Ron Sandison shares his Tips on Traveling with Autism

 

This month we had the opportunity to interview Ron Sandison, a professor of theology, motivational speaker, and writer about his tips on traveling with autism. Ron, who works full time in the medical field is an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of American and The Art of Autism.

Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom published by Charisma House. Also, Ron has published articles in Autism Speaks, Autism Society of America, Autism File Magazine, Autism Parenting Magazine, Not Alone, the Mighty, the Detroit News, the Oakland Press, and many others.

 Ron resides in Rochester Hills MI  with his wife, Kristen, and his baby daughter Makayla Marie.


How I started traveling

While in college at Oral Roberts University every summer I would travel to a different country for a one or two-month mission trip. When I went with ORU mission trips to Cameroon and Madagascar—I lived in the jungles for two weeks. I was able to see amazing wildlife like monkeys/apes and taste exotic foods like spicy Toucan. For our second honeymoon, my wife Kristen and I traveled to Israel for two weeks. I was able to swim in the Jordan River, ride a fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee and see the birthplace of Jesus.

Twelve and counting

I had the pleasure of traveling to twelve different countries—Madagascar, Cameroon, France, Germany, Belgium, Israel, Bulgaria, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Canada. 

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How I handle airports and flights

The only thing I don’t like about traveling is airports. Boarding on airplanes gives me extreme anxiety. I hate being surrounded by strange people while battling for an overhead compartment to place my luggage. I avoid this scenario by pre-boarding. I tell the check-in flight attendant, “I have autism, and due to anxiety and sensory issues, I need to pre-board.”

If a flight attendant tells me, “You don’t look like you have autism or act like it.” I put on my funny beach hat with palm trees.
Then the flight attendant says, “Oh, I see! We will pre-board you right away.”

Sometimes I wear my funny hat just so the check-in flight attendant won’t question my autism diagnosis.

Ron Sandison shares his Tips on Traveling with Autism statueOn associating Travel with  smells

Some of my favorite travel smells include Belgium—the chocolate shops and Cameroon with its fresh bananas and mangos. In France & Bulgaria the smell of freshly brewed coffee and in Madagascar the seafood and fruit in the market!
Just thinking about these smells fills me with joy and makes me want to travel there again.

Ways to deal with less pleasant smells

Some travel scents I detest include pygmies’ bad breath—strong enough to kill a horse or mule. In Cameroon and Madagascar the odor of buses filled with locals who don’t use deodorant, bath, and are dripping with sweat from the heat.

I have learned coping skills to handle offensive odors placing candies near my nose when the scent becomes too much for me to bear. One of the best candies is Cracker Barrel’s old fashion candy sticks. I also try to set next to an open window when riding a bus or taxi cab overseas.

Ron’s tips for bouncing back from a trip

Two tricks I learned to recuperate from long trips are getting sufficient sleep and enjoying a favorite meal. When I came back from my two week trip to Israel—I slept for two straight days to regain my strength. When I travel overseas for a longer period; I like to go to one of my favorite restaurants and eat a meal I was unable to get in that country. When I returned after a two-month mission trip from Cameroon—I had pizza.

Preparing for the trip

I prepare mentally for traveling overseas by reading a travel guide and also checking out DVDs from the library on the countries I will be visiting. Two weeks before my trip I begin to daydream what it will be like to travel to that country.

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My favorite spots to visit

Four of my favorite places so far have been Masada, Foumban, London, and Loch Ness.

I love the rich history behind Masada—Herod’s Palace was the final stronghold from the Jewish Revolt to fall to the Roman Empire in 70 A.D. The view from the top of Herod’s Palace is incredible and seeing Ibex wild goats was cool.

Foumban has some of the best woodcarvings in Africa. When I visited this city, I got a woodcarving of a lion—one of my favorite souvenirs. London has excellent sightseeing and shopping spots. I liked Loch Ness because of the mystery of the “Loch Ness Monster” dating back to the 4th century.

My travel bucket list

The next three places I hope to visit are Greece, Turkey, and Australia.
I hope to travel to Greece because I teach Koine Greek and have translated 2/3 of the New Testament from Greek into English. I’d love Turkey so I could tour the seven churches of Revelation. I have memorized the complete book of Revelation. And as an animal lover, I would enjoy seeing kangaroos and koalas in their natural environment in Australia.

 

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My personal travel tips

My favorite electronic device to travel with is GPS, so I don’t ever get lost. Furthermore, I always bring lots of books to read while on the airplane or during down time.
Luggage wise-I pack clothes I feel comfortable wearing. I try not to over pack since I hate carrying heavy luggage.
One of my autistic special interests is animals. In fact, from age seven to fifteen I carried a stuffed animal of a prairie dog. Hence, I buy some animal as a souvenir in every country, I visit. I also collect woodcarvings and religious icons.

 I believe People with autism should be encouraged to travel

The biggest misconception individuals with autism have about traveling is that it is dangerous. Many people with autism tell me, “I am afraid to go overseas. You are endangering your life.” I  say I feel safer abroad than in many U.S cities since the crime rate is lower in many countries.

Travel has been a big part of my life. I speak and travel to over seventy events a year. I firmly believe that travel has contributed to my life by enabling me to see amazing sights and experience different cultures. I have eaten many different foods overseas—the only food I don’t like is cassava- a root vegetable.

People with autism need to travel to better understand the world and to experience life. As more people with autism travel, they will learn new social skills and also better coping skills for handling sensory issues.

