

With the largest continent for its inspiration, both the lodge and its flagship restaurant showcase the African fauna and flora in their décor.
The restaurant features an open-plan kitchen so diners can observe the working chefs as they prepare the vast array of buffet dishes offered.
The venue’s ceilings decorated with tent- like colorful canopies and the artfully positioned painted terracotta pots contribute to the African boma theme.

Furthermore, the circular kraal design of thatch-roofed huts, earthy colors; and the fragrance of exotic spices provide a fun way to introduce kids of all ages to the wild bushland of Africa.

The Mickey-engraved mismatched chairs add just the right amount of the necessary Disney-esque whimsy to the Disney’s BOMA African Food: Inside Decor

Disney’s BOMA African Food: Table DecorBoma’s Food

Boma’s dinner menu boasts an eclectic mix of ethnic flavors, but those who are not adventurous need not to worry as American and European staples are available too.For kids, that won’t try new foods: the family-friendly eatery offers a special kid food station with baked chicken legs, chicken bites, mashed potatoes, spaghetti and even macaroni and cheese.

Dinner is served in an all you can eat buffet style providing a feast for the eyes before it even reaches the mouth.The buffet layout is slightly unusual with desserts on the left, salads and soups in the middle and meats /fish dishes on the right.

For travelers not acquainted with the dishes; there are description cards in front of each, and staff members can answer questions about ingredient which is especially important for guests with food allergies.

The spices and flavor are unique and appetizing. In truth, I can say that for all of the savory dishes, there is something for everyone, even vegans, and vegetarians.The salad section was an interesting fusion of African and American salads featuring: watermelon rind salad, chicken with chili cilantro, tabbouleh, spinach and quinoa and even an apple- jicama pasta.
The Lavash flatbread with the three hummus dips and various couscous salads were our personal preference.

Disney’s BOMA African Food: Red Soup
Disney’s BOMA African Food: pap

As avid soup fans, we just HAD to try all the soups.
There were several: Coconut Chicken Curry, Carrot, and Ginger, Harira made with lentil with sausages, Zanzibar Crab, and a spicy Mulligatawny.
We tried hard to pick a favorite but decided to give all of them a standing ovation.Noteworthy is the Mielie bread – a delicious African cornbread that was a worthy accompaniment to all soups.

The entrees are probably the best introduction to African food.
The Pap; an African cornmeal grits, Fufu a mashed yams and potato mix, Bobotie: curried meatloaf-like casserole and the two stews: Karaieme Seafood with vegetables and Chakalaka a tomato based one.
There are meats of all cuts and shapes roasting on spits, otherwise known as rotisseries.
There are wood fires for authentic grilling and stone ovens for the casserole-type dishes; all prepared with the freshest ingredients depicting traditional dishes of African countries like Tunisia, Ghana, and South Africa.
The meat dishes included pork, chicken, beef, lamb, fish and seafood prepared in various styles; grilled, baked, roasted and marinated to cook over an open fire.
Don’t miss the Masai Matar: a Kenyan style pesto with pecan and roasted peppers.

Disney’s BOMA African Food: Beef

Disney’s BOMA African Food: African PieIf visitors still have room after sampling all these tasty choices; there are desserts!
From the bread and Rice Puddings to Kenyan coffee-tarts and cassava cakes, there are multiple tempting options.
The venue most popular dessert is the Zebra Domes, which are soft mini petit-fours filled with Amarula Cream –a liqueur from South Africa mousse, encased in a creamy white chocolate shell.

On the same note for those of legal drinking age; the Animal Kingdom Lodge restaurant claims to have the largest selection of African wines outside of Africa!
For those that have never tried the world famous wines the restaurant’s wine flight options are a good way to start.

Boma also offers some unique beers and cocktails.
We liked the Habañero Lime Margarita made with Tequila, Habañero Lime, as well as their Magical Star Cocktail with Organic Mango and Passion Fruit Liqueur, Coconut Rum, and Pineapple Juice.

For non-alcoholic guests like our son, the Odwalla Lemonade topped with Wildberry Foam is an excellent choice though all meals come with a complimentary soft drink selection and free refills.

