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.

 

 

 

 

Visiting D-Day Normandy Beaches With Kids

Today June 6 marks the 70th anniversary of what has come to be known as D-Day.
On this day in 1944, the Allied forces composed of US, Canadian UK, and French soldiers landed simultaneously on five adjacent beaches in Normandy and launched a massive attack on the German army strategically barricaded behind a series of land mines, barbed wire, and walls nicknamed ‘the Atlantic wall’.
By the end of the day the British, Canadian and American divisions established strongholds on land and succeeded not only in breaching the German Nazi fortifications’ but changing the course of the war that eventually lead to the end of WWII.

Tips to Visiting D-Day Normandy Beaches with Kids view

Nowadays the bunkers, beaches, and cemeteries with the gravesites of the fallen soldiers are open to the public between 9-5 on a daily basis except on holidays.

Should you take your kids?

The short answer is yes; especially if your children are ten years old or older, and have already learned about WWII in history class.
It is important to talk to children about the circumstances that lead to WWII, and about how wars, in general, have impacted modern civilization and humanity.

What is there to see and how long does it take?

You can tailor the visit depending on your child’s interest and level of attention.
A typical visit can last anywhere from a couple of hours to several days exploring the different sites. The most frequented site with over 1 million of visitors a year is Omaha Beach with its adjacent American Cemetery and Point Du Hoc view of the Cliffs.
You don’t need to make special reservations but be aware that it can get more crowded around the US Memorial day and the D-day anniversary time.

Tips to Visiting D-Day Normandy Beaches with Kids bunkers

Introducing your kid to WWII

Though, most European and American children study about WWII by 6th grade, as a parent, you should still discuss the significance of the day and events before visiting. An easy way to start is to rent and watch the acclaimed ‘Saving Private Ryan’ movie that depicts the chaos and horror that ensued the landing.

Tips to Visiting D-Day Normandy Beaches with Kids fortifications

Preparing for your visit

Pack a day bag with the usual essentials like snacks, water, sunscreen, band-aids (in the case of falls) and ponchos (in the event of rain).
Be aware that most sites are outdoors; the terrain is uneven rugged and can become muddy when it rains; so closed walking shoes with anti-slip soles are highly recommended.

Tips to Visiting D-Day Normandy Beaches with Kids monument

The Highlights

Pointe du Hoc
After exploring a small exhibit at the new visitor center, your kids can roam the Nazi bunkers, gun emplacements, and deep craters on their own while wondering how it must have felt for the troops scaling the cliffs under intense fire.

Tips to Visiting D-Day Normandy Beaches with Kids underground

The American Cemetery

After you pass security; head on to the memorial site that depicts maps and descriptions of the different military operations as well as the Walls of the Missing where 1,557 names are inscribed.
Don’t forget to stop by the beautifully landscaped reflecting pool and the inspirational ‘spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves’ statue.

Tips to Visiting D-Day Normandy Beaches with Kids memory

 

Next, you can wander around the 170-acre cemetery that is located on the original burial ground established by the U.S.Army on June 8, 1944. As you walk among the over 9,387 thousand crosses and Stars of David perfectly aligned, you can solemnly salute the brave young men who died in the massive military operation.

Tips to Visiting D-Day Normandy Beaches with Kids graves
Exceptionally moving is the section where siblings and family members are buried next to each other; as the two Roosevelt brothers in Plot D, Row 28 and Niland brothers Plot F.

Tips to Visiting D-Day Normandy Beaches with Kids lake
End on an optimistic note

After visiting the cemetery, you can walk a path on the cemetery grounds that leads to the rather peaceful beach below. It is interesting to point out to your kids who that after seventy years, life in Normandy has moved on, and the beaches are used by locals to swim and relax in.

Tips to Visiting D-Day Normandy Beaches with Kids beach

Extend your visit

Stop by the small resort town of Arromanches for a picnic on the beach or quick bite in one of the cafes along the beach front.
Complete your tour at the Arromanches 360 degree theater and watch a 20- minute presentation of the invasion or check out Mulberry harbor designed and constructed by the British to facilitate the unloading of military supplies following D-Day invasion.

Tips to Visiting D-Day Normandy Beaches with Kidsflags
Autism Travel Tips

  • Consider hiring a local guide for your tour to engage your child with detailed stories of the invasion.
  •  Bring a pair of noise canceling headphones for the movie since it can become quite loud during shelling or Nazi rally clips.
  • For travelers with mobility restrictions ,wheelchairs are available free of charge but expect the paths to make for a bumpy ride.
  • Tips to Visiting D-Day Normandy Beaches with Kids tanks

Q&A with Tony Gross of ‘TalkRocketGo’ mobile app

TalkRocket Go, the product of Canadian based company MyVoice, is an innovative mobile application for i-Pads and i-Phones that utilize voice synthesis technology to allow verbal communication for people with autism and brain injuries.
Some of the app’s unique features include: “locabularies”–location (GPS) based phrases—and an interactive “support studio” that enables family members or teachers to pre-program and add phrases as needed via Wi-Fi.
We chatted with MyVoice community director Tony Gross—who is a parent of a special needs child himself—to hear more about how the app can help travelers with autism.