 

 

 

Our Tips for Minimizing Travel Anxiety with Autism

 

Our Tips for Minimizing Travel Anxiety with Autism pin

As a parent or caregiver, we are always looking for ways to minimize travel anxiety. The best way to do that is to identify one’s child’s anxiety triggers before, during and after travel and then seek to find suitable accommodations or solutions to eliminate these triggers.   Here are some factors and questions to consider before booking the next family trip.

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Daily Schedule

Generally speaking, people with autism find adhering to routines comforting, and they resist changes of any kind. Parents should over their regular schedule, ask what they will be missing while they are gone, and consider accommodations to help them adjust.

What Will They Hate to Miss While They’re Gone?

Ask your kids ahead of time whether there is anything they will miss while they were gone. If it is things like homework or a favorite TV show, parents can make arrangements to get it to them via e-mail or online.

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Are They Used to Dining at a Specific Time or Eating Specific Foods?

This one is a bit trickier, especially when traveling across time zones. Parents should carry snacks for kids. They should also try to plan meal times similar to the ones they are used to.

Our Tips for Minimizing Travel Anxiety with Autism

Sensory Overload

Since every child is different and those on the autism spectrum have varied responses, the parent or caregiver needs to determine the specific triggers for their child.

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Do Certain Smells Bother Your Child?

Parents should make sure seats on the airplane are away from toilets or galleys. Dining in ethnic restaurants or visiting attractions that involve animals like zoos, farms, and even Disney’s the Animal Kingdom might not be the ideal place for children with smell sensitivities.

Does Your Child React Adversely to Certain Lighting?

Parents should call up any shows or attractions to check what lights they use and choose to avoid going there or not accordingly.

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Is Your Child Sensitive to Noise?

Parents can pack a set of noise-canceling headphones to use at theme parks and during fire drills. Also, they can map out quiet places in theme parks and request a quiet room in hotels and airports if they are available.

Does Your Child Have Temperature Sensitivities?

Some children are incredibly temperature sensitive and can’t tolerate heat, direct sun or wind blowing on them for prolonged periods of time. Parents can pack items like umbrellas or fans to help children cope.

How Does Your Child Cope with Crowds?

If crowds distress them, parents might want to take advantage of the airport lounge or avoid visiting a theme park on weekends and holidays.

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Is Your Child Comfortable with People Touching Them or Their Belongings?

Parents should notify the TSA agent ahead of time of their child’s diagnosis and have a doctor’s note ready for any problems that may arise.

What Clothing is Your Child Comfortable Wearing?

Many kids on the spectrum aren’t able to wear certain types of clothes like button-down collar shirts or long pants. This fact might be problematic in some locations where a specific dress is required such as in restaurants or formal nights on cruise ships. Most places unless it is a formal gala will forgo the dress requirement if parents call in advance explain the situation. Parents should pack clothing that kids have worn before and found familiar.

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Can Your Child be Confined to a Small Space for Long Periods of Time?

Parents should plan on splitting the flight into shorter segments or taking longer breaks during a road trip to accommodate kids.

Navigating the Unfamiliar

Children with autism need to feel that they are in control of their environment. Unfamiliar surroundings frighten them and stress them out.

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Are They Used to Sharing a Common Space?

Parents should consider their child’s familiarity with sharing common spaces when booking lodging, as conflict might arise.

Is Your Child Used to Sleeping in an Unfamiliar Bed or Room?

If kids have never slept anywhere else but their room they might become anxious when they travel, especially the first time. Parents should try to get them used to different environments by having them sleep at a friend’s or family member’s house first. Moreover, In additionparents should also pack their favorite toy and blanket to help them adjust to new places.

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Is Your Child Comfortable Sitting Next to Strangers?

Parents should opt to book window or aisle seats on planes and trains for their child. That way, they can sit next to a family member or caregiver instead of strangers.

Does Your Child Fear Parental Separation?

Most children have separation anxiety whether on the autism spectrum or not. Parents of children who are verbally communicative should teach them to identify staff and ask them for help whAlso, equipping the kids with a phone or walkie-talkie in advised.

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If they are not verbal, parents should have them wear a special tag on their clothing or a GPS device that can help track their exact location if they wander off.

Degree of Flexibility

Many children on the autism spectrum are obsessed with certain habits and show inflexibility when parents try you change them. Parents should try to work with them and accommodate their needs rather than stress them out and risk a meltdown.

How Well Does Your Child Transition?

Parents of children who have difficulty with transitioning between activities or are obsessed with being punctual should allocate enough time to reach places.
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How Does Your Child React to Schedule Changes?

Parents should research their travel plans thoroughly at booking and before actual travel. That way, sudden changes to schedule don’t catch anyone by surprise. Moreover, they should check both flight schedules, and theme park rides the day of travel since plans can change last minute.

How Does Your Child Cope with Standing in Line?

Whether it is waiting in lines to board a flight or lines in the public restrooms; waiting for a table in restaurants, or even waiting for their food, children with autism seem to have a problem with occupying themselves during free time and that in turn stresses them out. Parents should inquire ahead of time for line accommodations to avoid waits wherever possible. They should remember to bring entertainment like coloring books, building blocks or cards to occupy them.

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How Successfully Can Your Child Follow Directions and Rules?

The ability for a child to follow direction affect many aspects of travel like buckling up seat belts, using a public swimming pool and visiting theme parks. Parents of children who experience difficulties with these tasks should stay in close range at all times to provide cues.

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The most important thing is for parents to be available and willing to discuss situations with children and prepare them ahead of time. Knowing that someone is there for them is the most reassuring thing kids can have, and a comfort for when they are feeling fears and anxiety.