Disney’s BOMA African Food: Chocolates&Cupcakes

Disney’s BOMA African Food: Desserts

Autism Dining Tips

  • We thoroughly enjoyed our dining experience at the Boma, and it was an excellent way to introduce our son with autism to delectable culinary delights the biggest continent in the world has to offer.
  • The Boma staff like to try to accommodate those who have special dietary needs so do communicate with them about what each dish contains and if you or your child can eat it.
  • Since Boma is a very popular restaurant, it is vital to make reservations up 180 days in advance unless you are willing to go at off-peak times.
  • We recommend you go off hours and bring electronics to occupy your kid since reservation times are approximate.
  • If you discover the wait time to be too long; be sure to ask for a beeper and take the time to explore the hotel’s vast souvenir store.
  • Every hour there’s a short music performance that features drums is quite loud and lasts ten minutes.
  • Ask to be seated in a far corner if your child is sound sensitive or bring ear plugs/headphones along.
  • This restaurant offers no character encounters, but we loved the complimentary tour, given after dinner, by trained staff to watch the wild animals with night goggles in the backside of the Animal Kingdom Lodge resort.

  • Disney’s BOMA African Food: Colorful Wall

Disney’s BOMA African Food: Restraunt View

Ten Tips for Successful Museum Visits with Autism

 Museums are fantastic places for learning about history, art, culture and a variety of other subjects, but, unfortunately, some have a reputation for not being very child-friendly.

Taking children, especially those with autism to such establishments might seem like an overwhelming proposition, but with the right approach and proper planning; parents can turn it into a memorable experience for the entire family.

Ten Tips for Successful Museum Visits with Autism carriage

Before you go

Choose a hands-on museum.

Children, in general, and those with autism, in particular, like to touch everything they see. Hence, the quickest way to engage them is at a museum that features hands-on or interactive exhibits.
Luckily more and more institutions
are replacing their old-fashioned showcases with interactive exhibits, so chances are there are quite a few of these establishments in or close to where you live.

 

Ten Tips for Successful Museum Visits with Autism reagan

Take a virtual tour.

Since many museums offer virtual tours on their websites, it is best to start any introduction by having your child with autism watch one.
By observing your child’s reactions to the presentation, you will be able to gauge whether your child might or not be interested in that particular museum.

Virtual tours are also a way of familiarizing your child with the exhibits and different museum areas. It can prevent a situation of driving to the place and purchasing tickets only to discover your child with autism isn’t interested in viewing anything and insists on leaving.

Ten Tips for Successful Museum Visits with Autism herge

Expand the interest.

Before visiting the chosen museum, you should start the conversation, discussing the museum theme like art or science and expand your child’s interest through books and movies.

Ten Tips for Successful Museum Visits with Autism edo

Plan to go off hours,

Call the museum and ask the staff when the place is the least crowded so avoid potential frustration for your child if there‘s a long wait for any of the exhibits.If you plan to visit during the summer months, it is best to go after 3 PM when the local summer camp kids have left, and the museum is quieter.

Ten Tips for Successful Museum Visits with Autism technology

Download a map.

Nowadays, you can download a  floor map from most museum websites to help you navigate the sections you are planning to see especially if the museum is too vast to explore in a single visit.

Make sure to mark any restrooms and quiet areas on the map to know where to go if it is necessary.

Ten Tips for Successful Museum Visits with Autism stockholm

 Behavior in a public place.

Reiterate to your child that listening to and following staff directives is vital at all times since the museum is a public place and the staff is responsible for the safety of the public and the integrity of the exhibits.

Ten Tips for Successful Museum Visits with Autism paris

When you are there

Ask for a discount.


More and more museums are starting to offer family rates and or disability discounts, so it does no harm to ask before purchasing your tickets. If the museum is close to where you live, consider buying an annual family membership.
Such a pass would enable your family to visit several times and enjoy the museum even if the first visit or two don’t go as planned and need to be cut short.

Ten Tips for Successful Museum Visits with Autism russia

Ask for a docent tour.

