Q&A with Meghan Mulvenna of Special Travelers.com

When did you think of creating your organization?

I began traveling with families early on in my career, as a respite provider.I was attracted to supporting  ‘real-world’ experiences for children and families, outside of the educational settings.
Then in 2007, I accompanied a student on a family vacation. I had been managing his home-based educational program and consulting with his school district, and was moved by how much more connected and motivated he was in the natural environments of the beach and restaurants.
As part of our service plan, I continued to provide the individual instruction of his home-based program, as well as opportunities to practice these skill in the new environments.
It was through this experience that I realized that the world is our classroom and that the more we are willing to step out with our students, with the right supports, the more we gain and discover what else we need to learn and teach.

Q&A with Meghan Mulvenna of Special Travelers.com beach

Photo credit Meghan Mulvenna

What are some of the greatest gaps in travel that need to be covered?

Honestly, fear is the main adversity, for travel, positive change, or any new opportunity.
The travel industry has become much more accommodating over the twenty years I’ve been in the field, mostly due to pressure to adjust to who’s traveling. Many things are possible, if we step past fear, for information and understanding.
I say fear because if families hold onto to the fear of what won’t be in place, or how others will respond, they will not take the first step to traveling. Conversely, if travel entities operate on fear, based on misconceptions of individuals with disabilities, they will not embrace more inclusive practices, or openly share their willingness to accommodate.

What tools do you rely on when traveling?

There is a reason for the common expression, “a picture tells a thousand words,” and travel is most about showing and experiencing, not so much telling.
I have found photographs to be a very useful tool. They serve as a preview to individuals of where they will go, an informative sequence of events, as well as a means for building conversation and learning.

The other greatest tool is flexibility. Plans will change, as they do for all of us, with or without a disability, and to resist or try to avoid this is self-defeating.
The willing to adjust, let go and move on will make all the difference between a “successful” vacation or a total disaster.

Q&A with Meghan Mulvenna of Special Travelers.com teacups

Photo credit Meghan Mulvenna

What steps in planning would you recommend to someone with disabilities?

  • Choose a travel experience based on interest; you will be more motivated and engaged to make it work (same is true for careers.)
  • Know your limits and needs, a host location cannot know these for you; for example, what is a reasonable time for walking, waiting, being engaged, processing information.
  • Once you know what you want, and what you will need, reach out to the travel destination and begin to build a relationship.
  • Avoid initial emphasis on their policy, and instead, create a conversation about your individual story.
  • Allow them the time and space to get to know you and your needs, and then note what and how they can do to meet those.
  • A final email, summarizing the specific expectations and agreed upon accommodations is useful.

What is your preferred kind of travel?

My favorite kind of travel is that of when I’m helping others.
I’ve visited five continents, explored and lived in areas with beaches, mountains, and have become immersed in incredibly varying cultures. They have all been beautiful experiences and enriched me by supporting individuals with disabilities.

Travel has opened me to knowledge, practice and gifts in ways that I couldn’t have imagined, and I want to provide those opportunities for others.

Q&A with Meghan Mulvenna of Special Travelers.com girl

Photo Credit Meghan Mulvenna

What would you recommend for family and friends traveling with autism?

Let go of fear.
Continue any systems, routines, adaptive equipment that are used in everyday life; vacation should not be a break from what’s working, but a continuation of what’s working in a new environment, perhaps even an expansion of new strategies and tools.
Be optimistic.
Develop a relationship with the host entity where you will visit.
Know everyone’s interests and limits, and seek to balance them.
Be flexible.
Recognize that there are some things you do not control, and allow this to focus you, and improve, what you can. Enjoy.

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.

 

 

Q&A with Dr Stephen Mark Shore- Autism Advocate


Dr. Stephen Mark Shore was a typically developing child until around 18 months old, when he was, in his words,“ hit with the autism bomb”.
He became nonverbal, but due to the early intervention by his parents, his speech ability began to return at the age of four.
Refuting the doctors recommendations for institutionalization, his parents continued their intervention to help their son in his schooling and life.
Nowadays, Stephen is an internationally renowned author, an Autism and Asperger Syndrome advocate, and a professor of Special Education at Adelphi University.
I recently had the honor of interviewing Dr. Shore about his travel experiences.