Fourteen Tips for Preventing Sensory Meltdowns at Disney World

Fourteen Tips for Preventing Sensory Meltdowns at Disney World pin

Disney World with its five parks is vast, and there’s so much to experience. No parent wants to deal with a meltdown on vacation, let alone at Disney World where admission tickets are so pricey. In reality, chances are the intense activities of theme parks might kids with autism into sensory overload. To help parents mitigate such an occurrence here are our tips.

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Plan a Longer Vacation

Parents of kids with autism may find that visiting the parks over the course of a few days is much less stressful for everybody. Though it might sound less budget friendly, there are plenty of great deals on multiple Disney tickets as well as lodgings. At a minimum, parents should try to allocate one separate day for each park.

Rest Well

For the lodgings, even those on a budget should try to get their kids a good night’s sleep. Parents could pay extra for a rollaway or, if possible, getting the kids their own room. Sleeping in beds with siblings or parents can get in the way of an optimal night’s sleep. If kids are more rested in the morning, they’ll be more able to handle their emotions at the park.

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Take Frequent Breaks

Plan snack and lunch break times during the day. Parents of younger kids or those not used to spending the entire day at a theme park should schedule more frequent breaks and see how it goes.

Stay on Property

If at all possible, parents should find lodgings on the property for easy access to the park. For parents looking for a cheaper alternative to the Disney pricey hotels, the Wyndham has a property near Disney Springs that is affordable and still gives its guests access to the complimentary Disney transportation.

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Avoid Crowded Areas

Parents should avoid crowded areas, like the parade thoroughfare during the shows.In fact, they should skip the shows since they tend to be crowded anyway and try to go on typically full rides during that time since they’re mostly empty. Moreover, families should also eat meals on off hours, meaning before or after traditional lunch or dinner times.

Limit Shopping

Limiting the shopping adds to time spent enjoying the park itself and reduces arguments with kids. Parents should tell their child before entering the park that they are going to shop at the end of the day for a set time or online as an alternative.

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Plan Outdoor/Indoor Rides

Parents need to know that the weather in Orlando is usually warm and humid no matter the month. Though Disney accommodates autism on many of their rides, there are often still waits. These waits can be challenging for kids who are temperature intolerant.

Parents should do the indoor rides in the middle of the day, then try to do the outdoor rides in the early morning or late evening when the temperature cools down and the crowds are gone.

Stay Hydrated

This advice applies to all parents traveling with kids but is of particular importance in a theme park situation where there’s a lot of walking involved.So, parents should either purchase several beverages for their kids during the day or bring refillable water bottles to fill up at water fountains in the parks.

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Avoid Sugary Snacks

Most theme parks, especially Disney, have sugary snacks available for purchase literally at every corner of the parks. Pumping kids on sugary snacks and driving them into a sugar rush is seldom a good idea. Parents should discuss ahead of time with their kids what snacks they are allowed to have every day to avoid disappointments and meltdowns later.

Wear Comfortable Clothes

If kids get wet or sweaty, they might react adversely. It is a good idea for parents to make them as comfortable as possible. Since staying in a theme park for ten hours in a stretch is enough of a challenge for most kids,  parents should bring a change of clothes for emergencies.

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Bring Headphones or Earplugs

Some noise sensitive kids will react to sounds and noises in the park. These sounds can include screaming, shots, or explosions from fireworks. It is, therefore, important to bring headphones or earplugs for these situations. It is important to note that some rides will not allow kids to wear headphones while riding for safety reasons.

Don’t Use Park Hoppers

It is better, especially for younger children, to spend the entire day in one park. Also, using the Disney Transportation from park to park can add a layer of stress for some kids due to the waiting time and buses that might be crowded.

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Get a Stroller

Renting a stroller for younger children or those who can’t walk much is best for families. Visiting the Walt Disney World parks involves a lot of walking, and no parent wants to argue with children or try to force them into anything. So, even for older kids, a stroller may be a good place to relax if they get tired or cranky.

Keep your group small

Going in a large group to a theme park can be overwhelming, and the needs of a child with autism might be overlooked. Kids with autism might want to explore at a certain pace or adhere to specific mealtimes. The best ratio is two adults per kid so the adults can alternate taking care and helping accommodate their needs.

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Clothing Tips for Taking Kids with Autism to Disney World

Clothing Tips for Taking Kids with Autism to Disney World pin

Unknown to many, clothing choices can be quite important for a theme park visit. For those who deal with sensory issues, clothing can make a day visit unpleasant and lead to meltdowns. Here are our tips for making good clothing choices for Walt Disney World.

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Shoes

Visiting Walt Disney World involves a lot of walking throughout the four large parks. Even groups who set themselves to one park a day can expect a lot of walking. Also, the parks have areas with water attractions, and Florida often has lots of afternoon showers. As a result, the ground frequently gets slippery, which can be dangerous for kids running around.

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Non-slip shoes, like crocs, are essential. Parents can use fabric on/off shoes for the best results. Everyone in the family should avoid flip-flops, heels, or wedges. They should especially avoid leather or suede shoes, as they can get ruined by rain and shrink.

Pants

Choice of pants is of particular importance for those who want to go on the water attractions. Thick denim pants will not dry out easily, leaving kids with wet denim sticking to their legs for the duration of the trip.

Clothing Tips When Taking Kids with Autism to Disney World water

The best option is pants made of thin, lightweight material that quickly dries. Parents can find pants like these in most travel and camping stores. Alternatively, parents can bring a change of clothes for their kids.

Colors

Bring colors that stick out in a crowd is best, especially for little kids. Parks get crowded, and kids can easily slip away. In this situation, he or she would be easier to find if they’re wearing, for example, a bright orange jacket.

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Ponchos

As we mentioned before, at Walt Disney World it frequently rains in the afternoon. Ponchos are the best option for people who don’t want to have to stay indoors for the two to four hours these afternoon rains last.