Tony Gross :Community Director for 'TalkRocketGo' vacation

How did your company come up with the product?

TalkRocket Go was inspired by a lack of affordable speech aid options with personal and age-appropriate customization.
TRG harnesses GPS technology to create “location aware” vocabularies as well as enabling family members and therapists to program it remotely from any computer.

TalkRocket Go is the most accessible AAC application for physical disabilities and is used by thousands of people worldwide (both in English and in French) in all age groups (with our largest group being individuals with autism.)

photo 2Tony Gross :Community Director for 'TalkRocketGo' pack

What are the benefits of using TalkRocket Go for travelers with special needs?.

TalkRocket Go’ can be used to express basic or complex needs, make choices, and even engage in meaningful conversation.The result is inclusion in all aspects of life from education to employment to travel.
With the right tools and preparation, there is no reason families shouldn’t travel with family members with autism.

The behaviors and unforeseen circumstances most parents fear, usually stem from an inability to express oneself or cope with a situation the special -needs person feels outside their control. The app provides a voice for individuals with autism to self-advocate and to develop a greater sense of independence.

Furthermore, its vocabulary can be customized to include the person’s particular trip details such as itinerary, various addresses and phone numbers, favorite foods, and how to communicate in an emergency (or if lost).
Additionally, actual (personal or online) photos of airports, hotels or attractions can be added to the personal profile to help the special needs traveler identify the places he or she will be visiting.

photo -Tony Gross :Community Director for 'TalkRocketGo' essentials

Going through airports checks can be stressful for people with autism. How can the app help?

Details are important to those with autism so having every step of a trip documented, from taxi rides, check in at terminals, security, and customs, to in-flight experiences and what to do when things go wrong can be incredibly reassuring for travelers with autism.
The ease of programming on an i-Phone or i-Pad allows for the addition of digital pictures and new words in real time over Wi-Fi to address any unforeseen events.

 

photo 4-Tony Gross :Community Director for 'TalkRocketGo' flying

How can the app help with travel?

All they would need to do is pre-program details and photos of the person’s destination, home address, family or friends’ phone numbers, and phrases to ask for help.
The location awareness feature (GPS) of the i-Phone or i-Pad device can assist the travelers to navigate while TalkRocket Go’s ‘locabularies’ can offer words related to closest places. For example, while near or at your hotel, a folder of “hotel” words like a room, key, and passport will appear at the top of a list.

Can parents use the app to create social stories for traveling kids?

Absolutely!
With the application, every picture with words can become a full-screen image.
One can tap to speak or swipe through like a digital book (which is easy, especially for younger kids).

 

Supporter-StudioTony Gross :Community Director for 'TalkRocketGo' screen


What sets your product apart from your competitors?

Every feature of TalkRocket Go pioneered something new or more sophisticated than other alternatives.
Introducing the use of any images, ‘locabularies’, and an appearance tailored to young, teenage, or adult users are the top features.

The online studio lets any supporter add content from anywhere that syncs instantly with a user’s device and is automatically backed up. This “cloud” design can also let you access your words across multiple different devices, whether it is an i-Pad in one setting, an i-Pod for portability in another, or even on a parent’s i-Phone as a reassuring backup. It’s sophisticated, easy to use and not technologically intimidating to families.

 Tony Gross :Community Director for 'TalkRocketGo'

“Rachael Gross, age 17, lives with CP as a result of an acquired brain injury that happened while traveling around the world at age 5.
Despite many challenges, Rachael, and her family have resumed their travels; visiting Florida twice and Paris once. Their next destination will be New York City and hopefully a return visit to Paris, their all-time favorite.” Rachael already has her French TalkRocket Go AAC app ready to go.

 

 

Preventing Incidental Charges During Travel

Though times are changing and there is more awareness about autism worldwide, many hotels and cruise cabins are not necessarily setting up autistic travelers (and their families) for success.
The good news is, with a little planning, you can still minimize your liability and avoid paying for expensive incidental charges before they occur. Here are the top ten tips that we have put together based on previous experience, to you save both time and money for your next trip!

