Autism……what if we moved to a positive rethink?

Anyone who has had themselves or their child diagnosed with autism will probably be familiar with the following scenario. The diagnostician sits down with you with a serious but sympathetic look on their face. There is probably a box of tissues within arms reach, and eventually they say something to the tune of “you/your child has an Autism Spectrum Disorder”. They pause and let the words sink in before going on to tell you that autism is a lifelong disability characterised by…… blah blah blah, listing every characteristic you/your child has as a negative. Suddenly everything you saw as quirky, unique and cool has been labelled as a deficit, and something requiring some sort of therapy to change it. So the starting point in autism tends to be overwhelmingly negative, which to be honest scares the shit out of a lot of people, particularly parents of newly diagnosed kids. One thing I personally found a bit upsetting when Touristo was diagnosed was that about 80-90% of the autistic characteristics the diagnostician noted in him, are traits that he shares to some degree with me. It made me feel like all these things that I found beautifully eccentric about myself are apparently considered odd and deficient by the rest of the world.

Some time has now passed and one thing I have taken away from this is I think how we approach autism requires a drastic rethink, and I feel this is required from the very first encounter people have with professionals within the field.

What if we started looking at a strengths based approach to autism? What if we looked at autistic characteristics in a positive light?

An example of this strengths based/positive approach is something I was daydreaming about the other day. I was wondering what Touristo would be like as an adult, something I am sure many parents do. At the moment he is considered moderate to severely autistic, semi-verbal and cognitive testing is not really accurate due to his severe language delay, but this is changing rapidly at the moment and he is kind of at the point where a very wide variety of outcomes are possible. But just taking his personality into account and not focussing on the unknowns, I thought about what a future employer might say about him in a performance review based on his autistic characteristics that are perceived as ‘deficits’:

– Touristo always comes to work, to work and does not waste time chatting at the water cooler.

– Touristo has a strong interest in his field of work and focuses intently.

– Touristo has amazing processes and systems in place to ensure consistency.

– Touristo’s output is always completed with consistent quality.

– Touristo is never late to work and is a very loyal, trustworthy employee.

– Touristo’s communication style, is clear and concise, not leaving anything open to interpretation.

– Touristo is direct and does not engage in office politics.

– Touristo is determined, perseveres and will consistently apply himself until he has mastered a new system.

– Touristo is passionate and has a strong sense of social justice.

– Touristo is unfailingly honest.

Now of course the point of this is not to try and create a stereotype, it is based off one individual’s strengths and will vary from person to person. I wanted to illustrate that all of these traits stem from characteristics that are listed as deficits in the diagnostic criteria for autism, but I see these traits as things that can be overwhelmingly positively shaped…..I don’t get it.

I just don’t see autism as something that needs to be ‘fixed’. People need to learn to accept and embrace a wider variety of people, and positively harness the strengths that people have.

I would love to hear others’ opinions on a positive rethink of autism on our Facebook page.

We’re off to Melbourne next month…… cashing in loyalty miles / points

So this has been a good week! A whole lot of things with Touristo have finally come to fruition and an extra bonus bit of good news was the opportunity to tack a family long weekend on to the end of a work function that my husband is attending in Melbourne next month.  We haven’t seen our family who live in Melbourne in ages, so it’s an amazing opportunity to reconnect.  My husband’s flights and 2 nights accommodation are paid for, but I still needed to pay for flights for the Princess, Touristo and myself, plus two more nights accommodation. When I researched all of the available flights, they were all super expensive considering it’s a really short flight mostly due to the lack of flexibility around timing.  Since we are saving for our mega trip at the end of the year, I thought we should probably not go.  Then again, whilst I may not be wealthy in terms of money,  I have banked a significant amount of Qantas points this year, and even though I am saving them for a particular redemption down the track, I could afford to use some of them to go see family.

