Why I consider travel to be such a massive priority, particularly with an autistic child on board.

So today I am going to deviate from what has been a bit more of an instructional format and get a bit more personal, but that said, I hope you guys out there in the interwebz are able to take something from it.

It’s interesting…… when I tell people about my family’s upcoming trip (which is a month visiting Seoul, then travelling from Sapporo, down to Hiroshima) the reaction is always either “wow, that sounds awesome” or “oh my gosh you are a crazy person!” The latter is normally from people who know Touristo is autistic, and also know that generally speaking, autistic people feel most comfortable when supported by routine, structure and sameness. Travelling throughout various cities in East Asia for a month is pretty much the antithesis of the comfortable familiarity of life in suburban Sydney, so I understand why people think I am nuts.

So why do it? – A bit of backstory

Before Touristo was born, I had been working for various corporates in Sydney’s CBD for about 12 years. My husband and I had not travelled much in our time together as we were too busy just doing the grind. After Touristo was born, I could feel the four walls at home closing in on me. It was me and a newborn at home every day, and Touristo was not a particularly easy newborn. Touristo was at his absolute best when we were out and about with him in his wrap carrier, experiencing different sights and sounds whilst being calmed by the pressure of the wrap carrier and the gentle rocking. At this time, I really started questioning the grind with no breaks for my husband or I, and so little opportunity for my husband to spend really good chunks of time to bond with Touristo. So all of these factors combined (and cheap flights to Asia from Australia) made me book our first overseas holiday, and when Touristo was just under 6 months old we went on our first trip to Japan together for just under two weeks.

During this trip, Touristo thrived and it gave my husband 2 weeks where he was able to intensely bond with his son, probably more than the whole of the six months prior (and he is a great, hands on dad). This bonding time as a new family was beyond invaluable, so we have travelled most years since, doing more trips to Japan and also exploring China, Hong Kong, and Korea. We find Asia to be a great destination for us because it is not a super long haul trip and we are able to remain in relatively the same time zone whilst experiencing cultures that are quite different to our own. As the kids get older and they can better cope with longer flights and time zone changes, we aim to travel to Europe, the Americas and Africa.

So why do I think travel in general is important for all kids?

– I think travel with your family, whether it’s a camping trip 2 hours down the road, or travelling halfway around the world, offers families the chance to bond in a way that is not achievable by any other means. As kids, we generally did two holidays a year. One I loved, and one I did not love….which was camping (camping presents certain sensory issues for autistic people – and if I haven’t mentioned it before, I am autistic too). But even the experiences I did not love at the time, gave us the chance to bond as a family unit and also suppled a lot of memories that we still talk about today, 30 years down the track.

– I also think that family travel offers learning opportunities that cannot be replicated by any other means.

……however, I think there are even greater benefits when you have a member/s of the family who is/are autistic, which are:

– Those real life learning opportunities are bigger and greater for autistic people, especially when looking at adaptive skills
– No matter how hard you try (and believe me I have tried), the real world cannot be entirely routine and familiar all the time. Travelling from a young age that includes really motivating activities, is a nice way of getting you/your child out of their comfort zone for a bit
– The opportunity for family bonding is even more crucial with a child on the spectrum, because you leverage off that connection to develop other skills. Anecdotally, my son has always made his biggest leaps during times when the four of us (we now have ‘the Princess’ as well as ‘Touristo’) have been trapped in tiny hotel rooms (or cruise ship cabins) for weeks on end.
– There is more opportunity for Touristo to observe a variety of social interactions during travel, whereas at home we are restricted to the same interactions week in, week out.
– There is more opportunity to experience new sights, sounds, foods, language and activities, which encourages flexibility. Touristo now seems particularly interested in listening to me speak Japanese, and last trip tuned in to the point where he repeated a couple of phrases (when he was speaking very, very infrequently at home), probably because it was novel.

I could probably carry on with this list for the better part of a day and is certainly not an exhaustive rationale as to why I think travel is so important, but it’s a good introduction. I will also add, that no it is not always easy…….there are sometimes very fraught moments, but really good planning (see some of my earlier tips for more info) can go a long way and the amazing experiences in my opinion, far outweigh the difficult bits.

I hope I have encouraged someone out there to give it a go and would love to hear some of your family’s travel experiences via Facebook (link to the right).

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