 

Q&A with Dr Stephen Mark Shore- Autism Advocate and Author japan

How do you prepare for a trip to a place you have never been before?

I get my trip arrangements made well in advance, and I try, as much as possible, to plan ahead to avoid extra layers of hassle that might arise.Since most of my travels are business related (conferences and speaking engagements), I will ask the organizers for someone to pick me at the airport and drive me to the hotel, so I don’t get lost. Sometimes you need to advocate for yourself and ask for that extra help.

For example, when I went to Paris to speak at a conference, the organizers suggested I take the subway. I knew it would was noisy and a sensory overload. Additionally, since I did not know French, there was a high probability of getting lost.Therefore, I requested my hosts to provide transportation (or, at least, send someone to go with me on the subway if need to be).

Staying within my comfort zone is important to me, so I try to prepare for transitions by researching visual aids, like videos, on the Internet. I found that especially important for countries where the food and atmosphere are so odoriferous and different like Thailand or India.

Most of all, I know my limitations, and if I do need help I will ask for it!

What are your preferred methods of transportation?

I’ve tried many different types of transportation depending on where I’m going. Trains are excellent as they provide more space and legroom. They don’t require any seat belts, and there is no restriction on when you can get up and stretch, which is always a major plus for me.

I do drive occasionally, but never internationally. Unfortunately, renting a car while you travel comes with two additional layers of uncertainty –when you rent the car as well as when you return it.There is also added unpredictability with road conditions where the car can break down, and that you can get still lost even with a GPS system.
I also have to say I do like cruises as an option since, in addition to providing comfortable transportation, there are additional fun activities to help occupy your time while you travel.

Q&A with Dr Stephen Mark Shore- Autism Advocate and Author parrots

 What is your packing philosophy – over pack or under pack?

I would call myself an under packer.  I like traveling light with only carry-on. I don’t want to deal with lost luggage or have to wait extra time around the conveyor belt especially after long haul flights. I agree to travel with carry-on luggage does have its limitations, so I have my “bag of tricks” for how to bring on stuff I need and somewhat bypass weight limitations.

My two favorite tricks are putting items I need for my flight (like a jacket, book, drink, and snack) in a separate plastic bag and wearing a Scottevest that has multiple pockets to carry electronics and extra stuff. Sometimes I take an extra backpack that I can later pack in my carry-on. I’ve also learned to leave certain things like heavy shoes at home and take lighter substitutes like sandals most of the time.

What is the one electronic device you refuse to travel without?

I travel with multiple electronics, all of which I use. Nowadays I use an iPhone since it can multitask, and a laptop for my work.

The one place on a plane you won’t sit in?

I avoid the very back next to the toilets, where it smells and passengers either leans on your seat or bump into you while waiting their turn.

What is your favorite pastime on the plane?

I don’t have a favorite pastime per se. I do the usual mix of reading working and watching movies.

Q&A with Dr Stephen Mark Shore- Autism Advocate and Author australia

 

Which hotel amenities do you look for when making your lodging arrangement?

There are distinct features I always look for. A non-smoking room is important, as, outside the U.S., many properties still permit rooms smoking. Abroad, that sometimes means they just aired the room after the previous occupant smoked in there. Noise can also be an issue – anything from elevators, a wall unit A/C or even a refrigerator can bother may be people with autism, so noise proof walls are a plus.As a frequent traveler, I also appreciate properties that offer chemical free rooms, decent water pressure, and soft bedding.

If money was no object, what would be your top criteria for selecting a hotel at a destination?

It would depend on if I were looking for a boutique or chain hotel. I would get one close to the attractions or landmarks. Another feature I look for is for hotels to be close to outside food venues, so you don’t depend on pricey hotel restaurants or cabs to go anywhere.

Many hotel chains are now trying to cater to travelers with autism. What would be your tips to make their properties more “autism friendly”?

One of the most overlooked things is the cleaning process, which usually involves powerful chemicals. An autistic room should be cleaned with chemical-free products to minimize allergies, and have soft bedding, noise proof walls, and is away from the elevators.Many travelers with autism now use iPads and other electronic devices, so several outlets in the room are useful.

How has traveling made a difference in your life?

 It made me more aware of cultural differences. I try to promote autism awareness and get in contact with different autism organizations worldwide wherever I go.
One of the things I like to do, especially on Friday night is look up the local Habad House in the various countries and attend their Friday night services. That gives me a sense of familiarity and belonging to the community.