Next step was checking availability. At the time I wanted to fly down the only seats available were in business class.  I really didn’t want to use that many points because the domestic business class seats in Qantas 737s look to be more like what you would expect from a premium economy seat on an international flight, plus Qantas’s fees and taxes are a joke (American’s reading this: the great thing about using points on your airlines is that your fees and taxes are much, much lower).  Not a great value redemption BUT I really wanted to go, so booked business class there and economy return.  When I was selecting seats for the outbound leg I was a little surprised at the 1 – 2 – 1 configuration. Turns out Qantas is using their retrofitted A330s on this route for some flights and I got lucky with their swanky new business class (image at the top of this article).  Now for us this is AWESOME and TERRIBLE at the same time.  For this flight, I am travelling BY MYSELF with my little buddies.  I really don’t know how this is going to go with everyone in their own pod – it really depends on how the little princess takes to the situation I guess.  Touristo will be fine I suspect as long as he has his CARES Harness, but the Princess…..well depends on the day really!  She is a diva so may take to flying in her own pod quite nicely.  But if worst comes to worst, it’s only a 90 minute flight and there is free wine… so I will survive.

Next point of business, booking accommodation for the 2 extra nights….. Once again I didn’t really want to spend much because once again…….big holiday later in the year. But I happened to have a whole bunch of IHG (Intercontinental Hotel Group) points in my account that I acquired from many hours of doing online surveys as well as from prior stays (this is my major hotel loyalty program because it encompasses everything from Holiday Inn Express through to Intercontinental, and I can transfer points to all the frequent flyer programs I use).  I had planned to transfer these into United miles for another big redemption I have planned……but these points have managed to soften the blow of a really nice hotel stay instead.

So, for the cost of fees and taxes on the flights, we have nabbed ourselves a really nice long weekend away.  Please like on Facebook and Insta to stay tuned for a full run down on this flight, the hotels and activities on this trip.

 

Where it all began. Our first international trip with Touristo…

Our first overseas family holiday came about as a combination of my maternity leave, husband needing a holiday, super cheap flights to Japan, but most importantly Touristo was happiest when he was partaking in marathon walks in the Ergo carrier or drives in the car that went on for hours.  At the time we thought Touristo was just an unsettled or colicky baby, but with the beauty of hindsight this was the very first sign of autism and the need for constant vestibular input, and the marathon walks around our neighbourhood were getting boring.  So what better place to walk around than Japan?  I had visited Japan before, plus it was number one on my husband’s bucket list, so I booked the tickets and off we went!

The flight over was an epic nightmare!  I had booked this trip and put zero thought into travelling with a baby.  I had booked a day flight from Sydney to Tokyo and really hadn’t thought about how we were going to divide sharing the baby wrangling, how we were going to entertain Touristo or what to pack in our carry on.  By the end of the day we all got to the hotel extremely stressed, shaken, slightly traumatised and very cranky with each other, vowing to NEVER, EVER get on a plane with children again.  We all eventually passed out from fatigue, and when we woke up the next morning decided that we were going to try and make the best of the next 10 days.

We traded in our voucher for the JR Rail pass and boarded a train to Hiroshima and over the next few days made our way back to Tokyo.  Travelling in Japan was so easy with Touristo, he just hung out super contentedly in his Ergo, had naps, and when he was awake his eyes opened up to the size of saucers so he could take in absolutely every detail around him.  The novelty of travelling also seemed to pique his interest in solids.  Up until this point he had never shown an interest in solid food, but the novelty of different food had him trying EVERYTHING.

By the end of the holiday, none of us wanted to go home.  We all had time to connect as a family unit in a way that wasn’t possible at home, and we had only just seen a snippet of everything that we wanted to see.  I also loved how much easier Touristo was on the road, plus I was stressing the plane trip back home.

The flight home was a night flight and I had booked the bulkhead row with bassinet ahead of time and we formulated a plan as to who would look after what, to alleviate stress.  The most important thing though was reflecting on the really, really bad flight, assessing what went wrong, why and what could be done so we didn’t run into the same issues again.  A lot of this had to do with what we had on hand and easily accessible in our carry-on luggage.  You know what? This time it was a completely different experience.  Touristo got really excited about being on a plane and curled up on my chest and went to sleep for about 8 hours of a 10 hour flight.

This trip was a total game-changer for me.  Both my husband and I had traveled a little before having kids but it was by no means a priority.  Now it is a priority, because getting to see the world through the eyes of your kids is amazing especially in our case because we have the contrast of the Princess who sees the world in terms of Princesses, castles, dancing and fairy tales, alongside Touristo who has a totally unique perspective on the world which is totally beautiful.

