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I battled a little with the title of this piece. It originally said “Travelling With a Child With Autism.” That title posed that I might know something about traveling with any child with autism when the truth is, every single child with autism is so very different, and I can really only speak to my own experience. If you can relate, and I hope you do, than I am thrilled to have shared a little piece of our world with you. Here’s how it all went down.
Like any child of this generation, electronics were essential to having a successful five-hour ride to Portland, Maine. Sure, I filled a bag with small toys, books, and car games in a futile attempt to prove my children could be entertained by things other than pokemon and snapchat, but we all know the truth. Here’s where the autism starts to comes in; before we left we had to use a social story to explain to Miss Kate (the little one on the left) where we were going and what we would be doing each day. You see, autism has resulted in some seriously rigid thinking in that kid and change is bad, very very bad. Sure, she was excited at the prospect of a hotel and a pool but the strange foods, the different schedules and the overall chaos would have her slowly deteriorate through the long weekend.
We headed to a grocery store to find food that Kate would eat. Her diet is very restricted, again thanks autism, and she refuses to deviate from her food list. Fish crackers and popcorn are on this list, of course, but only specific kinds, so we fretted that this Canadian mom wouldn’t be able to find the right stuff in the American grocery store. Fret not, I had success and what’s better, I realized they sell wine in the grocery stores in America, too.
Shopping was high on my list but low on hers, of course. We spent a little time in fancy stores we couldn’t afford but this trip was for the kids so we didn’t push it. Kate began to get agitated on our shopping adventure and her pal, Oakley, was doing his best to help her keep her cool. Some of you might think he is merely an anchor to keep her safe, but the truth is he offers some serious emotional support, as well. But that is another post and you can read it here.
We tried a baseball game. The local triple-A team promised a good show but with a weather delay we didn’t last long. Kate didn’t fully understand what we were doing in this giant stadium and words don’t always work for visual thinkers such as her. Waiting became unbearable so we headed back to the hotel. Oakley didn’t seem to mind sitting in the bleachers. I suspect some popcorn may have fallen his way.
Kate’s version of autism results in some serious sensory-seeking behavior. For the layperson that means she likes to crash and bang around, a lot. The pressure on her joints feels good and movements like that seems to calm her nervous system. When we discovered an indoor trampoline park, we had to go, twice! Kate and her big sister Grace (who prefers not to be photographed without permission, of course) had a blast jumping and falling for over an hour each visit.
The aforementioned trampoline park also had a hurricane simulator. Can you see how enjoyable this genius little invention was for Kate? I think we stopped her after six visits to the simulator. I tried it, too, just to make sure it was safe, naturally.
By the end of the second day, Kate was tired and we knew that we had to slow things down a bit for her. The rest of our party travelled to a waterpark and we took it easy back at the hotel. A pool all to herself was just what she needed. When Kate gets overwhelmed it often results in some pretty negative behaviors that can be hard on everyone, not least of all her. A day by the pool smoothed her out a little and she was ready to go again, for a little while, anyway.
We were all tired by the time our last day rolled around but we couldn’t visit Maine without visiting the big boot in Freeport. Kate had other ideas and couldn’t even muster a smile for this photograph. Her service dog, Oakley, was also getting rather tired and was happy to be heading home, I’m sure.
We made some accommodation, absolutely. We prepared Kate for every event, we packed her special food and most importantly we always had an escape plan. These are just a few of the things autism parents think about on a daily basis and these things become even more important when we travel. For all the hard work and preparation, this little vacation was well worth it.