Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Travel Snapshot

Our family was recently featured on AutisticGlobetrotting.com

"I don’t think traveling with my family will ever get old. As my children mature and learn new things, it’s great to watch them enjoy road trips differently.”

Who you are:
My name is Jennifer Byde Myers. I am a writer and editor, and I am one of the founders of Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism. I live on the San Francisco Peninsula with my husband Shawn and our two children.

Introduce your kid/s:
We have Jack who is 11 1/2,  and Katie who will be 6 in June. They both love travel and adventure and have virtually no fear of new places, new foods, or new events. Jack is autistic and has cerebral palsy ataxia, so while he does walk, we usually take his wheelchair to make sure he is comfortable for long ambles since he tires out more easily. Katie is a very active kid who loves to take walks, hike, and swim. Jack and Kate are very fun, interesting kids, and unless there is whining, they are really great to be around.

Describe your philosophy to educating them:
My husband and I both come from families that cherished the outdoors and with parents who have a love of travel. We live in such an amazing country with all sorts of natural wonders and beautiful roads, and I am grateful that our parents instilled in us a reverence for nature and a sense of adventure. As we raise our own children we hope to show them as many National and state parks, monuments, and memorials before they grow up and leave home. We hope that they will have that same appreciation for our country’s natural resources, and some of the history of the United States. And of course, there are so many things to learn on any road trip, from evaluating what we really need while we are packing, to working on spatial awareness as we load the car, and even how to tie the best knots to keep things secure. We talk a lot about how to interact with other people, and what is considerate or inconsiderate, which is always easy to demonstrate on the roads. We try to eat at small, neighborhood restaurants, and we love it when we end up in a town during a celebration that is all theirs, like a Founder’s day, or a food festival. I’ve always thought that if you never leave home, you can’t fully appreciate where you’ve come from.

Read the rest here...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Joshua Tree National Park a Guest Post by Shannon Des Roches Rosa:

Joshua Tree National Park: An Autism Vacation Destination
Shannon Des Roches Rosa
We spent New Year's Eve at California's Joshua Tree National Park, near Palm Springs. It was one of our best family days ever. Ever ever ever. 

If your child with autism likes to hike and boulder, I couldn't imagine a better place to go -- as long as you're prepared. Joshua Tree is high desert, and in December that means ow-my-nose cold temperatures. If you go, check the weather report beforehand, take it seriously, and dress appropriately!

For hiking, I'd recommend the Barker Dam trail. It is a relatively flat 1.5 mile loop -- flat in terms of elevation gain, not footing. There were many bouldery moments, which as a family of billy goats we all loved.
Barker Dam trail - outbound
We found snow! And ice! Mali is holding up a small slab of frozen H20.
Iz testing the lake to verify that yes, indeed, it is frozen.
The reservoir created by Barker Dam is small but lovely. It attracts the area's fauna, but to Seymour's disappointment we did not see any Desert Big Horn sheep.
Iz pushing her personal bouldering limits.
There's always time for a game of "my cheeks make excellent bellows"
See? Joshua trees! Return leg from Barker Dam.
There were even petroglyphs. Though these ones have been messed with.
We hit several other sites in the park, but the kids' favorite was Skull Rock and the bouldering behind it. The rough-textured granite rocks make climbing easy -- almost too easy. Your kids may get over-confident about their new super human climbing abilities, so mind them closely. There are many sharp drop offs on boulder backsides, and kids may not notice how high up they are climbing, and could get stranded.

Leo billy-goating -- with close supervision.
Bouldering wonderland!
Wear jeans or other tough trousers. After a couple of hours of gamboling over the rough-textured rocks, Mali ripped the bottom right out of her pants! Which led us to sing her an impromptu personalized version of the SpongeBob Square Pants "Ripped Pants" song. She was mortified and made us all swear never to share it.
We stayed nearby in TwentyNine Palms, at the Fairfield Marriott Inn. The hotel seemed set up for families, with complimentary breakfast, huge clean new rooms, and free wireless. Score! Recommended, especially with a spanking AAA discount rate.

I think we'll be going back. A single day, no matter how full, was insufficient to appreciate this beautiful park. We're hoping to come back, possibly even camp (!). 