Preventing Incidental Charges During Travel shopping


In Hotels

  • Prevent mini bar/specialty tray charges
     Your child may assume that the fridge stocked with beverages or the appealing snacks on the handy trays are complimentary, but that is not the case. You should tell your kid not to touch the merchandise since even moving it without consuming it can trigger a charge.Also, call the front desk or housekeeping and ask them to remove the items to prevent the unnecessary temptations.
  • Block pay-per-view and porn charges
    After entering the room call the front desk and ask them to block the channels. Enough said.
  • Breakables in room
    After check in, all the front desk or housekeeping and ask for fragile objects to be removed, so they are not destroyed in the event of an emotional outburst or tantrum.By doing so,y ou can make sure the property doesn’t charge your account for any damages incurred.
  • Block room service charges
    Notify the front desk as soon as you can to block the room service charge capability. Your child may not understand that those costs add up, and might not even understand that there is a charge at all, so the best option is just to block them all from the beginning.

On Cruiseships

  • Arcade and Casino spending
    Ask customer service to disable room key charge power. Those arcade games costs can add up and your child is likely to spend a considerable amount of money there which does not work well especially if you are on a set budget!
  • Incidental purchases
    Ask for any purchases in hotel or cruise ship stores that can be charged to room or cabin to be approved by you first if you are not there.
  • Disable Auctions on cruise ships
    Notify customer service to disable charging power on your child’s room key in case they want to bid on an unnecessary item you don’t approve of or know about.
  • Before leaving the ship check your child’s luggage
    Making sure your kid didn’t “borrow” anything from the cabin that you’ll be charged for is always a good idea.

 

10 Tips to prevent Incidental Charges during Travel arcade

In General

  • Missing or damaged items in cabins or rooms
    Before you leave, check to be sure nothing noticeable is missing or damaged in the cruise cabin or room.  Take a few minutes and always verify that everything is in working condition and intact when you first check in.
    Should you notice anything broken or damaged immediately notify the front desk and ask for someone to come and make a WRITTEN note of the damage and get a copy! Take additional photographs on your camera for further evidence.
  • Avoid phone call charges including 1-900 and international charges.Make sure to call the front desk and Block phone call capacity from the room to avoid any charges.

 

Have you traveled with your kids and incurred incidental expenses? What tips would you add to this list?

Q&A with Christine Frances Poe of Travelling Tikko™

Q&A with Christine Frances Poe of Travelling Tikko™ plane

Please introduce us to  your family

I live with my husband Brett and our sons Bryce ( 13) and Dorian ( 10) in Burlington, Ontario in Canada. Brett works in transportation and loves jamming with the “Kanuck” band while I’m an entrepreneur working from home. My passions include advocating for autism, writing, singing, and performing puppet shows.
Bryce, our son, loves acting and wants to follow in my family’s footsteps.
My mom Hazel Gorin is Maynard’s original ‘Sour Granny’; my dad is Ken Gorin; a church singer (Sacrifice); my sister Stephanie Gorin; a Toronto Casting Director and my brother-in-law is Joe Bostick; Fight Director/Actor. My two nephews are also in the ‘biz’ Devon Bostick who played Rodrick in ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ and Jesse Bostick who was Antonello in ‘The Borgias’.
Dorian also has the ‘showbiz’ bug and dreams of being a rock star one day, and music teacher working with autistic children.

Why do you like to travel

Living with an autistic child is challenging since public awareness, and acceptance is lacking.
Venturing out causes “anxiety” for our family.
Travelling takes more preparation and a lot more time to ease our child into the journey though it is a welcome escape from the “norm”.

How would you describe your preferred family travel style?

We love travelling by car.
Going on “ adventure rides”, we stop periodically; meeting new people along the way. Landscapes engage my children in something other than “electronics” which is wonderful. By the way, our favorite travel game is ‘Punch Buggy’.

How has travel helped your family? 

When you live with autism, the family dynamic can be strained. Bryce’s need for “alone time” hurts Dorian’s feelings; causing some of his meltdowns. During our car travels, both brothers find ways to co-exist amicably, so it’s “quality time” for the entire family.

Q&A with Christine Frances Poe of Travelling Tikko™ carousel

What is your best vacation memory?

My favourite vacation was our honeymoon to Myrtle Beach.
Brett and I left before sunrise.Without planning a route or knowing where we would sleep along the way, we played it by ear. We also took turns driving throughout the night.  It felt quite adventurous.

 

What was your worst vacation story?

Our family vacationed at a Collingwood resort offering a kids’ summer camp. Needing a break from the everyday chaos, we enrolled Dorian in their half-day camp. After a couple of hours, they requested we pick Dorian up. Apparently, after he was ordered to leave the pool, by the lifeguard, Dorian screamed, “No!”  Then, flailing his arms, Dorian accidentally fractured the nose of the counselor coming to console him.
Though Dorian apologized the next day, his camp participation was terminated.