Travelling these days requires a fair bit more planning than this to set us up for success as Touristo requires a fair few accommodations, but it is absolutely worth the extra effort because all of our best memories as a family have been made whilst travelling.

Would love to hear some reader experiences of their best / worst / funniest family travel moments in the comments section at https://www.facebook.com/PointHacksandAutismFriendlyFamilyTravel/

If you would like any tips/tricks about travelling please feel free to hit me up via our Facebook page, or if you like this content and want to see more like this, please go to our Facebook link and like the page.

 

 

Tokyo Disneyland Resort – with my little matey Touristo

Aside from the really big moments in my life such as getting married and the day my children were born, nothing has brought me as much joy as time spent with my family at Tokyo Disneyland Resort (TDR).  From the moment you step foot inside the resort, your senses are flooded by happy sights, sounds, smells and feelings.  It is overwhelming in the best possible way. No matter what is happening in your life outside the park, it just doesn’t exist here.

The first time Touristo visited TDR, he was only 2.5 years old.  At that stage he wasn’t really talking at all, and could not attend to anything for longer than a few seconds. Imagine my surprise when we sat down to watch the Dream Lights parade and he sat still as a statue, in my lap, transfixed for the entire duration.  It was MAGICAL – I was a sobbing mess. This may not sound like a huge thing to anyone else but in our world, it was a miracle. He ate everything in the parks and when we went on rides he made all of the stereotypical kid noises that you would usually hear – “wee”, “wow”, “ooh”!  He even sat still and watched “Minnie Oh Minnie” and “A Table is Waiting” – that blew my mind.

The other thing that makes Tokyo Disney Resort so magical is that the cast members are genuinely kind and helpful.  They have great processes in place to make the park accessible for everyone.  TDR has brilliant Disability Services that cater for a wide range of disabilities*, but as my area of knowledge is autism I just want to share some of the things that made it accessible for us:

  • The Guest Access Card – the main benefit is that when you approach rides they give you a time to come back (which is equivalent to the length of the queue), this allows you and your group to wait outside the queue and eat popcorn. Without this, any queue longer than 5 minutes would not be doable.
  • Stroller as wheelchair sticker – this allows you to use a stroller in the same way that you would use a wheelchair.  For us it meant that we could access the disability seating in shows and Touristo could wait for the show in his stroller (he will sit still in there for extended periods) or we could zoom in and sit down just before the show starts.
  • Fast Passes – at TDR the Fast Passes are free and the process is pretty efficient.  To get a Fast Pass you simply take your park ticket to the Fast Pass booth of the ride you want to go on, put the barcode of the ticket into the machine and it spits out a ticket.  This ticket gives you a time range where you can come back and get straight on the ride.  There is an absolute art form as to how to maximise the amount of times you can use this in a day – but that’s a whole other post in itself.

Now these accommodations REALLY help, however there are certain things I have done in the past and have also done when planning our Christmas trip this year in order to make it successful.  I think it is great that attractions are starting to make accommodations, but it’s my personal belief (please don’t shoot me) that individuals and families have to do some of the accommodating too. These include:

  • Plan your visit during off peak times.  TDR has to be one of the busiest attractions ON THE PLANET!  If you go during the northern hemisphere’s summer holidays, expect to wait for 3 hours for some attractions.  Just DON’T DO IT!  Instead pick a quiet time like the second and third weeks of January – a crowd calendar should be able to help you out.  We are going for a few days just before Christmas (which should be moderately busy) to see the decorations etc and for the second week in January (I am hoping we will be walking on to rides).
  • Plan your day.  Before you go to the parks have an action plan.  Print out the map and have an order of what you want to accomplish.  Certain rides at TDR have a fanatical following and run out of Fast Passes by 10am (e.g. Toy Story at Disney Sea), so if this was a ride you wanted to go on then get these Fast Passes first thing in the morning.
  • If you have the budget consider staying in one of the official, on-site hotels of which there are three. The Ambassador is the most affordable (but least accessible), the Disneyland Hotel which is smack bang in front of the Disneyland park, and the Mira Costa, which is super fancy (super expensive) and has a special guest entrance to Disney Sea.  The main advantage to these hotels (besides their incredible locations) is that you get 15 minutes early entry, which doesn’t sound like a lot but gets you at least one coveted Fast Pass, a ride on one major attraction, and has you down the back of the park before everyone else.
  • If your budget doesn’t stretch to one of the Disney hotels, I think it is absolutely essential to still stay in a hotel on the Disney monorail line for quick entry to and from the parks.  This has been invaluable at various times where Touristo has just hit a wall and needs some down time in a quiet room.  My picks for hotels in this area are the Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay and the Hilton Tokyo Bay (the Happy Magic rooms are amazing).  If you book either of these in off-peak times, a few weeks out from your trip you can get a room from between $150-$200US.
  • Practice queuing before you go.  Use bank queues, Costco etc whatever you can to practice waiting.
  • Prime your kids.  Some people like social stories – I prefer YouTube.  I like to show the kids snippets of what they are going to experience.  I think with this there is a very fine line between showing them enough to make them comfortable with new experiences, versus showing them so much that there is nothing exciting about it.
  • This might go without saying, but buy your park tickets online or if you are staying at any hotel in the TDR area you can buy your park tickets in the foyer.  Don’t buy them at the gate, it’s just one extra queue you don’t need in your life!
  • If you go in the warmer months, pack a change of clothes and a very small towel in your day bag when you go to Disney Sea.  There are musical fountains, they are awesome and if your kids like water they will get drenched.