Long ponchos are best, and parents can either bring them from home or buy them from the parks. We like buying them from the parks because they double as an excellent souvenir for kids to get from Disney. We suggest not buying expensive ponchos since ponchos are an item that one can easily lose. Also, if someone forgets their poncho in a bag, these expensive ponchos can develop mildew.

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For the most budget friendly option, parents can buy a one time use poncho from the dollar store.

Jacket

Easy to dry, thin jackets are best for theme parks. The jacket should preferably have a hood that it easy to take off. The jacket should also zip, not button.

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While it may seem like a good option, parents shouldn’t take heavy coats. The kids are not going to be wearing them the entire time, and nobody wants to walk around with a jacket all day for miles.

Pockets

Clothes with multiple pockets are always helpful. Parents and kids can either wear cargo pants or a jacket with many pockets. There’s a lot of knick knacks that parents will want to store, such as phones, wires, wallets, and small water bottles.

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Expensive or favorite items

Parents and kids should not bring expensive clothing or items into the parks for many reasons. These items can get snagged on rides, lost, or stained by food items. Jackets can especially get easily lost or misplaced between attractions.

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Bags

While tempting, parents shouldn’t bring large bags into the park. Many of the rides will not allow riders to carry large bags. And dragging these bags through the park gets tiring quickly.

Instead, parents should either wear clothing with lots of pockets or wear a fanny pack for small items.

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Tight fitting

Mini skirts and tight pants might be fashionable, but they’re not optimal theme park attire. Being confined in tight clothes for an entire day can be challenging to many.

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Loose fitting cotton clothes that breath are best for these environments. Dressing in layers is also crucial since the temperature can be highly variable throughout the day.

Costumes

Although the idea of letting the little one walk around in a princess dress might seem fun, having kids dress up in costumes is not the best idea.

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The costumes are often pricey and can easily get ruined in a theme park environment. In some cases, the costumes are long, such as with princess dresses or capes, and can get caught in ride mechanisms or doors.

After reading our tips it is your turn to chime in! What are your clothing tips when visiting the theme parks?

Common Cruising Misconceptions for Parents of Kids with Autism

Common Cruising Misconceptions for Parents of Kids with Autism pin

Traveling parents of children with autism often have many concerns over cruising. However, many common concerns are either unfounded or easily remedied. Here are some cruising concerns we frequently hear about and how families can navigate them and enjoy cruising.

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Cabin is too Small for my Child

The average inside cabins encompass about 160 square feet, so it is no surprise that they can feel a bit claustrophobic. However, there are options on the bigger and more modern ships for larger family style cabins or two connecting inside cabins. These options provide much more space for families.

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Balcony cabins aren’t recommended for most special needs families due to safety reasons, especially for younger kids with autism who don’t have an understanding of danger.

My Kids is a Picky Eater and on a Special Diet

Nowadays cruise lines do a great job of accommodating everybody’s needs. The dining areas now frequently offer gluten-free and low-salt items. Most restaurants offer vegan items as well. Parents can sometimes request a particular dish, especially in the main dining room at night.

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Ships are Too Crowded

Many times we hear that people don’t like the big ships, especially the larger ones that have 4000 people on them. However, parents should remember that 4000 people are never in the same place at once. People do different activities in different parts of the ship, and since the ship is large, there are many activities spread out in various areas.

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Parents of children with autism can request accommodations during boarding or disembarkation. That way, families won’t ever have to face the crowds. There are quiet areas and even serenity decks on some ships so finding a quiet or uncrowded area is as easy as asking a cruise director or purser for suggestions.

We Might Hear Nasty Remarks

All parents of kids with autism face nasty comments at a particular point in their lives. Our best advice would be for parents to ignore them. If they are rude or even insulting, then there’s not much to say to the offending person except to either just ignore what they said, move to another area or perhaps pass out informational cards on autism.

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If somebody asks questions, this would be a great opportunity for parents to educate others about autism. Such a situation has the potential to be a great thing because parents can raise autism awareness and help the autism community.

Activities are Unsuitable

On older ships, this used to be a problem because all the events meant either coloring in the kids club or sitting drinking a beer and playing bingo or trivia. That is no longer the case nowadays as the ships are filled with activities. On Norwegian cruise line, kids can enjoy a rope course. There are shows and parties for everyone in the family to enjoy. Parents can take their children to classes on cupcake decorating, dancing, cooking, photography, or computer programming.

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As an example, RCCL recently teamed with DreamWorks and NCL with Nickelodeon. Therefore, there are now character breakfasts, parades, and other themed activities.

If some things aren’t comfortable for them, kids can still either use the pool or watch TV. A lot of the cruise lines show kids movies at the pool or kids clubs. Some even have theaters. Of course, if all else fails, most of the modern ships have WiFi. A lot of the new ships also have Nintendo and other electronic games. Whenever parents come on board, they can just communicate their needs to the activities manager or the youth director.

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Cruise Ships are Dangerous for Our Child

Once in a while, we hear from parents concerned about safety on ships. These are colossal ships, especially the newer ones with 4000 people.

First, parents should not get a balcony cabin. As romantic as it sounds, unless the kid knows not to lean on ledges or overboard then parents much better off in an inside cabin.

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Parents should bear in mind that the pools on the cruise ships do not have lifeguards. Parents of children who wander off should choose a cabin away from pools, places with water, and elevators.

Cruise ships don’t have supervision except for a few safety officers. Parents should go to them if their child goes missing. They have procedures and can start looking for a lost child immediately.

