Time To Journey! – AGE OF AUTISM
By Cathy Jameson
It was refreshing to leave a bit of life on our short family vacation last weekend. I’ve shared other vacation stories before giving any glimpse into our family’s life and love that I can share our reality. I also want to share travel suggestions that worked for us.
For this short break, we stayed at a hotel the entire time we were out of town. I can’t remember the last time we did this. When we go away, we usually stay with family or friends who welcome us and everything we bring – Ronan’s favorite things, his safe groceries, his waterproof bedding / sheets, and lots of excitement from the siblings. We brought all of that to our destination and this time a little more – my mom. I was grateful that she could join us on our little adventure.
Traveling with a young adult with autism can be challenging. We’re seasoned travelers including Ronan, but staying in a sold out hotel with every room booked was a bit intimidating.
Ronan is non-verbal. But that doesn’t mean it’s not loud.
Would other guests hear him? Would anyone complain? Would he even be silent if we asked him?
Ronan is easy going. But that doesn’t mean he will adapt quickly to the massive changes in his routine.
Does he want to be outside in the park, on the beach, or in the bay all day doing things he normally doesn’t?
Ronan is a happy kid. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have sad moments.
Would he want to leave as soon as we got there, as he asked before?
We brought all of Ronan’s favorites with us in the hopes that having something from home would be encouraging. It was. Ronan definitely enjoyed some of the things we did.
On our first day, the longest day we were outside, I knew Ronan would tire a lot faster than the rest of us. That is why we researched which accommodations the amusement park could offer people with disabilities. We have an adaptive stroller when Ronan needs physical assistance, but as bulky and big as it is, it’s better to rent a wheelchair in the park. Ronan also loves wheelchairs.
When we drive to the children’s hospital, which he can go to without assistance, he insists that I get him one. Ronan points to the one at the main entrance and stops until I bring him one. Ronan sits like a king when I take him to his medical appointments. I knew he would be just as excited to be driven through the park.
While the others spent the day riding all those fast, twisty roller coasters, a scared little sister and my mother and I quietly rolled Ronan from one corner of the park to the other, checking out the dining options and the quieter attractions.
I assumed that some of the other activities and excursions we had planned for the siblings would not be the ones Ronan wanted to do. When the kids, my husband, and my mother went into the wind tunnel, Ronan also had a window of opportunity. We had been there before but I was ambitious to believe he would get dressed and fly. However, as with everything else, we always offer Ronan to try to do what the typical children do. He had signed yes that he wanted to step up like his little brother, but when it was time to put on the gear he stepped back and signed no, no, no. As in the past, I asked Ronan to try again. But I knew I shouldn’t be pushing him. The flight crew, encouraging as they were, said to come back next time we were in town.
They want to give Ronan the opportunity to experience the fun everyone else was having.
The next day was one of the most beautiful days. So we went to the beach. Ronan has loved to be in the water and swim since he was a child, but with some neuropathies in his lower legs, he no longer enjoys going to the swimming pool. Without being able to tell us why, we assume that the cooler pool temperature must be painful. Ronan never gets tired of the waves at the ocean, so we made sure he has every opportunity to enjoy some time on the beach.
As wave after wave crashed on him, he smiled the whole time he sat in the surf.
Another outdoor event the day before we left made us smile so big. I had organized a kayak tour in a bay that leads to the sea. The kids had never kayaked like this before, and the last time I paddled as far as we wanted that evening was in 1998 or ’99. Back then, I was kayaking with my husband around Liberty Island in New York.
It would be an adventure for us for sure!
I was particularly pleased that my mom was allowed to accompany us on this adventure. You and Ronan’s younger brother, who is now six feet tall, would be sitting in a kayak. Ronan’s youngest sister would be with me. Ronan’s other 2 sisters were together and my husband had Ronan with him. Having never done this as a family, we had no idea what to expect. I’m glad we stayed optimistic that we all, and especially Ronan, can leave. But the further we got from the shore, the more nervous I got.
What did I sign up for?
What if Ronan freaked out? What if he tried to get up? What if he had a seizure? What if he wanted to go home, home, home while we were in the middle of the bay?
It was an early evening tour of an unknown waterway in an area we had never visited before, with people who did not know us. Was I the biggest fool in the world who thought we could handle this?
No was not me.
Ronan sat like a king in the front of the kayak, gently splashing water with his hand every few minutes, Ronan was in his element.
The children spent several hours at a depth of 15 meters in the middle of a saltwater bay full of jellyfish and unique maritime and American history. I loved it too. The only mishap that night was when Ronan got too relaxed in the kayak and put his foot in the water. His shoe with its custom-made orthotic insert was completely soaked. Since we’re not seasoned kayakers, some of us were almost completely soaked by the time we got back to the jetty. We knew we were going to get a bit wet, but some of the splashes weren’t from the terrible beginner paddling. The extra splashes came during the unscheduled, full Jameson Family amateur kayaking competition. Our guide had said we could arrive more slowly, but the closer we got to the shore, the faster some of us started paddling.
Smiling, laughing and going on until we crossed an imaginary finish line, it was an exciting end to our vacation.
Since Ronan was very patient while the other kids were having some summer fun, Ronan did pretty well while we were at the hotel and in town. His siblings loved the amusement park, indoor skydiving, and the beach. If he could tell me, I’ll bet Ronan’s favorite thing to do on vacation was the beach. I bet he would say he loved eating out, listening to his music and watching videos on his iPad. These are things he loves at home.
These are things that he loves when traveling.
Vacations don’t always work for families like mine. Last weekend we spent a lot of time outside as a family including my mom. We have done things that we normally cannot do. We got on well and we all want to come back another time. I pray our next adventure, whenever possible, will be as fun as this one.
Cathy Jameson is co-editor for Age of Autism.