So if you are planning an autism friendly holiday in Asia, I strongly believe that this is the place to do it.  Stay tuned towards the end of this year as the blog will be covering Touristo in Korea and Japan.

For more information about planning a trip to the Tokyo Disney Resort, please check out my YouTube

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* http://www.tokyodisneyresort.jp/en/bfree/  – provides info regarding all of their disability accommodations

Some days it all just turns to shit….and that’s ok too.

When it comes to autism, I don’t like to think of it as a positive or negative, it’s just a difference. Whilst autism certainly doesn’t define a person, it is completely pervasive and does colour how they experience the world as well as how the world experiences them.

Sometimes these differences lead to amazing accomplishments or beautiful moments that the NT world don’t get to experience, but other days these differences tend to turn things to shit, also in a way the NT world don’t get to experience.

This is where Touristo and I are this week. Touristo’s nervous system is being unkind to him at the moment, and he is struggling to stay still for longer than a minute, which culminated in him escaping from my sister’s house yesterday in a rather grand fashion. I am petrified of him going to school next year.

I on the other hand, have an uncooperative brain at the moment. It will not stop, not for a minute and the anxiety associated with this is stifling. I have a very big work event, combined with some advocacy work as well as finding out where the Department of Education has decided to send Touristo next year (in their infinite wisdom no doubt). All of this stuff are things I have no control over. It is terrifying to someone like me.

As a result, the usually harmonious bond that Touristo and I share is impacted. Neither of our faults, we are both struggling. But you know what? The world works in seasons, and as sure as the world turns, they pass. So for now we are both just holding on tight as we work through it.

Things always get better.

Planning autism-friendly holidays where I actually get to kick back and recharge!

Ok, so since we started travelling as a family, we have only attempted sightseeing holidays that involve being on the move constantly.  This has largely been built around Touristo because as long as we are doing something novel and are in a constant state of motion, he is the easiest kid on the planet.  I haven’t even vaguely considered a beach holiday because “oh my goodness Fiji is just one giant body of un-fenced water” which makes me immeasurably anxious and would involve being more hyper-vigilant than I am at home. Additionally, the idea of him going to a resort kids’ club or having a nanny watch over him has also filled me with fear – he just hasn’t been ready and how can Touristo access kids’ clubs whilst still ensuring he has someone to keep a close eye on him due to his tendency to bolt?

We have now gotten to a point though where my husband and I haven’t been on a date by ourselves in nearly 6 years (seriously) and whilst I feel we still have a great relationship, we need to take some time (at least whilst we are on holidays) to check in and reconnect.  I also feel like we need a little time when we are not in a state of hyper-vigilance, ensuring Touristo’s personal safety 24/7 as it is exhausting.  So I have declared 2018 as the year of holidays that include some down time for mum and dad, with one week-long break mid-year and one week at the end of the year.