Q&A with Dr Stephen Mark Shore- Autism Advocate and Author chabad

 Why would you recommend traveling with a child on the autism spectrum in spite the challenges?

 I think it is important for kids with autism to be exposed to as many different situations as possible, so travel is an important tool Parents can use to educate their children. However, I would like to advise them to plan their trips in detail and allow adequate transition periods between activities to avoid sensory overloads and possible meltdowns.

 

 

 

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?

Q&A with Naomi Andjelic Bartlett of ‘Autism Cafe’

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

photo credit Autism Cafe

 Why do you prefer an all-inclusive versus cruising?

There are a couple of reasons why cruising isn’t an option for our family at the moment:

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

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

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

What particular items do you pack for your kids?

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

 

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

I have had two particularly memorable negative flight experiences.
The first was on an international red-eye flight. Our son, who had fallen asleep, woke up about half an hour into the flight. He was screaming from being confused, disoriented and above all, tired.
This led to a coughing fit.
I was completely taken with trying to avoid an outright meltdown that I was in no way concerned with the niceties of him covering his mouth while coughing (which is difficult for him in the first place due to motor difficulties), much to the dismay of the passenger sitting behind us.
This passenger happened to be married to a doctor and was concerned about germs.
While trying to focus on my son, I was offered unsolicited medical advice about how my son had croup, and how regardless of his “status” (the word the passenger used when I explained that he had autism), should be covering his mouth to prevent the spread of germs on the airplane.

My son has a lengthy medical file and has been followed by an ENT for a large portion of his life due to a very narrow throat that naturally forms the “steeple” sound heard in croup.  Consequently, I am very well acquainted with when he is sick and when he does and does not require medical attention.  Whenever he coughs, it sounds croupy, with or without a virus or bacterial infection, and in any event, any germs spread on an airplane were by far more hazardous to our son than to the 30-something passenger complaining.

I didn’t bother going into this with the passenger, and I instead chose to ignore him and his wife.
My husband found this more challenging and the men resorted to insults and yelling.
That flight lasted 5 hours, but thankfully our son slept for about 3 of them in the end.
Up to the very last minute as we were walking off the plane, the wife was signaling to me and mouthing that my child needed medical attention.
This incident taught me to ignore and focus on my son without trying to read or care how everyone around me is reacting.

The second incident occurred when a flight attendant refused to allow my son to wear his noise-cancelling headphones during take off to block out the sound.
This was even after I explained that he had autism, which he was non-verbal and would require full assistance in an emergency because he would not be able to interpret any instructions given over the intercom in any event.  I further noted that I had neatly tied any
I further noted that I had neatly tied any loose wires from the headphones that might pose a tripping hazard.
This resulted in a full-blown meltdown in the middle of the aisle for the entire two-hour flight.
I no longer back down on this issue, as you might imagine.

What’s the best tip for eating at restaurants?

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

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

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

What is your most memorable day trip so far?

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

 

Where would you go next if money was no object?

Right now I think we have great vacations down south given our son’s abilities.
To try someplace more exotic, not only would the money have to be no object, but we would have to have a reliable Star Trek transporter to get us there!

Naomi is one of three moms who started Autism Cafe, in the hopes of providing information to other autism parents that they wished they had at their fingertips after diagnosis. They provide local and relevant information and resources to autism families.
They have recommended books, tricks of the trade, recommended websites, inspirational poems and sayings, autism facts, and GFCF recipes and resources.

 

 

 

 

Ten Things You Should Know About Travel Before Booking


Traveling with special needs children to a foreign country can be a daunting task. Here are the ten things you should know about travel before booking your next trip.

Ten Things You Should Know About Travel before Booking plane

 Passport and Visas

If you have already obtained a passport, make sure to check its expiration date, as some countries will not allow you to enter if your passport will expire within six months of your return trip. To be on the safe side, in the six months before your journey, you might want to renew it.

However, if you don’t have a passport, pre-order your family’s passports at least six months ahead of your planned vacation, as bureaucratic miscommunications and unnecessary delays often occur. Never procrastinate on ordering the documents, as any unforeseen delay could jeopardize your whole trip. If your child  with autism is unable to sign the official request, inquire ahead of time as to how to bypass this issue.