Have you ever been to Joshua Tree National Park? What did you think?
This essay was originally published at www.Squidlicious.com. Shannon Des Roches Rosa is a writer, editor  whose work can be found just about anywhere on the web.
We would like to feature your family's Autism Travels here too. Send us an email to autismtravels at gmail.com and we will review your submission!

Monday, August 30, 2010

How We Traveled

Some of you may know that we have an AdventureVan that we purchased nearly a year ago. It will probably be our main mode of vacation travel going forward, but for our cross country trip we had the pleasure and good fortune to be able to borrow Shawn's parents' RV.

I've never thought we should own an RV. I always thought of us as "real" campers...dirt, tents, campfire, no shower. but now, I'm not so sure. It was really, really nice to have a bed, make that 3 beds, and a toilet and a shower! and a sink, and a microwave/convection oven, and the infamous hot box of death (the toaster oven). We also had a full size refrigerator, and room for all of our snacks. Owning an RV is now on the list of "hmm, maybe that would be cool."

This particular RV is a 2004 Pace Arrow. We also towed a Honda CRV, which acquired a Thule box for our leg of the trip. In total, we had a 34' RV with tow, so we were probably about 50' long. We did use the tow car several times to tour on roads that were smaller, and to zip around Yellowstone National Park. While it makes things more difficult to travel with a tow car, I was glad we had it. It also made me feel safer, because it gave us another way to get out of the desert should our primo ride have trouble.

In the picture above you can see one of the "slides." That's the front room, or living room that slides out. The couch then unfolds like a futon and that's the bed where Jack slept. It's a decent sized bed. Shawn and I have slept on the couch several times...and I took a nap there once while Shawn was driving on this trip--just once I swear.

Katie is not talking to her stockbroker here.
Katie slept at the dining room table. You can see here on the left, Katie is sitting at the table (she's on her headset playing "Talking Tom" on her iTouch..that is another story altogether). The wood behind her is the head board. The table unhinges from the wall and rests on the edges of the bench seats, making a slightly-larger-than a toddler-sized bed. It was sort of a pain to put the table up and down, but in the evening it was part of the routine that changed our "car" into our "home". Katie was perfectly happy taking a nap on the bench while we drove, the seat belt snapped around her waist as we bumped along. Jack, who never naps in the car anymore,  put his head down on the table a couple times and snoozed on the days when we woke him up too early.

Shawn and I slept in the back in the Master Bedroom, which has a very comfy bed. There's another slide in the back that creates enough room so you can walk around the end of the bed and get into the drawers under the wardrobe.  I loved the light setup in the master bedroom. I really enjoyed my book light, even if I only read ten pages on the trip.

We are hardly tiny people (Shawn is 6'5" and I am 5'11"), so the whole setup was cozy, but  RVs are like boats, so it was all laid out so well, wand everything had a place, except our excess of jacket. Moving about, finding a place for everything, life, was much smoother than I thought it would be.

The Minor Things I Would Change if I Had a Magic Wand:
big stretch
  • More seat belts. This RV was clearly designed for two people traveling without guests. There is only 1 seat belt at the dinette. There were two on the couch, and the two seats in the front for driver and naggravator (yes that's what we call my position navigator + aggravate).
  • Change the movable rocking recliner to a permanent mount chair that turns...and add a seat belt. This seat is behind the driver side, and is basically unusable while driving. It did do a great job of holding our backpacks throughout the journey.
  • Give the sanitation hose its very own compartment separate from the clean water, cable and electric. 
  • Add more plugs in the kitchen. We use a power strip. It works fine, but anytime I can get rid of a power strip I am a go.
  • Add more plugs in the front. 
  • Okay, add more plugs everywhere and have them be able to be used while we are driving. We have this problem all the time now, in every car. We just have way too many things that need to be plugged in.
Overall it was an amazing way to travel. Really. In spite of whatever hazards we encountered, it was still pretty great. Let me tell you..being able to take a bathroom and a refrigerator everywhere you go? So awesome. Kid needs to 'go potty' sure.. go for it. Need a snack? Sure. Let me grab you something from the snack drawer kiddo. Want a sandwich Shawn? Let me get you some chicken salad on wheat. Oh, another soda? Just a moment. Got to go potty again.. no problemo.