Now I should clarify that I LOVE travelling with Touristo and the Princess.  I love experiencing new and exciting things through their lens.  It is nothing short of magical.  I have read articles written by various members of the ‘Perfect Parent Brigade’ that like to trot out the same old message of “why did you even have kids if you just want to dump them in kids’ club / with a nanny whilst you are on holidays?  Don’t you want to spend every glorious waking moment with them?”  Well that’s nice….. I still want to spend the bulk of our time on holidays as a family unit, but no, I don’t think there is anything wrong with my husband and I having an hour or two each afternoon of a holiday to just be alone by ourselves, talk, reconnect and relax……maybe even go to a fancy restaurant and slowly savour our food.

But the question still remained, how on earth am I going to make this relaxing happen?  Touristo is going to be six years old soon and still has considerably high needs.  I would not feel comfortable leaving him in a kids’ club without a set of eyes that are just on him.  Also, where can we go that our family feels welcomed and not a nuisance?  In Australia, I feel that oftentimes (not everywhere) the customer service level is quite low in comparison to other parts of the world, and disability access/accommodations can be either non-existent or you are made feel like you are making people go out of their way (this kind of ties in with the below average customer service)…… So further afield we go…

Well the first holiday turned out to be an easy pick.  I love cruises because everything is prepaid, I don’t need to plan where to eat and what to do.  There is a schedule and routine for every day (that I don’t have to organise), and there is a pool, cocktails and tons of entertainment.  All of these things make me really happy……but can a cruise accommodate Touristo now that I am looking for some downtime and not wanting to chase him around the boat every minute of the day (which I did do when he was 2.5 years old)? Also, can we go on a giant boat bobbing in the water when I am very anxious about Touristo’s personal safety?

In a previous post, I have mentioned Royal Caribbean’s ‘Autism Friendly’ initiative. Due to this commitment to inclusion, this was obviously my first stop – but which cruise?  Whilst my biggest fascination is aviation, I would have to say a close second is my obsession with mega liners.  I love following innovations in this area and delight in every new advancement, so my pick of course was ‘Ovation of the Seas’ (www.ovationoftheseas.com.au).  It is a brand new boat, looks amazing and what really sold me were the bumper cars and circus school at sea.  Another bonus of this ship is that there are a multitude of really innovative ways that you can connect staterooms which is very friendly for families travelling together. The balcony still concerns me though, so I have looked into some additional child proofing measures I can take with me, and to counter the worst case scenario – I have picked a room on deck 6 where the balcony is one floor above a deck and not over the sea.  If you are planning on being this overly specific about a room on any cruise line in school holidays, you want to book as far out as possible, especially if you want to book affordable interconnecting cabins as these go FAST.

Now for the relaxing bit!  Royal Caribbean offers flexible age grouping for their kids club for those with a developmental delay.  For us, this means that both children will be able to go to the same program and the actual space used for this in the ship is very well contained and looks quite secure.  Because Touristo has a very long history of absconding, I have also asked if it is possible to hire a babysitter on board to attend with them to provide additional support, just to make sure he doesn’t escape.  They also offer in-room babysitting when staff are available, so my husband and I might be able to enjoy a leisurely dinner here and there.  It’s more than a year away, but I cannot wait to go and to report back in.

So that is settled.  Next – somewhere to go in the middle of the year…. We wanted somewhere that is not a huge flight (under 9 hours – trust me, that’s not a huge flight for Australians), offers cheap flights, a bit resort-ish but also somewhere that still has a ton of stuff to do should our little monsters get sick of pools and beaches.  So I think we have settled on Singapore (because of Universal Studios on Sentosa Island, and also Lego Land being an hour and  half away).  I haven’t gotten to the point of booking this yet (so I will outline the master plan in a future post), but I have started making inquiries at resorts regarding the accommodations we would need in relation to Touristo’s care for a few hours here and there.   I have been absolutely overwhelmed by the responses which typically outline that they are inclusive of all children, very welcoming and don’t make me feel like a nuisance for making extra requests.  So for now I am really optimistic and hope that this can but put into practice when we are there.  Crossing my fingers in advance!

So look out world in 2018, Touristo and family are coming!

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* Just a disclaimer that this post is not sponsored.

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).