If your child with autism is inexperienced with visiting a museum, find out if there are paid staff members or volunteer docents who can conduct a private highlights tour.

Ten Tips for Successful Museum Visits with Autism perot

Take pictures.

Suggest that your child takes photos of all the artifacts with their iPhone or iPad so they can relive their visit experience. Furthermore encourage your child to create a scrapbook and share their story with their classmates to enhance their involvement.

Ten Tips for Successful Museum Visits with Autism athens

Don’t attempt to ‘see it all.’.

If your child is young or gets bored quickly, you might want to limit your first few visits to 30-60 minutes as long visits might stress your child and become counterproductive.

If you think your child is enjoying the visit, try to break the stay up by having a snack or lunch break in the cafeteria or picnic area before re-entering.

Ten Tips for Successful Museum Visits with Autism cats

Have you taken your kid with autism to museums-come share your tips!

10 Favorite NYC Spots to Visit with Kids

Planning a family trip to a big city like New York can be a daunting task for most parents, let alone for parents of kids with autism.
After several readers had sent in questions about their pending  New York vacations, we thought it might be helpful to list our top ten favorite NYC spots to visit for families with autism along with some much-needed tips.

10 Favorite NYC Spots to Visit with Kids ellis

 Ellis Island

For more than sixty years, Ellis Island (open daily 9 am -4 pm ) was a federal immigration station, having closed its doors in 1954.
Nowadays, it is a museum aimed at teaching visitors about the American Immigration process. Though originally opened under the service of the National Park Service back in 1976 to the public, Ellis Island, is guarded by the Marine Patrol Unit of the United States Park Police since September 11th, 2001.

The museum is accessible by ferry boat and is on the same route as the Statue of Liberty.
Kids between the ages of 7 and 12 can become a Junior Ranger at Ellis Island by joining the destination’s program and completing various age appropriate assignments around the historic site.

Autism Travel Tips

  • Before your visit start the conversation with your kids about family heritage and roots and check out the interactive tour for your private history lesson
  • Be aware there is a security check before boarding the ferry that may include being touched by a wand or person.

10 Favorite NYC Spots to Visit with Kids swearing hall

Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty was a gift to the United States by the people of France back in 1886. The only way to get there is via the Ellis Island-Ferry system from either the New Jersey side at Liberty State Park or in New York from Battery Park.
There are three options for visiting the Statue of Liberty that include an audio tour, a basic tour that allows guests access to the grounds only,  or the crown tour that gives visitors priority boarding with access up to the Statue’s Crown.

Ticket prices range from $9 for kids to $21  for adults. All the vessels are accessible by wheelchair. Park Ranger guided tours ( about 40 minutes) are included in the ticket price.


Autism Travel Tips

  • Prepare your kid before visiting by watching several live feed cameras including the live torch cam, crown cam, harbor cam and Lady Liberty Cam.
  • Be advised there can be a moderate amount of walking involved including climbing stairs.
  • Be aware there is a security check before boarding the ferry that may include being touched by a wand or person.

10 Favorite NYC Spots to Visit with Kids lady

NYC Central Park

Created in 1858, Central Park is America’s largest urban park. It is open daily from 6:00 am until 1:00 and boasts multiple lakes, lawns, statues and even a whimsical castle. Visitors can walk around, exercise or bring a picnic basket and enjoy a light meal while lazing on the grass.Kids can borrow ‘ Discovery Kit’ backpacks filled with binoculars, field guides, a hand lens, and sketch paper while exploring the grounds.

Depending on the time of year various events like concerts and shows are held in the park.
Though many visitors walk around or ride a horse-drawn carriage within the park parameters, there are docent-led tours for those wishing to explore the area in more detail.