Common Cruising Misconceptions for Parents of Kids with Autism

We Won’t be Relaxed

Most of us want to go on vacation and relax. However, parents of children with autism might worry they will have to be hyper vigilant at all times. Kids will likely be excited to be on the cruise ship and maybe want to explore. Meanwhile, parents will want to get a massage or at least sit by the pool.

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Parents should think of either teaming up with another family member to help watch the kids or bring a caregiver. They could even team up with several other parents of children with autism and take turns, especially during the activities.

Cruises are too Expensive

Pricing is a factor for many people going on cruises, especially the modern crew ships with the endless activities. Families should seek bargains at every opportunity.

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We recommend traveling off-season for many reasons. There are fewer guests on board and families will get more personalized attention. The silver lining to going off-season is the fact that the prices can be almost 50% off compared to the summers or holidays.

Cruises are too Long

The average cruise is seven days for most first timers. Parents of children who react adversely to changes might want to consider a shorter journey. These shorter cruises of three to five days can be hard to find, but they do exist. We recommend starting with these to get children acclimated to cruising. Then if they enjoy themselves, parents can always book a longer cruise later.cruises of three to five days can be hard to find, but they do exist. We recommend starting with these to get children acclimated to cruising. Then if they enjoy themselves, parents can always book a longer cruise later.

 

 

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Have you taken a cruise with your special needs kid? What was your experience?

Flying LATAM Airlines with Autism

 

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LATAM
is an airline that mainly flies to and from South America, so we hadn’t flown with them until we decided to visit Peru. One of the main reasons we chose LATAM was that I had British Airways miles that could be used to cover four tickets round trip from Los Angeles to Lima as well as four domestic round-trip flights. Our flight was a direct flight, which is always the best choice when traveling with autism.

Booking Latam Airlines

I booked our tickets online through the British Airways website in less than ten minutes for a total of 225K air miles and hardly any tax. Next, the airline’s customer service agent referred me to the Los Angeles office and was very helpful. A special thanks to Sharon and Mr. Caballero, the Passenger Service Supervisor at LAX!

After explaining that our son has autism and that he can’t wait in long lines and needs bulk seating on the aircraft, Mr. Caballero personally tagged our booking (four flights) with the accommodations and reassured me that everything was taken care of.
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At the Airport and Boarding

On the day of the first flight, we arrived at LAX 3 ½ hours ahead of time in the event we encountered issues that might need to be resolved. As we approach the ticket counter, we saw very long lines.

I asked for special needs assistance staff, and my family was immediately helped by an agent instead of waiting in the long line.Everyone worked diligently to ensure that we not only were seated together but that we received the bulkhead seats.

bulk seating

LATAM does weigh carry-ons, and we were two pounds over the limit. The airline was incredibly gracious saying that they understood we carried medicines and special hypoallergenic bedding for our son, so they let us carry them without any penalty.

LATAM has an excellent organizational system that uses lines for every ten rows so that the boarding process has a flow and is not too crowded.

At the gate, we pre-boarded using a wheelchair and were able to board each time quickly. It took some time to not only to settle our son but to store our carry-ons in the small overhead bins so were grateful we could do it without delaying fellow passengers. We found the bins on the Boeing 767  and on their Airbus 319  we flew to Cusco from Lima able to hold a 21-inch suitcase each and a small bag comfortably.

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Our Seats

As we passed by the  Business Class (there is no First Class), we discovered that it was surprisingly small on the 767. There were 18 seats in all with the most legroom and pitch I’ve seen in a Business Class.

plane seating

We flew the airline’s Economy Class.With the plane’s configuration of 2-3-2, as a family of four, we sat in row 12 and 13. My sons and I got the bulkhead seats while my husband sat behind us on the way to Lima and back. All in all, both rows had adequate leg space and the seat comfort was average although it was a bit annoying when people crossed over from side to side and bumped into us.

 

We were glad to find that pillows and blankets were provided for the red eye flight and there were outlets underneath the seats,  to juice up our devices. There were also no air vents directly blowing on us which are always an issue for our son with autism that has sensory challenges.

 

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Entertainment

A plethora of movies and television shows both in English and Spanish were offered on the entertainment system. The caveat for the bulkhead seating was that the television was built in and fixed in the bulk area in front of you. While the screens don’t fall during turbulence, they are a bit too small and far which makes watching a bit cumbersome.

 

The 319 Airbus doesn’t have any entertainment on board, which was OK as the flight was less than an hour and a half each way and we had packed tablets to watch our own movies. The seats on the Airbus were leather and much more comfortable than most economy seats we’ve sat in on other flights and airlines.

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Meals and Amenities

The flight crew was helpful and attentive. They came around to check and make sure we were comfortable and had our needs met. They offered dinner meal choices of chicken with a salad and cake. Later the crew retired for several hours before returning with a light breakfast. We were disappointed to discover that they had no milk or apple juice for our kids and that coffee wasn’t going to be served due to turbulence.

 

When we continued our journey to Cusco on a domestic flight, we were surprised to discover that the company offered complimentary snack boxes and drinks (including alcohol), even in economy.

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The bathrooms on both our long haul flight and domestic were kept clean and were continuously stocked with soap, hand lotions, even mouthwash.

Overall we had a great experience with LATAM that surprisingly showed a high and unexpected level of autism awareness and excellent customer service. We didn’t have to wait in any significant lines and were accommodated on and off the aircraft promptly.

 

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Autism Travel Tips

When traveling LATAM with autism, make sure you call ahead and tag your reservation as special needs and ask for the necessary accommodations (wheelchair assistance) or special diets that your family members may need.

Packing a tablet and power cord may be helpful as there might not be adequate entertainment on some aircraft.