Cruising – the ultimate autism friendly family vacation…

So I am back on board after being quite unwell for the last week, combined with the world of research being quite busy.  What better way to return than by celebrating cruising and autism! Now this is a little bit of a deviation from my regular topic because…where’s the plane?  What is an AV geek without a plane?  But this post is purely devoted to autism friendly holidays, and here is why:

  • Cruising offers a wide range of activities, but in a fairly contained environment so as to not be overwhelmed by too many choices.
  • There is a daily schedule and structure. Every evening, the next day’s schedule is delivered to your cabin so you know exactly what you will be doing at any given time the next day if you are not going on a shore excursion.
  • On the days where the ship is docked, you can partake in a guided shore excursion which are usually very well organised and can be booked months ahead of your cruising date.
  • Cruises generally have so much variety in the way of foods that is you have a food allergy/intolerance (or are casein/gluten free), this can be easily catered for.
  • Speaking of food, when you dine in the restaurant you have the same table every night and can choose to dine with others or just with your party.
  • Most cruise lines have disability services that offer expedited check-in and alternate muster drills to allow for sensory difference (always check this out when booking).
  • I will preface this next point by saying I am in no way paid by Royal Caribbean, this is purely my opinion. Royal Caribbean became ‘Autism Friendly’ in 2014 (although our last cruise was before this and we still found that the staff were more than happy to accommodate our needs). What this consists of is:
    • Priority check-in, boarding and departure
    • Special dietary accommodations including gluten-free and dairy-free
    • Kids club flexible grouping by ability for children 3 to 11 years old
    • Water play toilet-trained policy exception
    • Pagers/phones for parents of children in the Adventure Ocean program while signed in to our care (subject to availability)
  • If you are lucky enough to be taking a cruise out of the United States, Royal Caribbean offers a limited amount of ‘staffed cruises’ which cater for all ages of autistic cruisers and their families. These offer additional services including:
    • Extra professionally trained staff in caring for individuals with developmental disabilities (provided at one staff member for every two to three special-needs guests)
    • Assistance with Royal Caribbean’s products and services
    • Specialised respite sessions
    • Private activities and sessions

For more information on Royal Caribbean’s Autism Friendly services, check out:
http://www.royalcaribbean.com.au/findacruise/experiencetypes/product.do?pagename=onboard_prod_autism_friendly_ships&wuc=AUS

For more information on Autism on the Seas staffed cruises, check out:
https://autismontheseas.com/royalcaribbean

 

Japan an autism friendly travel destination?

Anyone who knows our family would know that we try and tack on at least a few days in Japan whenever we go on holidays. Our household just loves everything about a Japanese holiday….it is just so easy.

Now, I was recently considering taking the family for a week long holiday on the Gold Coast next year, but after some investigation (which I will go into more detail in an upcoming blog post) it did not seem particularly autism friendly and I decided against it for the time being.  So this got me thinking…why is Japan so easy for a family with a mum who is Aspie and a son who is severely autistic?

  • Multi-purpose rooms. They have these rooms EVERYWHERE, you cannot walk more than a few hundred metres in a major city without coming across one. They are in train stations, department stores, temples, shrines, theme parks, bullet trains…..you name it, there is a multi-purpose room. So what is it you may ask? It is a room that can be used by people with disabilities, the elderly, breastfeeding mothers or anyone who needs privacy and somewhere to sit/lay down.
  • Public transport runs on time. Both myself and my son have this innate need for things to happen when they are meant to. This is why we rarely catch public transport in Sydney, because trains change departure time/platform with no advice and it ruins an otherwise perfect outing. Not the case in Japan! Trains depart within 30 seconds of their advertised departure time consistently.
  • Hotels are consistent. When I book a hotel room in Japan, I know that I can expect a certain standard of comfort and service. I am never unpleasantly surprised.
  • People are kind and will go out of their way to be helpful.   Touristo on the whole is pretty amazing on holidays and I could count the amount of meltdowns he has had on one hand, but when he does meltdown, people don’t look down on you or whisper about you. Also when I have been unsure about how to find elevators or other disability services, people will go out of their way to help.
  • Plastic models of food. Touristo is now at the point of learning to talk and can tell you what he wants most of the time, but before he got to this stage you could ask him what he wanted to eat by getting him to point at the plastic models of food. Also, these plastic models help expectation manage me because I know what I will be getting.
  • How people give instructions. When Japanese people describe how to do something (e.g. using an onsen), they do this in step-by-step detail, very explicitly, as well as telling you exactly what is and isn’t acceptable.
  • Japanese people are literal.
  • Takeaway bowl meals (dons). When you order a takeaway bowl meal, e.g. tonkatsu curry rice, they put all of the different components in different packages. For example the steamed rice is in one container, the fried pork cutlet is in another, the curry sauce in another…… This probably sounds like a little thing but Touristo will eat all of those things when separate but will not touch if combined.
  • Convenience stores. The selection of cheap but good food here is out of this world, plus there are a bunch of options for Touristo. If he has a piece of fried chicken, a plain rice ball and some pre-sliced fruit, his world is a happy place.
  • Disability services at Tokyo Disneyland are amazing (but this is a whole post on its own for another day).