On weekends, the Central Park Conservancy staff and the NYC Audubon Society offer free birding lessons complete with free binoculars rental for families.Favorite spots to see with kids include:

  • Alice in Wonderland (filled with hiding places )
  • Hans Christian Andersen (kids love climbing it)
  • Balto (sled dog who saved Alaska’s children from a diphtheria epidemic by delivering medicine.)
  • The Conservatory Water made famous by the book Stuart Little to watch model boats
  • Belvedere Castle that looks and feels like a kid-sized castle
  • Strawberry Fields commonly known as the ‘Imagine’ spot serving as the memorial to John Lennon.
  • The 57- Horse Carousel playing old-fashioned calliope music.
  • The Delacorte Clock (named after philanthropist George T. Delacorte)
    that plays different chimes and nursery rhymes on the half hour.
  • The Swedish Cottage home to a marionette company.
  • Turtle Pond filled with New York City drinking water is the home to five species of turtles.
  • Built in 1984, Central Park Zoo it showcases animals from tropical, temperate, and polar zones around the world.
  • The  Park’s Wollman ice skating Rink turns to a Victorian Gardens Amusement Park in the summer months.
  • Autism Travel Tips
  • Make sure your kid wears closed-toe shoes since the terrain is uneven.
  • Most accessible playground out of the twenty-two scattered throughout the park is Robert Bendheim Playground designed to be accessible to children with disabilities
  • Plan and prepare your kid by watching a virtual tour
  • Download the app for self-guided tours.

10 Favorite NYC Spots to Visit with Kids HCA

 Brooklyn Bridge

The bridge is one of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States. Visitors can either walk, ride or bike across and then visit the  area known as DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Pass.)
The Bridge connects Brooklyn and Manhattan with a dedicated walkway and provides a spectacular backdrop for ‘selfies’. The route is a little over a mile, but there are no shaded places to sit and rest. Depending on your pace and the number of pedestrians, it can be accomplished from thirty minutes to an hour.

Autism Travel Tips

  • If your kid loves to ride a bike, then this is the place for you!
  • if you visit during the summer months, try to go early in the morning when it is less hot.
  • There are vendors along the route selling water and snacks.
  • Stop in the Dumbo area for a slice of original thin crusted New York City pizza.

10 Favorite NYC Spots to Visit with Kids FLAG

Coney Island

The ‘touristy’ part of the island consists of theme park-like attractions, beach (with lifeguards) and seaside resort that are a favorite seasonal venue from Easter through Halloween.

The beach and boardwalk, filled during the summer weekends are open year round and are equipped with clean restrooms and shower facilities.
During the summer months, every Friday night there is a firework show on the beach at 9:30 PM. Travelers can get to Coney Island via car, bus or subway from Manhattan.
While visiting make sure to stop by one of the two Nathan’s hot dogs locations for a taste of an authentic new york city ‘dawg’.

Autism Travel tips

  • Bring closed shoes if your kid wishes to ride any of the amusement park rides before enjoying the beach.The theme park can be a bit of a money pit since unlike Disney here you pay for each ride separately and those can add up.
  • Prearrange a budget with your kid before going to eliminate potential meltdowns.

10 Favorite NYC Spots to Visit with Kids coney island

Tenement Museum

Located at 97 Orchard Street, the museum provides valuable insight of the lives and work conditions of immigrants in the early years of the twentieth century.
The museum is small and maintained in close to original shape, so participation in a guided tour is the only option for visitors.
On select dates, the museum offers a coupled building tour and walking tour option.The museum is recommended for visitors eight years old and up.
Babies, infants and children under six are not permitted on building tours except for the “Meet Victoria Confino” presentation.
Visitors should allow an hour to explore each floor of the tour.The museum is open daily except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day and tickets prices range between 20-25$.

Autism Travel Tips

  • As mentioned before the museum is in an old building so visitors must be able to negotiate old fashioned narrow staircases.
  • Mentioned before the museum is in an old building so visitors must be able to negotiate old fashioned narrow staircases
  • If your kid is a history buff, then he or she will enjoy the visit
  • Take into account the tour is almost two hours long with no place to sit.
  • If your kid is temperature sensitive, avoid visiting in the summer since the place has no A/C.



