Family Travel A to Z: You Only Live Once (YOLO!)
Like most autism families we were held back from travel by our fears for a long time. There are many barriers to overcome when autism is in the mix. You’ve got to deal with change, sensory threats, social interaction and communication, obsessive special interests, anxiety, financial stress, lack of support, problematic behaviours and your own mental wellbeing. For most families, it can seem too much of a challenge.
With two of our kids diagnosed with autism, anxiety and sensory processing disorder, we couldn’t see how we could travel while managing their very different needs, sensory preferences, triggers, information requirements and outlooks on life. For a long time, we didn’t have the confidence to even try to work around these challenges, so we didn’t. We continued to believe that travel wasn’t going to work for us.
However, you only live once. After years of dreaming of travel, we finally realised that nothing was going to change if we didn’t change our attitude. We knew our kids. We knew their needs. We knew what strategies would work to help them deal with uncertainty and change. We just needed to believe in ourselves and in our resilience and perseverance. It took longer than it should, but, we finally believed we could do it and that we owed it to our family to give travel a real go.
There are so many benefits to family travel. You only get one go at life. You only live once. So, get out there and give it a shot!
6 REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD TRAVEL AS AN AUTISM FAMILY (YOLO)
Seeing new ways of living first hand is the best education you can give your kids. Introducing your kids to the different cultures of our world will open their minds and help shape their thinking for the rest of their lives (even if they outwardly show no signs of it). Travelling at a young age changed my outlook on life completely. I know it has changed my kids’ outlook too, as they often talk about things they experienced on past trips. You don’t need to travel overseas to experience cultural awareness either. Travelling from the city to the country can be a big change for first-time travellers. Visiting ethnically diverse areas in bigger cities can do this too.
Language and cultural barriers force you to find alternate ways to communicate, either by using gestures and body language or by learning phrases in other languages, to bridge the communication divide. This has many benefits for autistic kids, struggling with interpersonal communication. Watching my kids tentatively interact with strangers on our travels has been a beautiful thing to witness. I’ve been amazed at their capacity to adapt, in situations which would normally be avoided back home. Travel provides a unique opportunity for our kids to communicate and interact in ways they would rarely tolerate in their normal environment.
Travelling with kids helps raise a new generation of global citizens. They’re introduced to environmental, geographic, cultural, economic and political issues beyond their immediate neighbourhood. For the first time, they see the enormity of the world around them. You may not think your kids will take in much at a young age, but you’ll be surprised at the knowledge and understanding they gain from travelling away from home. And, you may be even more surprised as you see how their thinking changes over time too. It may not be something you notice immediately, but it’s an amazing feeling when your kids bring up something they remember from their travels.
Getting your kids to look after their own belongings during a trip away is the ideal way to start building a sense of responsibility. Responsibility also comes from learning to manage money, ordering meals, planning travel routes and looking up transport timetables. Travelling also provides opportunities to work on organisation and independence skills too. From experience, it always helps to have a real-world reason to practice these skills. We’ve also found that being away from home, and out of the normal routine, means that it’s easier to get our kids to take on more responsibility. They’re dealing with so much change anyway, there’s no point fighting more, I guess!
Travel is a real confidence booster. There’s nothing like the feeling of arriving safely at your destination after exploring a new location and navigating unknown terrain. You gain a real sense of achievement and confidence in the most minor of things when you travel. And, your kids can benefit from this too.There are countless opportunities to positively comment on their efforts each day which goes a long way to building their confidence in all areas of life. Above all, undertaking that first trip will help your kids develop more confidence and self-belief. It can become an example you can use whenever anxiety and fear takes over to prove they can do it.
Venturing to a new place as a family is a sure-fire way to create family togetherness. With only each other to rely on, families naturally come together to support each other. I know we’ve never been closer as a family than when we travel together. It also helps that we often can’t rely on internet connection when travelling, which means normal device habits are broken! Suddenly, we have more conversations and discover that we like each other (most of the time!) This is the benefit of travelling as a family that I most value. The time we have together and the experiences we share. Not every experience is a great one, but they create memories that will last for many years.
You may be thinking these benefits are all well and good for most kids but won’t apply to your autistic children. I get that. However, I can tell you from real life experience, our kids are capable of more than we expect. We cannot limit their lives and we can’t deny them the chance to see the world because of our own fear or our limited expectations. The benefits of travel are universal and we owe it to our kids to at least give travel a try. Remember, you only live once!
Do you have any other benefits of family travel to add to this list?
Learn even more strategies, systems and tools to successfully travel as an autism family in our new guide – click on the image below to get your copy today!