It is interesting to note that while LATAM  does not claim to discriminate against passengers with disabilities, they are one of the few airlines who requires a muzzle for a service animal and they do have this additional statement on their website in regards to passengers with autism:

Passengers with autism who are accompanied by family or caregivers and who do not have a disruptive behavior do not require a medical certificate however if they travel alone, they will have to present a medical certificate.

 

 

Business Class on Air New Zealand is Luxury Defined

Some people say that the most surprise events make for the best stories, and in our case, our experience with Air New Zealand exemplifies exactly that!

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We had originally booked a flight from Lisbon to Zürich connecting to LA which ultimately fell through when our Lisbon to Zürich segment flight was late. This change of plans meant that we lost our connection before we even started our journey.

Booking and Airport Experience

A United Airlines ticket agent at the Lisbon airport took pity on us and decided to book us on the next available flight to London where we would then fly Air New Zealand from London straight to LA.

Needless to say, I was grateful that we were flying Business Class on accumulated points, so I didn’t have to worry about things like last-minute seating arrangements and accommodations for our son with autism.

Business Class on Air New Zealand is Luxury Defined screen

Upon arrival at Heathrow International Airport, we got access to Air New Zealand’s quality Business Lounge which provided us with plenty of options to eat and drink. The lounge even offers gluten-free choices, not to mention free WiFi.

Boarding and First Impressions

We were able to pre-board first as part of the accommodation for autism and also because we had Business Class seats. Next, they welcomed us on board by the friendly and enthusiastic crew that helped us with luggage and offered us a glass of champagne or cider.

We then actually started to notice many of the subtle differences that make Air New Zealand a fabulous company, commencing with the continuous smiling staff and their charming Kiwi accents.

As frequent travelers, we have flown in all classes including First, Business, and Economy. It is safe to say that the seat on the Air New Zealand Boeing 777 300 that reclines into a full bed was, and is, the most comfortable we’ve experienced to date.

Business Class on Air New Zealand is Luxury Defined seat

Amenities and Entertainment

We received two pillows and a hypoallergenic comforter. The Business Class TV screens are large and can be moved and adjusted to your position, and the recharging station is located directly in front of you (we love when you don’t have to bend down and search for it under the seat). Our son with autism couldn’t get enough of the entertainment console!

Business Class on Air New Zealand is Luxury Defined game

Air New Zealand has, hands down, the most engaging safety video we have ever watched. Everyone around us was apparently paying attention and even testing the different functions from the comfort of their seats.

Passengers can create their personal playlist of movies they want to watch during the flight as well as order whatever food and drinks they wish.

Business Class on Air New Zealand is Luxury Defined questions

 

Furthermore, the airline has added informative clips about your intended destination including immigration forms and a concierge service on board to help with your vacation plans. In fact, you could even provide feedback about the service from the comfort of your seat—not that we had reason to complain.

Sleeping in Comfort and Class

Maybe the reason we felt so pampered on Air New Zealand was the fact that this airline, unlike many others, actually makes your bed when you’re ready to sleep.

The cabin staff members come with bed linens and make your bed. When you’re done with the linens, you can press the call button and have them whisked away.

Our son with autism had a stomach ache, and the flight attendants couldn’t be nicer. They made him chamomile tea and even offered him an over-the-counter heartburn medication.

Business Class on Air New Zealand is Luxury Defined spray

The aircraft we were on also featured the famous Skycouch in the Economy Premium Class cabin. The Skycouch is a perfect choice for families, especially those with younger kids, and provides comfort at budget pricing.

Impeccable Customer Service

At this point, I should mention that this is the first airline that didn’t scold me for taking pictures, but instead mentioned how they enjoy working with bloggers.

Business Class on Air New Zealand is Luxury Defined burger

The Airline Amenity Kit features Clinique cosmetic products and the flight attendants also distribute a kid-friendly coloring kit to entertain children the old-fashioned way.

The special touches are visible everywhere starting from the largest cabin galley up to the whimsical bathrooms with a window view.

Everything about the Business Class on Air New Zealand was top-notch, starting with the entertainment and continuing with the wine choices and food (don’t skip the dessert; it is heavenly). And, of course, there was the gracious and punctual service provided by the crew.

Business Class on Air New Zealand is Luxury Defined snack

Overall, our experience was excellent and needless to say we were sad to leave the plane once we landed in LA. Parents with kids with autism should definitely put Air New Zealand on their radar, as they are so incredibly accommodating and polite. 

Flying Virgin America with Autism

We recently flew Virgin America out of LAX. Overall, the experience surpassed our expectations in accommodations, entertainment, comfort, and compassion for autism travel. 

Booking Process

I booked our flights on the Virgin America website, though I ended up having to fly a week earlier than my husband and my son who has autism. All three one-way tickets purchased were for Economy, but I couldn’t get the bulk seating for my husband and son directly on the website.

Flying Virgin America with Autism Ticket Counter

So, I ended up calling the 1-800 customer service number and spoke with an agent who specializes in disability. The representative was well acquainted with autism and immediately proceeded to put my husband and son in their flight’s Economy Premium section in order to make them more comfortable.

At the Airport

Check-in was a breeze! I had already checked in online, so I only needed to zoom through security with my Global Entry pass and head straight to the gate. My husband and son relayed a similar experience.

Flying Virgin America with Autism Airport

In LAX, Virgin America uses Terminal 3, which tends to be a bit more crowded at security than other terminals. If you are also flying out of this terminal, you may want to arrive earlier and allocate enough time to pass through this process.

I had heard about their newly opened Virgin Atlantic travel lounge, and I was mildly curious to check it out for myself. On request, the staff allowed me a sneak peek. The facility sported an uber-modern look and had several seating areas, a bar, and a modest breakfast buffet table—the room decor compliments the company’s logo in hues of reds and pinks.