10 Favorite NYC Spots to Visit with Kids LIBRARY

NYC’s 9/11 Memorial

The 9/11 Memorial and Museum created to commemorate the fallen heroes are open daily from 9 AM to 8 PM.Ticket prices range from $15 for youth to $24 for adults with discounts for students and seniors. Active and retired military, museum members along with rescue workers and family members from 9/11 have free admission.
The museum offers free admission to the public on Tuesday evenings from 5-8PM.

From the 15-minute introductory video in the theater on the ground floor to the third floor with September 11, 2001, exhibit the museum is very instructive with over 23,000 images.
.It usually takes about two hours to visit the Memorial and Museum.

Visitors can book a guided tour, available in English or use an app ( Google play and Itunes) that is the official audio tour guide available in numerous languages, as well as American Sign Language.

Autism Travel Tips

  • The site is popular with tourists so book your tickets online and plan to arrive early in the day to avoid the crowds.
  • The museum is stroller friendly with a café inside.Use the printable museum guide for children to show the different sites to your kids
  • Tips for talking to your kids about the Nine Eleven Attacks.
  • Visiting the actual memorial is recommended for all ages even if you decide to skip the museum.

10 Favorite NYC Spots to Visit with Kids MEMORIAL

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Known as the largest Art Museum in the United States ‘the Met’ is open daily. The museum features traveling exhibits and offers various free art classes for kids and adults. The cost for entrance ranges from $12 for students, $17 for seniors and $25 for adults.
Backpacks must be checked in and no food or drinks allowed; only plastic water bottles. Strollers and wheelchairs are permitted.
Pens and markers are prohibited from being used, although pencils are allowed.
Look into special passes or comprehensive city passes if you plan on visiting several New York City attractions during your vacation.
Check out the family guides to help plan your stay.

Autism Travel Tips

  • Depending on your kid’s ability you can expect a short or long visit.
  • Use our museum tips to help you make the most of your stay.

10 Favorite NYC Spots to Visit with Kids TIMES SQUARE

American Museum of Natural History

The American Museum of Natural History is the place to see many fossils and dioramas and learn biology, physics, astronomy, mineralogy and other scientific fields.
The museum is open daily except for Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Get familiar with the family programs before planning your visit.

Options for admittance depends on the type of tour visitors wish to take with prices ranging from $12.50 for children to $22 for adults. Specialized docent tours focusing on exhibits or sections of the museum are offered as well as tours in foreign languages.Popular tours for kids are Dino and Whales tours-each two hours long.

There is a food court on the lower level and a café on the fourth floor as well as a coat check to leave backpacks.Print out the interactive floor plan beforehand to assist you in planning your visit better.

Autism Travel Tips

  • Since this is a large museum, you might want to plan your trip around some of your kid’s favorite topics like dinosaurs or rocks instead of trying to see it all.
  • Call ahead and arrange a privately conducted docent tour if your kid isn’t able to participate in a group tour.

10 Favorite NYC Spots to Visit with Kids GOBLINS

The Empire State Building

Want to see the city in all its glory?
Then The Empire State Building is the perfect spot to do so.
Starting with gorgeously detailed art deco ceilings and elevators, fascinating exhibits to the two observation decks the Empire State Building provides a comprehensive overview of the Big Apple.
The famous icon of the New York with a long-standing tradition of changing colors synchronized to music now displays over 16 million LED colored lights on a nightly basis.

Both the 86th floor open -observation deck and the glass-enclosed top deck provide 360-degree views of New York from a unique vantage point.For those interested in historical trivia -make sure you check out the manually operated Otis elevator that takes visitors from the 86th floor to the top observation deck.

Autism Travel Tips

  • The attraction is very autism-friendly.
  • Make sure you pre-purchase your tickets online.
  • If the lines to the observation elevators are too long for your kid to stand in ask for customer service to help to bypass the queue.


10 Favorite NYC Spots to Visit with Kids TRAIN STATION

 

 

Have you taken your kids with autism to New York City?
What spots were your family favorites?

Q&A with Jessica Bowers ,Founder of Suitcases and Sippycups

When and how did you start traveling?

I grew up in a family where travel wasn’t a priority, so I never really knew the joy of travel until I was married with children.
My husband had a job that required him to travel, so we packed up our little one and went along with him.