I know we could do most of those things in a smaller form factor, but the RV really felt like it was just the right size for our not-so-little family of four. It will be a completely different experience to drive in the AdventureVan which I am already itching to do. Katie said, as we pulled in to our driveway last Sunday, "When can we go on a big trip in our AdventureVan?"

Just another way I  know we had a good time crossing the country... I keep wanting to wake up in a car the size of my first studio apartment and make breakfast.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Early exits...

Life with Jack sometimes requires an exit stage left before the final act and other times, it's time to leave before the chorus has finished warming up. In some cases this leads to disappointment for his family, in other cases it leads to new, fun opportunities.

Our visit to my Aunt's house was a case of the former. We had driven to the birthplace of my mother in upstate New York, a place I had visited only a couple times as a kid. We attempted to take my children to see where their Oma grew up - corn fields now turned into sub-divisions. We got into town late afternoon after a fun visit with my cousin and his family outside of Syracuse and headed straight to my Aunt's house. She welcomed us very warmly and we had the wonderful surprise of another of my cousins and her youngest son who had just been accepted to college (Go NU Cats!). We got settled in for a nice visit and dinner of corn and beef on 'wick. The food, and the fact that there was a cub cadet tractor in the garage hit on all of my fond memories of my prior visit to my mother's home town. As we socialized and Katie dug into my Aunt's collection of grandkid-reserved babydolls, Jack began to let us know he was not happy. First this was just his vocal complaining. Shortly thereafter, he decided he didn't want to sit still. Now in our house this happens on occasion but is not much of an issue. Our house has a very limited selection of breakable items within reach of "long-arm Larry" (as his sister likes to call Jack). This cannot be said of most of the houses we visit with Jack, so his parents are always on guard.

We tried bringing Jack's wheelchair into the house to see if that would help as it frequently makes him feel better and calm down. In this case, no dice. Jack was done and wanted to go. His mothe, his sister and I were nowhere near done with our visit, but Jack was over this and was being very clear in his need to go. So I swept him up to sit in the car (which made him feel better) while his sister and mother wound up their chats. I don't think I got the proper chance to say goodbye to my Aunt, Cousin or her son or even thank them for a nice dinner. This is a cousin who I hadn't seen in years and who showed me endless hospitality while I was in college. It's an Aunt who I have not seen much in my life, but who I would have liked to spend more time catching up with. In short, a visit way too short for my taste. The postscript on the story is that Jack had a very good reason for wanted to leave (one which I will not go into) so I certainly couldn't be upset or angry with him.

We had another notable case of an early exit on our trip. This case, was in the visitor's center in the Grand Teton National Park. Jack, Katie, Jen and I all stopped in the Teton visitor center to check out the Native American museum and to check off some boxes towards Katie's latest Jr Ranger badge. The exhibits were really neat, but sadly the museum was not overly wheelchair accessible (Jack was very tired so was riding rather than walking). The downstairs was not easy to get to (I'll be honest, facing the stairs and not seeing an elevator I didn't get much chance to look for accessible options) so Katie and Jen headed down to look at more exhibits while Jack and I stayed upstairs. Jack and I did a second circuit of the upstairs which I was enjoying but which Jack was showing less and less patience for. I decided to throw it in and head outside to hopefully get Jack back to happy again. We navigated back out through the doors to head out to the parking lot and did a quick 3-4 laps of the parking lot looking for all of the bumpy spots (wheelchair offroading is rad don't let anyone tell you different). Jack started to feel better and dad had started to Shvitz as it was rather warm out. So I found a bench in the shade to have a sit and just start waiting for Jen and Katie to finish their activities.

This was the point where something somewhat bad turned good. Jack and I got to hang and he was back to feeling good. Normally he would want to be off by himself, but at this point he was down with hangin' with the old man. Now Jack is definitely an on again, off again interactor with others and so any time he is on again, I am thrilled. At this time, sitting on the bench in front of the Teton's visitors center I asked him for a high five and got one. Asked him for another and got another. Now we were having fun. We started a vicious tickle fight interspersed with high fives (OK an occasional "too slow" from his dad just to keep everyone on their toes). We probably had a half hour of playing together before Jen and Katie were done and it was some of the best times I had on our trip. For parents of kids with autism any interaction can be exceptional and this for me was really awesome and so much better than any museum.