Flying Virgin America with Autism Lounge

Passengers wishing to dine before their flight also have the option of choosing from a fast food joint or a sit-down venue at Gladstone’s, which is a sister restaurant to the one in Malibu.

At the Gate

On both Virgin America flights (a week apart);  pre-boarding went relatively smoothly. My husband was happy the crew had given him ample time to board before the deluge of passengers came through. On my solo flight, I was approached by a team member and asked if I needed help putting my carry-on in the top compartment, which I appreciated.

Both flights on Airbus 330 were punctual, which is noteworthy in the middle of the day at a busy airport like LAX.

The Seats

My aisle seat in Economy 12D was covered in leather and better padded than other airlines I have flown. I even had a few inches between my knees and the chair in front of me.

Flying Virgin America with Autism Economy Seat

My husband and son found their wider, more padded, leather seats in 3E and 3F (main cabin) even more comfortable to relax in. We were all thrilled to use the outlets to plug in our phones; the outlets worked well and were placed in an accessible spot, unlike other carriers where we have had to look for them somewhere in the abyss under our seats.

Flying Virgin America with Autism Main Cabin

As seasoned frequent flyers, we all immediately noticed the small—but significant differences—between this Virgin America and their competitors. Highlights ranged from the engaging emergency procedure video done with rap music and the relaxing blue-hued lighting to the positive attitude of the crew asking multiple times if we needed any additional help.

The Food

Let me start by saying that Virgin America offers superior food and entertainment choices that cater to please anyone. They provide an ample free and paid-for drink and snack menu that includes a gluten-free option as well as for purchase meal options.

Flying Virgin America with Autism Food

The fact that you can place an order from the comfort of your seat is so helpful! No more waiting for the traditional cart to come around while everyone else dines, just to be told they are out of your food choice once they reach your seat.

On my flight, I was very happy with my reasonably-priced, healthy breakfast choice that didn’t leave me hungry like some do. The meal was served with coffee that tasted like it was freshly ground.

Flying Virgin America with Autism Menu

The following week my husband and son loved the food offerings too. When our son with autism discovered food is complimentary in the main cabin. He ended up ordering everything he could off that menu. Unlike what has happened to us on European carriers, he was not reprimanded.

Much to my husband’s surprise, the staff was courteous and smiled with each order!

The Amenities

In comparison with other airlines, entertainment is another area where Virgin America gets it right.

Flying Virgin America with Autism Entertainment

The personal touch-screen TV in front of you is so much fun to play with!

You can not only order meals but also watch movies, listen to music; you can even chat with a fellow passenger in a different seat, which is a great feature if family members are separated in-flight.

As you can see from our pictures, the choices are ample—whether one wants to watch movies, TV shows or play games, there is something there for everyone. The entertainment system even features an area for kids with a PG content control making it stress-free for parents.

Flying Virgin America with Autism Charity

Perhaps the most refreshing feature on that screen was the fact there was a section dedicated to charities, encouraging passengers to donate money to several organizations like “Make a Wish Foundation” and one that is close to our hearts, The Special Olympics.

But there’s more.

Forgot your headphones at home? Do you want to nap for a few hours and want a clean pillow and blanket? You can purchase these items right on board. I selected a pillow/blanket set and love the high-quality blanket so much I use it at my desk at home.

Flying Virgin America with Autism Cagtalog

The restrooms, though unimpressive and similar to other airlines, were kept clean throughout the coast-to-coast flight and replenished with paper towels, tissues, and soap on a continuous basis.

Autism Travel Tips

Make sure you mention any special needs at booking and follow up with Virgin America before flying.

On our flights, we found nothing went wrong, and the staff was all very attentive and well rehearsed in helping families and individuals with autism.

Pin for Later

Flying Virgin America with Autism Pin

How Packing by Color can Make Family Travel Easier

Like many parents, one of the tasks I dreaded the most when going on vacation was packing and unpacking my family’s suitcases.For years, I’ve looked for a solution to make the process easier and shorter. I tried many recommended methods till I finally devised a system of my own which I fondly nicknamed the ‘Packing by Color’  System that works well for my family (including my son with autism)  and hopefully will work for your family too.

How Packing by Color can Make Family Travel Easier plastic

Reasons to use  the ‘Packing by Color’  system

  • You can carry fewer and or smaller suitcases as you can mix belongings in the same bag and quickly find what item belongs to whom by the color of the tape on the bag.
  • Clothes are well protected from spills, dirt, and you won’t even have to worry about bringing bed bugs or fleas home if you keep them in the Hefty bags while traveling.
  • If you are tired of hearing ” Mom, where are my shorts/ socks/ t- shirt?” this system is for you. It will promote independence with kids of all ages; teaching them to find their clothes in a hotel room quickly by identifying their personal bags and get ready for the daily activities on their own.
  • Unpacking at the hotel becomes a breeze since each family member can grab their marked Hefty bags out of the suitcases and place them in their own designated drawer or shelf. The ‘packing by color’  system is especially useful if your vacation includes multiple stops that involve several rounds of packing and unpacking.
  • It provides parents with an efficient way to sort laundry items when they return home after vacation so they can wash dirty clothes in an organized manner and get back to their daily routine as soon and seamlessly as possible.
  • Moreover, each family member can do their separate wash and deal with his/her clothes again promoting life skills and independence especially in teens and young adults.How Packing by Color can Make Family Travel Easier bottles

How the system works

  • Designate a color

Start by allocating a travel color for each member of your family. In our case my older son is yellow, my younger son blue, my husband green and orange for myself. (Make sure it is a primary and easy-to-find color since you will have to shop for items in that color at places like the local dollar store and Target)

From this point on any item for that person will be in that color whether it is a travel toothbrush, a water bottle, swim trunks, beach flip flops or even suitcase tag.