It was a trip to England-my first overseas trip with a one-year-old in tow that made me realize how much of the world is out there to explore.

Why is it important for you to travel?

There are so many great reasons to travel, but the reason I love travel the most is because it challenges you.
Travel forces us out of our comfort zone, teaches us to be flexible, and builds skills for problems solving.
As the parent of a child with autism, these are skills that we need to work on every day.
Travel gives us a chance to do that, with the bonus of making great family memories.

What is your biggest challenge?

In the early years of traveling with a child on the spectrum, the meltdowns (real or possible) were, hands-down) the most significant problem.
If we were to get on an airplane, I would have to spend every minute of that flight talking softly in my son’s ear to keep his anxiety under control and warn him about what would happen next so he wouldn’t be caught off guard. Now that he is older, we still spend a lot of time managing expectations to prevent frustration and blowups, although it certainly has changed from when he was little.
We have to find a balance between forcing him to try new things in new environments and making, sure enough, things are expected and similar to home so that he stays calm.

Q&A with Jessica Bowers ,Founder of Suitcases and Sippycups desert

Photo Credit Jessica Bowers

How has travel with special needs changed you?

Traveling with special needs has taught me to marvel at the existence of ordinary miracles.
Everything that my son does takes effort for both of us.
Things like swimming, snorkeling, or trying new foods that are a mundane task for typically developing kids are a major accomplishment for him. It can take days or month or years of failures for him to achieve, but once he does the joy and celebration is compounded by all of the effort that it took to get to that point.
Traveling with him has given us so many opportunities to find those ordinary miracles to celebrate.

What would be your bucket list when traveling with your family?

I hate the ‘bucket list” questions because I truly want to see and do it all.
I am sure that I will run out of life before I run out of a list.
Mostly I want to make sure that my kids have had enough experiences that they feel comfortable in any situation. If I were pressed to make a list, I would say that I want to visit all 50 states, go on an African safari, and see the Seven Wonders of the World.

Your most useful planning tip would be?

The most useful planning tip for travel is just to do it.
There will always be excuses and reasons why you should put off going. Ignore those reasons and find a way to make it happen.
Also, bring wipes, even if you don’t have a baby. There is always a use for wipes.

Q&A with Jessica Bowers ,Founder of Suitcases and Sippycups firemen

Photo Credit Jessica Bowers

Have you managed to go anywhere without kids and why do you find it important?

Traveling without the kids, even if it is just for a weekend, is so important, but we have made the dire mistake of ignoring this in the past.
When our son was at his most challenging, we had a hard time finding babysitters that would work for him, so we stopped making time to connect as a couple.
As a result of not connecting as adults, coupled with the stress of raising a special needs child, we almost ruined our marriage. It took a long time to repair the damage done from the years of neglect.
From my experience, I can strongly encourage couples to take time for their marriage, especially when caring for your child seems hardest.

Your Favorite Travel Memory is?

Asking a serial traveler to choose one particular memory is almost impossible. There are so many places and experiences that have left footprints on my heart.
If I had to pick one memory without thinking too hard, it would be when my son conquered his fear of the ocean to snuba dive for the first time. He had always been afraid to even get in the water, but the sensory issues of using scuba equipment made the experience even harder. We were determined to succeed and he worked so hard to overcome his fears.
Afterward, he was standing taller than I had ever seen him. It was worth the effort.

Do you tell people or not about your child’s disability?

It varies from situation to situation. If we are in a hotel or location where I know we are going to need special accommodations, I am always upfront about his diagnosis and needs.
On the other hand, I try to be sensitive to the fact that he doesn’t want details about his life displayed to everyone. I am always assessing the situation to attempt to decide if telling or not telling will create the most freedom and acceptance for him.

Q&A with Jessica Bowers ,Founder of Suitcases and Sippycups ocean

Photo Credit Jessica Bowers

How do you help tackle sensory overload for your son?