What has your son learnt from traveling?

We haven’t ventured outside of Ontario yet, so Dorian has learned very little about the outside world.
We’re hoping that will change this year when we take our first big trip to Orlando, Florida.

What does your family travel bucket list look like?

Bryce dreams of travelling by air.
I’d love to enjoy an early morning latté at an outdoor Paris café; Dorian wants to visit Egypt and Brett dreams of visiting somewhere exotic.

Q&A with Christine Frances Poe of Travelling Tikko™ plane

How did you come up with the concept of your project?

My friend Karen Ellis shared the story of a little girl with cancer who wanted to travel but couldn’t.

So, she sent her teddy bear to travel around the world instead of her. She saw the world through the bear’s eyes; and from postcards she received.
It was a lovely story, and when I shared it with Dorian, he responded, “Mommy, I want to send TIKKO™ (Dorian’s GANZ Webkinz Polar Bear) into the world to raise autism awareness!

 I don’t want people to keep TIKKO™; I’d miss him too much.”  I replied, “Why don’t we ask our friends to take TIKKO™ on vacation and bring him back when the trip is over? ”  Dorian loved the idea.
And that’s how Travelling Tikko™”  started!

As TIKKO™ travels, I research local autism organizations where he visits, AND posT links on Facebook’s Travelling Tikko™ page.
By taking TIKKO™ on vacation, families help raise autism awareness and their vacation photos are shared on Facebook.

Where do you see yourself five years from now?

I avoid “five-year plans.
My angels will guide me where I’m meant to go.
I would love to see more people advocating for autism; understanding ASD with love and compassion.
Ultimately, this is Dorian’s legacy.  For now, I am his voice, helping Dorian realize his dream of making the world a better place.

 

 


Q&A with Erin Wilson of QR CODE ID

Ask any parent and they will tell you that losing their child in a crowd is probably one of their biggest fears.
It can happen in an instant when you take your eyes off your child: in an airport, theme park even the local market.

When my kids were younger, I admit I was one of those moms writing my cell number with a sharpie on my kids’ arms before heading out almost anywhere. Over the years, I’ve met many parents to kids with autism( some non-verbal )who have expressed their concern not only for their children wandering off unsupervised but of their child’s ability to ask for help once they feel lost.
Enter the QR Code ID!
Created by Erin Wilson mother to a son with autism, the QR Code ID is a bar code that can be a applied to any item kids wear and can be easily scanned to obtain immediate medical and personal information when needed.

Q&A with Erin Wilson of QR CODE ID hill top

Photo credit: Erin Wilson

 

 

What is QR Code ID?

QR Code ID provides information for those who are unable to communicate during critical moments.
It can be a lifesaver for people with Autism, Down Syndrome, Dementia and Alzheimer’s who may wander and not be able to ask for help.
It is also a useful tool for law enforcement and first responders in that it helps not only identify the person but understand the person’s behaviors and needs better.
The QR code information can either be scanned with a smartphone or accessed by manually entering a unique number associated with each profile on QR code’s website. Each profile contains emergency contact and behavioral information. This information can also be changed in real time, and parents have the capability to post messages like “We are on Main street looking for him-Please take him to the security gate.” or “My asthma inhaler is in the front pocket of my purse.” when needed.

What made you come up with the idea?

It started on a lunch date with my husband and I brainstorming about different options on the market that could be helpful for him if and when he ever got lost.
Our son Jay has moderate – severe autism with very limited language ability and has gotten lost before.
And then it dawned on me – we needed a way to relay his information that will always be with him.
That’s how I  first thought of using a QR code.
It’s funny, I had seen codes many times on grocery products before but never thought of using one to store personal information.
My husband, Bruce and I have been developing the concept since April 2012 and had a patent pending.
It’s true been a labor of love, a way for us to help families like ours first, and a business second.

Q&A with Erin Wilson of QR CODE ID boy

Photo credit: Erin Wilson

What can QR code ID be printed on?

Some people have particular tactile concerns; others have items they carry with them, so we’re always looking for ways to address individual preferences.
Our company offers a line of clothing that was designed by special -needs’ artists button down shirts, polos, and T-shirts as well as hoodies.
For people preferring to use their clothing, we have the options printing the code bar on vinyl heat transfers.
Also, these codes can also be put on pins, clips, business cards, backpacks even suitcases.
We are currently testing temporary tattoos and hope to start offering that as an option soon too.

Is it available in other countries and other languages?

We’ve received many calls from places like Australia and the UK, so we’re working hard to make the site compatible on a global scale and hope to be offering our product in other languages shortly.

Q&A with Erin Wilson of QR CODE ID fair

Photo credit: Erin Wilson

 

How does the code work and how user-friendly is it?

