5 questions for author, Dawn Barclay (Travelling Different. Vacation Strategies for Parents of the Anxious, the Inflexible, and the Neurodiverse.):
What inspired you to write this book?
I’ve been writing about travel for around 30 years and I’m a firm believer that there’s a book for every problem in life. When I needed a book like this back in the early 2000s, one didn’t exist, so I saw a need. I’m the daughter of two travel professionals and I grew up in the travel world. I wasn’t about to stop traveling because my children were anxious and inflexible. I started interviewing experts like Dr. Tony Attwood and Dr. Ellen Littman but then I hit a wall in finding others to speak with. It wasn’t until IBCCES created the Certified Autism Travel Professional (CATP) designation, that I saw a way forward to writing the book–by interviewing those wonderful people (many of whom are special needs parents themselves) and their clients. Plus by 2019, there was much more information available online, plus a greater push for inclusion throughout the hospitality industry. Having a two-year lockdown thanks to the pandemic finally gave me the time to devote time to writing. The irony was, I’d always thought this would be my first book; it ended up being my eighth.
Why is traveling with special needs children challenging and how does this book address these issues?
All children become anxious and inflexible when taken out of their comfort zone, but children with special needs are especially needful of routine and predictability, and that’s something that is difficult to achieve when you’re on the road. Not to mention how difficult it is to control the environment away from home when you’re on the road. Crowds, new noises, bright lights, unfamiliar smells–these are all disruptive to someone with invisible needs. Knowledge is power–strategies like always bringing noise-cancelling headphones and dark glasses help, along with a go-to bag which contains items that have been calming and distracting to the child in the past. You might pack clothes, sheets, and blankets that have the familiar smell of home. These are just a few of the tips included in the book.
Should parents wait until their children are older to safely travel?
The parents I spoke with who traveled most successfully had been traveling with children since they were infants, so it was something they were used to. The key to traveling with toddlers with invisible disabilities is really to break the trip down to the nth degree, figuring out all possible triggers from the moment you leave the house until the moment you get back, and create strategies and back-up plans for each segment. That’s how my book is broken down–how to tackle each mode of transportation, followed by how to decide on your accommodations, and then what to do when you get where you’re going (attractions, tours, restaurants, etc.)
How should parents best introduce travel to their children?
There are many techniques, including the use of social stories, visual schedules, role play, watching videos, picture books depicting favorite characters in travel situations, even creating “mini-experiences” of each aspect of the trip ahead of time. This could include staying at a relative’s house for the night so the child can experience what it’s like to spend the night in a bedroom other than their own–and will quickly teach you where potential triggers may lie. Then I discuss starting small–like taking a trip to a local zoo, aquarium, museum, even a garage sale can be reframed as a “tour” or an “adventure,” creating a frame of reference for another tour later on. And building a child-centric vacation by centering it around a child’s interest or passion is a great way to get buy-in on their end.
What limits are there to the type of accommodation/travel families with special needs children can experience?
There are so many suppliers today, that are labeling themselves as “autism-friendly” and are getting certified, either as Certified Autism Centers by IBCCES, or going after a designation by groups like the Champion Autism Network (CAN), Kulture City, Sensory City, etc., that it’s becoming easier and easier to find. That includes hotels, museums, water/theme parks, even some tourist boards are getting certified and then encouraging all of the hospitality suppliers in their city to do the same (consider Mesa, Arizona or Myrtle Beach, SC.) And some sports vacations are therapeutic for children while being enjoyable to adults as well–why not consider individual sports like golf, skiing, scuba diving, horseback riding at a dude ranch? There are resorts and cruise lines that have dedicated themselves to working with those on the spectrum too–but while my book includes as many of these as I could find (with my blog, TravelingDifferent.com, updating information to keep it current), the mission of the book is to share the tweaks that can make any mode of transportation, accommodation, or attraction accessible and enjoyable to every traveler, whether neurotypical or neurodiverse.