I always, always have tissue or cotton in my purse for makeshift ear plugs in case things get too loud.
I also try to bring along food that I know he will like and will feel comfortable.
Before one trip, I bought him a collapsible bowl and a box of rice Krispies (his favorite) to put in his suitcase. It gave him such comfort to know that he had something familiar to pull out every morning.

What item can’t you travel without?

I-pad, without a doubt.
I know that parents are supposed to be anti-electronics, but handheld devices make transitions and long travel days so much easier, especially with sensory issues.

How can you enhance learning while traveling?

Because we homeschool, I am always looking for ways to incorporate learning into travel.
Fortunately, there are so many things we can learn while we are exploring, but I have to do my homework as the teacher to make it all work.
I like to research prior to traveling and make sure I know the details of the places we will visit, so I can casually work those into a conversation. It’s my sneaky little way of making sure they are learning without letting them know they are actually learning.

Q&A with Jessica Bowers ,Founder of Suitcases and Sippycups ski

Photo Credit Jessica Bowers

Your preferred method of transportation is.

My favorite mode of transportation is by car.
Road trips offer so much flexibility, as well as the capability to bring more of the things that make us comfortable. Plus, you never know what might be around the bend on a road trip. The next town on the map could be your next favorite place. I love that possibility.


What souvenirs does your family collect?

I am such a minimalist at heart that I like to avoid souvenirs at all costs. In fact, going into the souvenir shop is like a special kind of torture for me.
However, I want to have opportunities to remember the places we have visited, so I collect a magnet at each location. We keep them on our refrigerator and that allows us to talk about travel memories when we are cooking and eating meals.

Jessica and her family can be described in one word—average. They are a middle-class family living in Middle America right smack in the midst of the suburbs with three bedroom 2 1/2 baths and a minivan. To take a break from the ordinary, they travel the world looking for extraordinary adventures. The family’s travels are chronicled at  www.Suitcases and Sippy Cups.com , and on FB where you can find travel tips and travel inspiration with a healthy dose of ‘keeping it real.’

Why Traveling with Autism is Beneficial for Families

 

From recent conversations I’ve had with parents to kids with autism, it seems that most focus too much on travel logistics and forget the actual benefits it might bring to their family as a whole and their child as an individual.
Having traveled with my son with special- needs for almost a decade, I can personally attest that the advantages outweigh the hardships by far.

Education

Traveling introduces multiple school disciplines like math, geography, history, and literature into your child’s life through hands-on experience.
Suddenly everything comes to life, and History is no longer some dates in a thick book, but meetings with enthusiastic docents and significant event reenactments.
Math changes from boring homework exercises to calculating tips, money exchange rates, and even daily budgets for different items. Geography is transformed from glossy pictures in a school textbook to rock climbing mountain ranges or hiking volcanic parks.
Last but not least, your child is introduced to literature through visiting the towns and homes of famed authors.

In our case, spatial perception and map reading were especially difficult for my son, until he decided he was going to learn to negotiate the Parisian Metro System one summer.
As the saying goes, the rest was history.

 

 

Why Traveling with Autism is Beneficial for Families stacking

 

Art and Music Appreciation

Still in their infancy, our kids were introduced to the beautiful world of art.
We used to take them to every museum in our area as well as galleries and street craft fairs.
Whether it was the masters, modern, cubism or anime, art was anywhere they could experience it.
As we started traveling, we continued and expanded on that concept to include not only world renowned famed museums but local artists studios, beach sand art festivals, and even sidewalk chalk demonstrations.

While traveling, look for free musical performances, Sunday organ concerts at churches, and charity events as well as operas and Broadway musicals. Like art, any exposure to different styles of music will help broaden and expand your child’s horizons.


Culture

With travel comes the continuous exposure to diverse cultures.
All of a sudden, your child can compare and contrast people’s daily lives and customs in different parts of the world.
As a youngster, our son was eager to find similarities between the new places and his hometown, so he kept insisting on checking out McDonald’s, Starbucks, Subway, and other American fast food giants wherever we went.
He was surprised to discover that these fast food chains offer different menus than in the United States, according to local demand. Hence by visiting seemingly ‘unlikely touristy places,’ he still got to be introduced to the differences.