Sometimes an early exit can be disappointing, leaving you feeling you missed the show. At other times an early exit just means you are the first one at the after party and get all the good drinks before they are gone. You certainly can appreciate getting to see all the acts when you can, because you never know when you'll need to head out to start a tickle fight.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Press on Regardless...

A favorite saying of mine and a philosophy I try to live by given the chaotic life we live. It's the name of a road rally run in the Detroit area for the last 60 years and represents much of the spirit of rally. For those of you not familiar with rally racing it's perhaps the most exciting and interesting form of motor sport in my opinion. Not only do they turn both left and right (I'm looking at you Nascar) but once on the course the driver and navigator are unsupported and must do what is necessary to get their car to the end of the rally stage. More than a few times there have been rally cars crossing the finish line on three wheels after one was ripped off in a crash. Driver and navigators not only have to be experts at their primary jobs, but also crack mechanics, adaptable tinkerers and persistent problem solvers.

So how does this relate to traveling in general and traveling with a kid with special needs? Press on regardless! Things will not always go smoothly but despite that keep going. The funny part about our travels is we were expecting the challenges to be in the kids adapting to travel. In fact, they were the least of our troubles. We had out share of mechanical issues, a couple cases of getting lost and came very close at one point to running out of cold beer. In all cases, a big part of the adventure was in overcoming these challenges. Life would be boring if you didn't push things and crash on occasion. The best stories are often made from overcoming adversity, persisting and finishing the challenge.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Looks like we made it...

Landed yesterday, back home after a nice drive from South Lake Tahoe after a visit with Jen's sister and brother in law and their two kids. Katie and Jack got to start their trip with a visit with their cousins and end with a visit with cousins (2 sets in fact). My sister and brother-in-law were in town (the same ones we started our trip with in MD) and we got to see them and their two daughters after we got back and dropped off the RV as well as see my parents - all a great way to end our journey.

So, how was it now that it's over? In short, fantastic. Folks at work asked me about it today and my summary version was I would turn around and do it all over again. I do love a good road trip and we are lucky that as of now, the kids appear to share our love for the road (with minor modifications for daily pool time and playing in the dirt). My guess was this would be the case as Jack has always liked being in the car. I recall during some of the darkest days when he was younger, upset and not sleeping, I would take him on mini road trips through the Santa Cruz mountains above our house. We'd drive much of the night, sometimes from Los Altos all the way up to Daly City and back. It's a good thing our family is well matched with our love for fossil fuel motivated travel as a means of relaxation.

Is it an end or a beginning? The end of 3800 plus miles of seeing much of our country but the beginning of both more blogging (now that I am not driving all day I potentially have more time to write) and the beginning of planning the next trip. Yes indeed more to come...we've already started talking about where to go next year.

For anyone thinking of taking on a road trip of this magnitude, my advice - go for it. This was one of my least planned trips and I knew going in that we'd be figuring out a lot from the road. That was part of the journey and part of what made this not just a trip, but an adventure. I guess I prefer life to have a certain level of adventure in it. Raising kids in general and certainly raising a kid with special needs is always a good source of adventure. It may not always be easy and at some times not even fun, but it's usually guaranteed to not be boring. When I go out I can assure you it will not be death by boredom.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Tickle Tickle.

Jack and Katie got along very well on the trip. Actually, they interacted in new ways over the last couple of weeks. Katie continues to grow, and shows great compassion towards her brother. She is fantastically kind when it comes to sharing even the best of treats. She also has a patience with him that is remarkable for a 4 year old, understanding easily that he needs a hand to get down the stairs of the RV, or that we might need to wait for an elevator in a crowded place because we are using Jack's wheelchair.

Jack has started to initiate more play with Katie. In this photo he is reaching out to tickle her foot, and I just happened to turn around and catch him before she reacted. They spent quite a bit of time playing "tickle fight" with toes a-flying, and Jack was almost always the instigator, gently tapping Katie's toes until she responded, mostly with shrieks of happiness.

To compress it, the images are a bit grainy:

Posted by Picasa