Our product is extremely user-friendly for both families and first responders.
All caregivers need to do is set up the person’s profile and keep the information current.
Each membership also has a password-protected secure site where relevant information such as diagnosis, allergies and medications can be stored and retrieved in an emergency.
I need to emphasize the importance for the person with the disability to wear their code at all times, which is why we have created so many product options.
QR is helpful for first responders since the subscriber’s profile page can be either scanned on any smartphone or tablet or manually entered on the website with a unique code.

 

How can it help traveling families?

When a family is traveling, they are out more than they may normally be, and in unfamiliar surroundings, which can present more opportunities for a person to become disoriented and lost.
We have a friend whose Dad was visiting from out of town. They went to the mall and lost Dad coming out of the bathroom.They think he turned the wrong way coming out of the restroom, and he was lost for several long hours.
It’s so stressful for the families, for both the person who is lost and individuals who are looking for them.Our hope is that QR code ID can turn those hours of stress and worry into a quick and happy reunion.

 

Q&A with Erin Wilson of QR CODE ID charactrs

Photo credit: Erin Wilson

 

Erin Wilson used to be a carefree world traveler backpack style on a shoestring budget.
These days she is married to super involved husband Bruce and Mom to Grace and Jay.
Also, advocate, scheduler, caregiver and driver for 11-year-old son Jay who has moderate to severe Autism.  He has issues with waiting in lines and eating at sit down restaurants.
They try their best to have him be part of the community and enjoy travel while not embarrassing sister too much.  They have been able to do a couple of Vegas trips and many day trips around southern California.

 

 

 

Q&A with Graeme Phillips Train Travel Aficionado

 

How do you plan a trip?

I research the places I want to travel to and see how accessible they regard transportation.
If I still want to go, I  create my itinerary, book the trips and then my lodgings.

Do you travel alone or with a group?

I travel solo unless there is someone who shares my interest in the places I wish to visit and what I want to do there, which does not happen often.

Q&A with Graeme Alexander Phillips Train Travel Aficionado roof

Photo Credit: Graeme Phillips

What is your favorite form of lodging?

I prefer Bed and Breakfast or half-board lodging -depending on the price and availability in this particular region.

Where do you usually travel to?

Mainly cities as I  don’t like renting a car and feeling bound to use it because “the meter is running.”

Q&A with Graeme Alexander Phillips Train Travel Aficionado ocean

Photo Credit: Graeme Phillips

Do you ask for any particular accommodations in airports/lodging?

No, nothing in particular.I plan ahead and make sure I have what I need with me.

Do you join guided tours or venture on your own?

I  prefer to make my timetable and wander on my own.I might consider taking a  guided tour if it is offered at a reasonable price though in some instances like hot weather group tours with fixed itineraries would make concentrating difficult.

 

Q&A with Graeme Alexander Phillips Train Travel Aficionado bridge

Photo Credit: Graeme Phillips

Favorite place you’ve been so far?

Seville, Spain! That’s why I’ve bought a flat there. My close second would be Cartagena de Indias.

What place you would never go back to?

I can’t  think of anywhere.I once spent a month in Syria, and  I guess it wouldn’t be an excellent idea to visit at present.

 

Q&A with Graeme Alexander Phillips Train Travel Aficionado lights

photo Credit: Graeme Phillips

Personal Travel pet peeve?

I’d have to say that would be assistants who cannot answer questions unless the answer comes from a list of pre-memorized responses.

This happened a lot in Malaysia when I asked about books about trains: the shop assistants looked pained when I asked questions about this, as it was outside their usual repertoire of questions.
Another pet peeve is transportation to the airport being late.
Recently had an experience where I traveled by bus to a city center, where I was catching an onward coach, but my flight was delayed, and it took forever to get to the city center’s coach station in rush-hour traffic, making me about hour-and-a-half late for the bus. Luckily, I was put on the next one.

 

Q&A with Graeme Alexander Phillips Train Travel Aficionado lake

Photo Credit: Graeme Phillips

Favorite method of transportation while traveling and why?.

Trains!

Traveling by train in comparison to the bus is a good idea since trains don’t interact with rush-hour traffic except at level crossings.
I think that choosing transportation modes with a high degree of predictability are better for people with autism, particularly if they are traveling alone.
I will often plan holidays in countries with extensive networks like Spain and China just to experience their high-speed trains. I like Spain’s AVE service that promises on the Madrid-Seville line that if the train is more than 5 minutes late, you get all of your money back.