Verify whether you require a visa for the places you plan to visit and exact visa details such as duration and expiration.

Contact the country’s local embassy or consulate at least three months prior to your departure date; make sure to procure ahead of time all the correct information you are told to bring, like birth certificates and marriage licenses.

Enquire as to the particular people that should be present during the application process; since some places require the presence of both parents to complete a minor’s paperwork. If you have to bring your special needs child with you, ask about possible accommodations such as faster lines or seating.

 

 Keep your own embassy’s information handy

Have your own country’s embassy, consulate or other representative’s phone number and address written on a sticky note inside your passport since you never know when you’ll need it. That’s the place to call in any emergency situations such as accidents, earthquakes or political unrest. Your country’s representative can also help in finding medical or legal help if you encounter any problem with your autistic child on foreign soil.

Keep two extra photocopies of your passport: a laminated one on your person but separate from the actual document, and one at home with a relative or friend. This way if your passport gets stolen or lost, the embassy officials have an easier task of helping you replace it.

 Check your country’s travel advisory list

Frequent the  State Department’s website to look out for official government warnings concerning any ten things you should know about travel before booking passports bookspolitical unrest, natural disasters, or illness outbreaks in the country or countries you are going to visit. Even in the absence of official warnings (or if you decide to ignore them), the website will provide you with valuable information to create contingency plans in case something goes awry.

Also, to stay current on the country’s internal happenings, read the destination’s local newspapers and watch the local broadcasts online. Listening to the broadcasts and reading the paper will not only provide you with an excellent way to practice your foreign language skills but also get more inside information that is bound to prove useful during your travel.

Vaccines and medical supplies

Check the CDC website for what vaccines/boosters the country of destination requires and be sure to discuss the topic with your family doctor and pediatrician. If you decide to get these vaccines, you should start at least six months before your planned visit since some vaccines can give you temporary unpleasant side effects while others may need a second dosage administered some weeks later. If you decide against the vaccination, make sure you contact the country’s consulate or embassy well in advance for suitable advice how to do proceed.

Check the WHO website periodically for information about possible outbreaks of diseases in the area of your intended destinationTheme parks with Autism – Top Seven “Must Pack” Items crocs. You might need to buy mosquito netting, malaria tablets, water purification measures or other medical supplies for the places you are about to visit. Never assume you can quickly find what you need in the intended country as there might not be the case, so be smart and bring the items you need with you from your country of origin instead of spending precious time running around trying to locate supplies that might be available not even be readily accessible.

Carry all your family’s medical information detailing all ailments, vaccinations, medications, and allergies with you (preferably on a USB or medical phone application) on every trip. Call your health insurance provider and get all details of overseas coverage. If your provider cannot provide you and your family members with adequate coverage, you might want to look into buying added travel insurance. Obtain medical information, the location of local hospitals, and the local number equivalent for 911 in that specific country, just in case you might need to use them.

 Holidays and Festivals

Festive occasions and local holidays can often represent unusual ways to expose yourself and your family to new and diverse cultures. However, they can also negatively impact your travel plans with your autistic companion.I recommended that you research all the local happenings beforehand, including the opening hours of all important shopping spots (especially where specific items are).

Know the differences

You need to be aware of differences between your home turf and the country abroad:

  • Banking and ATMs
    Make sure to learn the open hours of the banks near your place of stay, as well as the current exchange rate (it is no fun being stuck in a foreign nation without any usable money). Also, make sure your ATM code still functions universally, as American and European ATM systems do not necessarily match.
  • Banking hours in the intended country
    Know the opening hours of banks as well as thten things you should know about travel before booking dancinge exchange rate, since it is no fun, stuck in a foreign country, with no spendable cash. Make sure you have a working ATM code; remember American and European systems don’t necessarily match.
  • Electrical Outlet Voltage
    Electrical outlet voltage varies by world region; while some countries use 110V outlets, others have adopted the 220V system. While seeming like a minor difference, without the proper adapters and converter boxes, your electronic helpers can become expensive pieces of burnt plastic.
  • Air conditioning
    Always ask if there is air conditioning in your room, as while it seems a regular feature in many areas, others may live (and consequently not include it in their hotel rooms) without it.
  • Local water issues
    Be aware of the places you should not drink the local water where you need to use bottled water.
  • Public bathrooms can be a problem if not planned for ahead of schedule, as the actual toilet itself can vary worldwide, an issue that can present a lot of stress to your autistic traveler.There are many worldwide variations of the latrine, from the conventional European style to the Japanese style (a toilet that faces the wall and is mechanized with post-usage water jets), to the old Mediterranean toilets (which are almost holes in the floor). These unfamiliar changes can pose a challenge to the ensuring the comfort of your autistic globetrotter.