  • Get colored duct tape in the chosen colors

Buy a roll of duct tape in your chosen color/s to mark any personal items you won’t find to buy in the color you need.

  • Use Hefty bags

After initially starting with space bags we soon came to realize they were pricey, and you couldn’t actually use them for more than a few times.So we have begun using the large  2.5 gallons Hefty bags that are a fraction of the cost and can be utilized on most trips at least twice in a row.
After we roll our clothes and put them in the bag, we can save precious space by squeezing the air out before putting them in the suitcase. The bag does a good job of keeping the clothes fresh and dry should any mishap happen to your bag like sitting out in the pouring rain or getting dropped into the ocean while boarding a cruise ship.

  • Label bags/items appropriately

We mark each person’s Hefty bags with the appropriate color tape.
So, my clothes would be in the orange labeled bags; my husband‘s in the green bags and so on. The duct tape ensures quick identification of items and whom they belong to when we arrive at the hotel.
It is convenient to write on the duct tape what things you put in each bag so you can make sure you don’t switch around and use a  bag that housed your shoes for clean items like underwear for example.
Furthermore,  you can distinguish between dirty and clean things by writing on the tape too–which is helpful on the way back home from your vacation.
Special Tip: Make sure you pack a couple of extra bags in case they tear, or the zipper breaks down.
Do you have a unique method to pack and unpack when traveling with your kids? Share your tips with us.

 

How Packing by Color can Make Family Travel Easier shoes

 

Wai-O-Tapu Park ,New Zealand With Kids

 

Wai-O-Tapu Park ,New Zealand With Kids BRIDGE
We got a chance to visit Wai-O-Tapu Park on our cruise around Australia and New Zealand on board the Sapphire Princess.
The New Zealand thermal park with the Maori name meaning “Sacred Water,” is 27 km from the city of Rotorua and is in New Zealand’s volcanic zone centrally located on the North Island.
The park is known for tourism as well as education, so there are booklets, pamphlets and maps are available in a few languages.

Wai-O-Tapu Park ,New Zealand With Kids FIRE

This geographical marvel of a park is famous for its colorful volcanic activity and even has the Lady Knox Geyser that draws crowds every morning. There are champagne colored water and bubbling mud pools that you reach mostly by foot over bridges and platforms.With thousands of years in the making, the place is truly a thermal wonderland and a global sensation.

The park’s unique features are its diverse natural landscapes, the geyser as mentioned earlier that erupts daily at 10:15 am, and the vast mud pool that is the site of a mud volcano that was destroyed by erosion almost a century ago. The pools of thick bubbling mud are quite mesmerizing to watch.

Wai-O-Tapu Park ,New Zealand With Kids ASH
Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit this park is from spring to fall when the days are longer, and you can extend your stay and make the most of the day.
The park is open every day in spring through fall 8:30 am to 5:30 pm and in winter 8:30 am to 6:00 pm.

The visitor center is where you can purchase the tickets and get information on the different hikes through the park. There are also souvenirs and gifts available at the gift shop, which make lovely keepsakes of this fascinating place and New Zealand.
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You don’t need to buy anything in advance though it might get somewhat crowded when the large cruise ships are in town and bring hundreds of visitors in buses.Prices for adults are NZ$32 and for children NZ$11 which covers ages 5 to 15. Children under five get to go in free so a family can get in for NZ$80.Conditions

Wai-O-Tapu Park Conditions

The vast outdoor park has small boarded and mesh-reinforced walkways that are relatively comfortable to traverse by foot, but not very easy to navigate by wheelchair because not all of them are smooth. Also, you should be aware that it’s very slippery after a rainfall because of the muddy environment.
The park has secure lockers for storing belonging, and there are toilet facilities for people a with disabilities as well as picnic areas.
Wai-O-Tapu Park ,New Zealand With Kids GREEN

Autism Travel Tips

  • There is a self-serve café where one can purchase hot and cold beverages and food.  If your child has specific dietary needs, you will need to take this into account as the facilities do not provide a vast selection of allergy or food sensitivity options on the menu. There are facilities for picnics, so if your child enjoys that, it is an option.
  • The weather can be unpredictable so bring a jacket in case it gets cold all of a sudden.
  • As the park is outdoors and large, travelers need to come with appropriate shoes. Closed, walking shoes are ideal and not flip-flops or sandals.Wai-O-Tapu Park ,New Zealand With Kids FOREST
  • If your child has tactile sensitivities, you should pack a poncho because in some areas they may experience some sprinkling or misting which settles on the skin and can leave them feeling damp and uncomfortable.
  • If your child is sensitive to smell, be aware that the area has an unyielding sulfur smell because of the volcanic activity. It is advisable to bring a mask to mitigate the strong odors.
  • Some children may find the bright colored waters somewhat scary so make sure you explain ahead of time what they’re going to see. Furthermore, prepare them for the fact that they cannot touch anything since many of the fluids in the lakes are toxic.

Wai-O-Tapu Park ,New Zealand With Kids BOYS

  • There are no toilet facilities out in the park, only at the Visitor’s Center so make sure to let your child know the importance of this before you embark on the tour.
  • During the summer months, it might be wise to wear insect repellent to make sure you’re not bitten by mosquitos and other biting bugs.
  • There are no shelters from the sun, so there is no resting place with shade. Carry extra drinking water and wear sunscreen and hats to prevent sunburn.

 

Wai-O-Tapu Park ,New Zealand With Kids YELLOW

 

 

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