 

Q&A with Graeme Alexander Phillips Train Travel Aficionado station

Photo Credit GraemePhillips

The German and Swiss rail systems with their reliable timetables provide sound traveling choices for people on the autistic spectrum, and I like the fact that most of the times, the platforms the trains leave from are announced well in advance.
The Swiss railway system prides itself on punctuality and interconnectivity.
As far as I know, it was among the first to adopt the clock face timetabling method (trains departing at the same number of minutes past the hour) and to produce a timetable map of the country.

The system is designed so that it is easy to interchange, with many major cities having trains arrive five minutes before the hour and departing five minutes after the time. The numbers closest to the station show how many minutes past the hour a train arrives at a station and the number on the other side slightly further away shows how many minutes past the hour the train leaves the station.
Would I trade the Swiss system for the British system?
Probably not, because the punctuality of the Swiss seems to be achieved by leaving extremely generous allowances. The system of timing nodes around the half and whole hours can be fairly wasteful and reduces the number of destinations reachable within a day’s travel.
Nevertheless, the system is easy to navigate when you are in a country you don’t know, and you don’t want to struggle to learn a new regime.

Q&A with Graeme Alexander Phillips Train Travel Aficionado train

Photo Credit: Graeme Phillips

Over the years, I’ve heard some complaints about the appearance of the Chinese metro system, but I don’t personally have a problem with it since for me predictability trumps appearance, especially in a city, I’m not acquainted with.

Though I know a lot about high-speed trains around the world, my real specialty (and day job) involves metro trains.
Metro systems are in many ways my favorite method of getting around, as they offer the best of both worlds- spontaneity and predictability.

Spontaneity in that you can just turn up and, in most systems, a train will arrive in a matter of minutes (generally no need to find out times in advance).

Predictability in that you can look up the location of the station, and you know exactly where you are going, unlike by bus where you might not know where to get off and possibly overshoot your spot.
However, as much as I do like seeing other metro systems, I have to confess I often don’t bother using the systems if the distances are short enough to walk since as a tourist I want to get to explore the city as much as possible.

Q&A with Graeme Alexander Phillips Train Travel Aficionado rainbow

Photo Credit: Graeme Phillips

Graeme lives in the United Kingdom and works in the railway industry. In his spare time, he enjoys participating in his Reformed Baptist Church, learning foreign languages and finding out about railway systems across the world. To learn more train travel tips, you are invited to join his  ‘Fans of High-Speed Trains’ Facebook group.

 

Tips for Successful Family Reunions with Autism

The summer vacation is here and with it, invitations to family gatherings and reunions.
For many of us, family gatherings mean happy celebrations and the creation of beautiful memories but for families with autism, they can spell meltdowns and stress.
Since several parents have asked me for tips to help their kids with autism attend family reunions, I decided to compile a short list of the ten best for parents to bookmark, save and share with others.

 

Tips for Successful Family Reunions with Autism family

Introduce your family

Take the time to sit with your kid and introduce him/her to the people they would be meeting at the reunion.
Sharing old family photographs and family stories ( though not the embarrassing ones as they might mention those at inappropriate moments) is a fun and easy way to engage kids of all ages.

Choose appropriate accommodations

If your child is noise sensitive, resist the temptation to stay in jam -packed homes of relatives hosting multiple visiting family members and try to find one who can offer you a spare bedroom and quieter environment.
A better solution if you can afford it is to stay at a nearby hotel where you and your family can relax and get away from all the excitement.

Recognize limitations

You should scrutinize the reunion itinerary and find ways to adapt it to your child’s schedule and ability.
Sometimes it is better to have your child skip events you think they won’t be able to handle than deal with public meltdowns when they are exhausted for the day or experiencing sensory overload.

Get additional help

Don’t be embarrassed about asking other family members, friends or even hiring someone to help with your child while you are attending events so you too, can have a good time.

Promote  family bonding

Invite one or two favorite family members to join you on a daily fun outing to a park, movie theater or even a fast-food joint to help your child get to know them better and eventually feel more comfortable during family gatherings.

Bring  your entertainment

Pack toys, games, and electronics that can occupy your child not only on the way to the reunion but during some of the events. If you decide to bring electronic devices, consider investing in an extra recharge cord and an extended life battery in case you forget to recharge the tablet overnight or lose the cable.

 

Clarify  your food options

If your child is a picky eater or on a special diet, make sure you know what the food options are ahead of time and prepare accordingly. In the event lunch or dinner is planned at a family member’s home; let the host know what your child’s allergies and dislikes are.
If restaurant dining is planned-call the venue ahead or check their menu online to find out what dishes would be suitable for your kid.

Arrive a few days ahead

Start your vacation earlier and arrive at the destination, at least, a day even two ahead as many people with autism need extra time to ‘settle in’ and get accustomed to new surroundings.