 Food and Restaurants

 

For thFour seasons food truck poutineose following strict diets ,like those following the GFCF diet, or who are just picky eaters, a smart idea before any trip is researching the neighboring restaurants and food stores available close to your hotel (or another place to stay).

Try to acquaint yourself and your family with the different restaurant types, locations, and meal times; by planning meal times and places ahead, unnecessary arguments can be avoided.

Be sure to know the tipping procedures since they do vary from country to country. What seems customary in your neck of the woods might be too little or too much elsewhere!

 Climates and Clothing

Be aware of weather patterns that might affect your travel, whether excessive heat that would necessitate extra clothing or a sudden cold front that would require layered pieces.

To be on the safe side, Google the locale you will be visiting and check for department stores, laundromats and dry cleaners  (and their operating hours), in the case that you need to replace lost luggage, forgotten toiletries or just clean anything.

 Electronics and the rule of two

Since the 1990s, most of us have become ever more so reliant on our gadgetry, whether for work or play.
For travel, you need to be aware that different countries and continents have different voltage requirements; to stop your devices from becoming a smoldering pile of plastic, buy at least two international adapters.
Having more than one can allow you to recharge multiple items at once, preventing the inevitable power struggle between the adults and children. Likewise, for any other electronic devices and their coupled chargers, two is also ideal; in the case one of the pair malfunctions, disaster (in the event of an entertainment device) can be averted.

 

 Learn what you can bring back before you buy those souvenirs

Before going on your souvenir shopping spree, be sure to check the rules and regulations of what items and what quantities thereof you can bring back to your home nation.
Sadly, many of those who do not learn these rules eventually have their prized possessions confiscated, making for some heartbroken globetrotters. .

Traveling Successfully with Autism

The first time I was asked by a reader how to start traveling, I thought she was pulling my leg. However, I soon discovered that many families with autism had no idea what to do and how to get the process going. Since summer is almost here, I’m sharing some of my tips with you in the hope you actually will be inspired to become more adventurous.

Traveling Successfully with Autism atlantis chair Start small, dream big

Buy a yearly membership to your local zoo, aquarium or hands on museum and start going at least once a month. Prepare your child by showing him or her social stories, pictures and videos ahead of time. Don’t be discouraged if the first few times’ things don’t go as planned, just continue going until you’ve covered most of the exhibits. Your child is bound to learn something from the exposure even though they might not interpret it the way you envisioned it.

A friend of mine kept taking her son to the local aquarium and got pretty frustrated when all he wanted was to ride the escalator. I advised her to persevere as eventually he will be curious to see something other than his favorite area. A few weeks ago she called me up and told me they reached a compromise. Now they ride the escalator for ten minutes before they head on and check out the other exhibits, and she added proudly, she’s considering taking him to his first museum this summer!

 Share your love

Expose your child to the things and places you feel passionate about and love best A neighbor of mine loved 60’s bands, so naturally that was the music she regularly listened to in her car when she drove around with her baby completing her daily errands. By the time the time he was a toddler, her speech delayed son with autism, had mastered all the song names the singers and even some of the lyrics.
As time went by, she started attending free public concerts with him, and later took him to some of the bands’ concerts in local venues. The boy now in his teen years still uses 60’s and 70’s lyrics to express his feelings. This story shows she not only got to share her passion but bonded with her son over something they now both enjoy.

 If it takes a village, get the villagers to join you


Sadly, many families feel uncomfortable about taking their special need kids on outings due to people’s stares and insensitive comments. My opinion is that parents should focus on their child’s need to experience his world rather than be affected by society’s disapproval. Hence, if you feel you can’t face the crowds on your own, ask interested family members or friends to accompany you on your venture.
Another possibility is to join outings organized by religious or support groups where you are bound to experience tolerance and wider acceptance of your child.