There are probably are bunch more things, but these are the top reasons I find Japan to be an autism friendly destination without trying.

 

 

Business class travel for the price of economy!!!! WHAT!!!!! – an overview

Ok so in my last post I mentioned that I scored our family’s business class tickets with Asiana for an upcoming trip to Tokyo. Here is my guide on travelling to Asia from Australia for the price of a flexible economy ticket….  You can use this method to get discounted business class travel for any destination, however Australia / Asia represents a real sweet spot in award redemption tables.

Now I will start off by prefacing this by saying to be able to do this you will:

a) be flexible with your travel dates, and your routing (we routed through Seoul to get to Tokyo, although this was not a concern as we were interested in seeing a bit more of Korea)

b) book either close to your departure date, OR 10-12 months out depending on the airline.

c) be willing to put a little time into researching award flight availability and how frequent flyer programs work

Step 1: Determine where you want to go and what airlines fly there.

Step 2: Does the airline you want to fly with sell frequent flyer miles/points? If not, do they have a partner airline that does? E.g. JAL does not sell miles, but their partner American Airlines does, and you can redeem American Airlines (AAdvantage) miles for flights on JAL. At this point, also check out how many miles you would need for your particular redemption. *click here for some inspiration on where you could go and what airline / frequent flyer combo to use (link coming soon)

Step 3. Research your little heart out. Find out when your preferred airline usually releases award space (usually between 10-12 months depending on the airline) and how many seats do they usually release? When are their blackout dates? Sometimes airlines release more award space a fortnight out from departure, but this is a real gamble. Have an itinerary in mind before buying any points.

Step 4. Periodically throughout the year frequent flyer programs will offer significant discounts on buying airline miles. It is during one of these promotion periods that you should buy your miles. Normally I would never advocate buying airline miles but IF you have a specific redemption in mind it can save you a fortune. It is important to note that some frequent flyer programs require you to have enrolled prior to any promotions, so go do that RIGHT NOW. It is also important to sign up ahead of time because they will email their members advising of such promotions **Click here of a list of previous promotions (link coming soon)

Some airlines also have a cap on how many points you can buy each year, so you may have to have more than one account for your family.

Step 5. Once you have purchased your points, you can use these to redeem for flights and all that is left is to pay fees and taxes.

So by now you are probably a bit confused, so let me use the example of our holiday to show you how to put this into practice…

  • We wanted to fly from Sydney to Tokyo in mid December and return mid January.
  • I identified the airlines that fly to Tokyo (that have useful partner mileage programs for this purpose) are Qantas, JAL, ANA and Asiana via Korea.
  • Qantas, JAL and ANA were all out because I ideally needed 4 award seats on the same flight, though in a pinch the Princess could fly on one flight with her dad and I would fly with Touristo. Asiana however has started a daily A380 service to Seoul over this period so I knew it would be raining award seat availability.
  • To buy points I could use either United Mileage Plus or Avianca Life Miles. At the time Life Miles was running a promotion that allowed me to buy points at a rate of 1.37(US) cents a mile.
  • For each return ticket with Asiana I needed 80,000 miles which cost me 1,096USD.
  • When it came time to redeem the points for flights through the Life Miles site, I had to pay about 150USD per return ticket in fees and taxes, so all up it was about $1,600AU per person!

This admittedly might take a little bit for beginner point hackers to get their heads around, but feel free to ask questions in the comments section and I hope to have a video demonstrating exactly how to do this step by step in the coming weeks.  Remember if you found this helpful, hit subscribe and head over to Facebook and like us over there.

If you want someone to walk you through step by step, please hit me up at pointhacksandfamilytravel@gmail.com for a points consultation.