Forget the dress code

Forcing your kid to wear formal clothes or the customary reunion T-shirt for several hours just to take that family portrait might sound good in theory but might easily trigger behavioral problems in reality.
If your kid suffers from sensory issues letting them wear what they find most comfortable even if it somewhat torn or stained might be the wise way to go.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

Remember nothing’s perfect so no matter how much you’ll plan small incidents might still happen -do your best to relax and enjoy this is a special time with your extended family.

Have you taken your child with autism to a family reunion? Share your story and

Share your story and tips.

 

 

How Visualizing Your Trip is Key to Successful Travel

 

One of the best ways to plan a successful vacation especially when traveling with kids on the autism spectrum is by visualizing your trip in advance.
Scrutinizing your travel itinerary details carefully along with creating an alternative plan for unexpected scenarios is not only useful but can ultimately make the difference between a stressful even ruined trip and a memorable one.

Why visualizing your trip can be the key to a successful vacation airport

Though the process will be different for everyone, the basic steps are the same.
For those readers who have a hard time doing this on their own: here are over sixty tips to help.

Packing

  • Have you checked your suitcases: wheels, handles, zippers?
  • What will the weather be like?
  • Take extra clothes in carry on  and daily bag for spills or other mishaps
  • Have you purchased any temporary tattoos or stitched any safety patches on your kid with autism clothes in the case they wander off?
  • Pack two pairs of comfortable shoes (in case one pair gets wet) and enough underwear
  • Don’t forget prescribed and over the counter Medicines as well as any medical equipment  (if you travel abroad you should know that the many US over the counter meds may not be available )
  • Take electronic devices with cords, toys, and items to make your child comfortable during travel?
  • Research where you can buy things if you suddenly need to buy something fast?
  • Can you have items directly delivered to your destination instead of carrying them? Diapers? Special foods?
  • Do you need any door alarms, mats and night lights for your lodging place?
  • What sundries like special soap, shampoo, sunscreen,insect repellant do you need to buy?

Flight/Bus/Train 

  • How will you be getting to and from the airport/s?
  • Are there any airline or airport regulations you don’t about? (CHECK!)
  • Are all your documents in order?
  • Have your bookings changed?
  • Are you taking a red eye flight?
  • Will you need fresh clothes or any other items upon arrival?
  • How will you navigate a strange and crowded airport with tight connections, luggage, and kids?
  • What’s your Plan B if there are delays, and you are stuck at the airport; will you stay, leave for a hotel?
  • What accommodations do you need on flight or airport? Have you asked for any?
  • What are your seats? Are they together? Have they changed?
  • What Food and entertainment do you need?
  • What items do you need for the trip?
  • Will you have checked luggage or carry-on?
  • Do you have insurance if your luggage is delayed or lost?

Cruises

  • Check all the documentation including visas and make sure it is all in order.
  • Have you arranged for transportation to/from the ship?
  • Have you notified the cruise line of accommodations?Bedding? Food? Allergies?
  • Will you need to rent a wheelchair or stroller?
  • Who do you contact if accommodations aren’t met?
  • Have you booked any shore excursions? Privately? Through the cruise line? Do you need any additional transportation? Any tickets to attractions you need to purchase ahead of time?
  • What extra items do you to pack like bedding/clothes/toys/medicines?

Car travel

  • Will you be driving in your vehicle? Will you be renting?
  • Seat comfort? Do you need any Booster or Car seat?
  • What entertainment options do you have?
  • Have you planned stops along the way? Bathrooms? Food?
  • Do you have collision coverage on your credit card?AAA? Do you need to purchase additional coverage?

Hotel or any other lodging

  • Will you have WiFi? Should you get a mobile hot spot?
  • Is there A/C and heating? Central? Control in every room?
  • What’s the proximity to markets? Restaurants? Department stores if you need to buy an item quickly?
  • Access to a fridge? Kitchenette?
    Is there free breakfast offered?
    Can you upgrade to the executive lounge?
  • Do you need to request extra bed linens, pillows, towels?  Cribs or rollaway needed?
  • Is the hotel planning any remodeling or festivities that can affect your stay?
  • Pool safety for kids: are there lifeguards, life jackets?
    Balcony safety: extra locks?


    Attractions/theme parks

    Should you buy tickets in advance?

  • Are there any autism accommodations available?
  • Do you have a backup plan in case of bad weather?
  • Do you need to rent a stroller or wheelchair?
  • What clothing do you need (ponchos)  and what isn’t recommended like flip flops?
  • What are the food options nearby? GFCF options?

 In the event of an emergency

  • Do you have the necessary medicines for a common cold, stomach flu and skin rash with you?
  • Is there someone at home who has your cell phone number or can you get an international phone?
  • Do you have a skype or facebook messenger account?
  • Traveling abroad? Get info about your country’s  embassy location?
    Closest hospital to your lodging? Closest Vet (if you are traveling with a service animal)?
  • Medical records including current prescriptions in a zip file or memory stick /if any family member is suffering from medical conditions. Vaccination documents
  • Did you purchase travel insurance? Know what you are covered for. Some credit cards provide additional coverage to cardholders.