Mix in some life skills

As I remind my readers, travel does not necessarily mean transatlantic or transpacific fancy explorations. In fact, for someTraveling Successfully with Autism atomium autistics, it might only mean a daily tour of the neighboring town or village. I encourage parents to take a day off and ride the public transportation with their kids in their immediate area. By doing so, they can teach or reiterate some important safety and life skills such as crossing the street, reading transportation maps and signs, paying the fare and checking change among others.
When and if you do get bored, you can easily diversify by taking the bus in an opposite direction or by getting off at different stops to explore the local stores or restaurants.

Indulge  your senses

One of the cheapest but most satisfying ways to travel is to venture into your city’s ethnic neighborhoods. Start the day by visiting the different stores with their unique merchandise and go inside for a closer look.

My son’s favorite in the LA area is the city of Artesia, where he can enter the Indian shops and listen to Sitar (Indian guitar) music. When he is hungry, he usually wanders into a restaurant that smells good and orders some of their delicious dishes.The best idea is to order multiple small portion dishes for everyone to sample so all family members can choose their favorite. We used to play a family game in which we would vote and select a winner dish. The prize was taking an extra order home for everyone to enjoy.

Reward with souvenirs

Make sure to bring something back from the trip that will provide a constant reminder of much fun everyone had. Over the years, we rewarded our son’s good behavior by letting him choose souvenirs from the different places he visited. He claims that they help him relive all the great times he’s experienced.
The trick here is to teach your kid with autism to choose an object from each place that is meaningful but not necessarily expensive or factory made. Over the years, we’ve brought home seashells, rocks, feathers, napkins, t-shirts, snow globes, miniature clocks and multiple stuffed animals. Make sure you create a travel corner in your home, preferably in your child’s room and display each and every one of the collected items.

 

Have you started traveling with your special needs child?
Come share your stories and experiences.

 

.

 

Six Things to Check before Planning your Next Vacation

Most of us love to dream of exotic destinations and plan our next ‘big’ getaway when in reality we should be making sure we are adequately prepared for unforeseen events. So, before booking that next cruise or theme park visit here are the six essential things you need to check off your list as soon as possible.

 

The Six Things to check before planning your next vacation beach chairs

Make sure your family members are well enough to travel

Go ahead and schedule that yearly check-up for you and all members of your family so you can get those clean bills of health.
Make sure everyone’s vaccines are up-to-date, as some countries will not allow you entry without proper immunization forms.
Have everyone visits the dentist, to avoid the development of an abscess or other preventable dental emergencies during travel.
Call your health insurance provider and verify the coverage you can expect domestically and internationally.
If you or any member of your family are taking daily medicines, ask your  family physician to prescribe an extra month’s supply of the prescribed medications to take with you (in case you run out for any reason.)

Read your electronics’  manuals 

Many of us purchase new electronic gear but don’t bother to read the manuals.
If you don’t know the functions of your newly acquired gadgets chances are you won’t know how to use them during your trip, so there’s no time like the present to learn  and practice  using everything
If you are planning to use an e-reader on the trip, remember to pre-load books you plan on reading ahead of time, as Wi-Fi and 4G signals might be unreliable in the places you visit.

Ensure your coverage is up to date

Consider purchasing renter’s or home insurance to make sure your home and belongings are covered while you are away.
Now might be an opportune time to not only make a detailed list of furniture, electronics, and personal belongings but take pictures or videos to show the insurance in case of theft or other unforeseen damages.
If your home is equipped with an alarm system, call the company and make sure you update your emergency contact information.

 

Check your travel gear

Since waistlines change and children grow, check everyone’s travel apparel for size, rips or tears, in case you need to buy a substitute.
Purchase seasonal related items you’ll need like ski gear or swimsuits at the end of the season and store them for future trips.

 

Review your existing cell phone plan

The best way to ensure you don’t accrue unexpected phone charges while away is to contact your mobile carrier and check ahead of time.
If our carrier does not offer a reasonably priced plan, look into switching carrier or purchasing phone cards.

 

The right credit card can take you places-literally

Look into what reward deals—miles, points, or cash back your credit card is offering and how it measures up against the competition.
If you are thinking of traveling internationally,  look for a credit card that charges the least cash advances, ATM withdrawal, and foreign transactions.

 

  What are your tips to check before planning your vacation?
Share them with us.

Pin It on Pinterest