 

Tips to Visiting D-Day Normandy Beaches with Kids shore

 

Promoting Tolerance

Introducing your child to different religions in today’s global community can help shape him or her into becoming a more accepting and tolerant future member of society.
Start by visiting traditional churches, temples and mosques and learning about their unique features and architecture.
If you have the time and opportunity, stay for a community event to witness at first hand a holiday celebration. Over the years, we have visited many different places of worship, and it promoted better understanding in our kids and reinforcing their observation of how similar people and religions truly are.

 Compassion and Empathy

As we started traveling to poorer countries, our sons witnessed poverty, homelessness, and suffering on a global scale. The actual visualization of needy persons made my children realize how they were not the center of the world and how even in small ways they can contribute and influence the outcome of certain events. As our sons grew older, they started coming up with better ideas to help their community and charities.  Over the years, they have been active in collecting toys and school supplies for orphanages in Mexico, glasses for kids in South Africa, the Katrina cleanup, as well as money to save the marine life in the oil-soaked Gulf of Mexico after the BP spill.

 

Why Traveling with Autism is Beneficial for Families baked alaska

 

 Enhancement of Social and Language Skill

One of the things that still fascinate me about travel is the way it helps travelers with autism to adapt and learn to become more flexible.

Even though most parents try to arrange for accommodations for their kids; the truth is that sooner or later they are bound to face some situation that will have no accommodations which will force him or her to deal with day to day challenges like waiting in a queue, facing crowds or practicing manners.
Parents should embrace these incidents and use them as positive teaching stepping stones instead of looking for reasons not to travel with their kids.
Moreover, traveling, also increases opportunities for interacting with other people, which, in turn, help children with autism improve their language and self-advocating skills.

 Experiencing the World in Different Ways

Even though my family and I are not outdoors people, traveling has helped us become more adventurous and try activities we would have never imagined ever considering.
We have successfully tried swimming with dolphins, manatees, and stingrays as well as rock climbing, snorkeling, sea trekking, skydiving, zip-lining, and paragliding.
From starting off as a teen that screamed every time he was dunked into a shallow pool or walked on sand, he has come a very long way. Our experience isn’t unique in any way, it just proves that persistence in exposure can make a huge difference.

 

 

Why Traveling with Autism is Beneficial for Families magic toilets

Food Choices

Another great example of successful continuous exposure lies in the food department.
As a preschooler, my son (like many others) restricted his diet to either Burger King or McDonald’s. With time and perseverance (and quite a bit of bribery) we succeeded in introducing him to global cuisines such as European, Asian, African, and Middle Eastern.

On cruises, we would encourage him to at least take one bite of any food that had a strange texture, odor or looked visually incorrect to him.
One bite progressed to two, then three, and soon the whole dish.
Today he enjoys sampling foods from around the world on weekly basis and is even attempting to cook some of his favorite dishes at home

Spreading Autism Awareness

Everywhere we go, we tell people about autism and answer questions about how our son copes with on his day-to-day life.
We describe the ups and downs of the spectrum and most important of all, how others can help kids like our son.
This kind of exposure gives the world a glimpse into the life of someone with autism and helps people with autism understand the complexities of the world and how their behaviors, especially meltdowns, are judged in reality.

 

Lima’s Magic Water Circuit orange

Family Bonding

During an average day, everyone is preoccupied with daily chores, and it is hard for parents to find adequate time to bond with their kids. That all changes during travel when parents are free of daily chores like driving to activities, cleaning, and cooking, so they can spend RELAXING time with their kids and get to know them better.
Vacation time is also an excellent opportunity to integrate the child with autism in family activities and create lasting family memories.

Sensory Issues

Travel can lay the groundworks for new experiences; hearing different sounds, tasting different foods, seeing new sites, and touching various textures for kids with autism.
However, it is equally important for parents to help continue the learning process at home.
Parents should take their kids to visit local museums, beaches, pools, dine in ethnic neighborhood venues, and listen to different concerts on a regular basis to enhance exposure and combat existing sensory challenges.

 

 

 

 

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