General preparation

Have you downloaded

  • Your airline, cruise line, and hotel app for easy communication.
  • Your home insurance company and alarm system if there’s any trouble while you are away.
  • Transportation app like Lyft or Uber
  • Restaurant app like Yelp.
  • Map app like Google maps.
  • AAA app or equivalent if you need roadside assistance.
  • Translator and tip calculator if you travel overseas.
  • During your travel are there any events, festivities that can interfere with your plans?

What are your visualizing tips to ensure nothing goes wrong on your vacation?

Hotel Fire Safety Tips for Travelers with Autism

That shrill unmistakable fire alarm sound you cannot ignore accompanied by the front desk calling to ask you to evacuate your room.

Do YOU know what to do?

We experienced this terrifying scenario on our first overseas trip on a cold February night with two young special needs. kids .

Luckily, it was a false alarm, and we got to return to our room an hour later.
What this incident  DID teach me was to become a better-prepared traveler for future episodes.

Since this week, October 7-13 is  Fire Prevention Week in the US, I thought it would be fitting to emphasize some basic information that could potentially save the life of a family member or your own one day.Make sure to print or bookmark this page for future reference.

During  planning 

  • Ask questions
    Don’t be ashamed to ask when your hotel was last renovated and whether it has smoke and sprinkler systems installed.
  • BYO tools
    To ensure our safety, we started traveling with our emergency bag that includes flashlights, whistle, emergency blankets, N-95 masks and battery operated carbon monoxide/smoke detector.
  • Social story
    Teach your child to listen to adult instructions and leave a hotel room during a fire.
    Make sure they know not go back for their personal belongings (even if it is their favorite toy.)

 Hotel Fire Safety Tips for Travelers with Autism SAFETY KIT

Upon checking in



  • Front desk
    Ask the staff what the local fire department and police phone numbers are since they differ from country to country.
    Furthermore, ask them what their alarm sounds like if your child is noise sensitive.
    Let them know of any disabilities you or a family may have that might prevent you from evacuating the hotel promptly.
    Some hotels provide special door signs to mark the doors of those who may require help in an emergency, or you can make your own.
  • Evacuation Plan
    Study the evacuation plan posted on the back of your door.  Then take your family to see the nearest exit/stairs and count the number of doors passed on the way as a visual aid for your autistic child to memorize. Check that the exit door is unlocked and ready to be used( you should report any locked emergency exits to the front desk)
    If you notice your room door does not have an evacuation plan card posted on it – call the front desk and ask for one immediately.
  • Proof your room
    Check the hotel room (especially behind desks and beds) before unpacking, for open sockets, loose wires or extension cords plugged into each other that can present a fire hazard. If you find any, call the front desk and ask for the maintenance staff to fix the situation.
    Furthermore, ask housekeeping to remove any candles, space heaters and torchiere-style halogen lamps that can be toppled by your child while playing and start a fire.

 

 Hotel Fire Safety Tips for Travelers with Autism DOOR

While staying at the hotel

  • Practice
    Remind your kid daily where the exit is by pointing it out.
  • Eliminate fire hazards
    Avoid recharging your electronics at night since overheated batteries, extension cords and overloaded power strips can present a fire danger.
  • Prepare for emergencies by placing your emergency bag as well as the hotel key ( to re-enter the room if your exit is blocked by the fire) on your nightstand for easy grabbing.
  • Since some emergencies happen at night when temperatures might be lower, keep your jackets handy by the door.

During an actual fire

  • When you  can  leave your room- Call, Check, Crawl
    Call the front desk to get information on the fire location.
    Close off  A/C  and heating systems to prevent smoke from getting into your room.
    Check your entrance door with your hand to test its temperature. If the door is cold to the touch, kneel to ground level, open the door slowly, but be ready to close it fast if you see flames or smoke nearby.
    If you don’t see anything of significance; start crawling towards the nearest exit.

  • When you are stuck in the room- Shut, Stuff, Signal
    To minimize the smoke from coming in the room; you should close the air conditioning and heating systems(including vents)  off.
    Stuff the gap between the entrance door and the floor by placing wet towels at the entrance door.
    To facilitate emergency rescuers in finding you; call the local fire department and front desk as well as stand close by the room window to signal your location with a flashlight or anything bright fabric you can find.

 

Have you ever experienced a hotel fire emergency -how did you handle it?

 

 

 Hotel Fire Safety Tips for Travelers with Autism ROOM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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