It was refreshing to step away from some of life on our short family vacation last weekend. I've shared other vacation stories before offering a peek at our family’s life and love that I can share our reality. I also like to be able to share travel suggestions that have worked for us.
For this get away, we stayed in a hotel the entire time we were out of town. I can’t recall the last time we did that. When we go away, we usually stay with family or friends who welcome us and all that we bring – Ronan’s favorite things, his safe foods, his water-proof bedding/sheets, and a lot of excitement from the siblings. We brought all of that to our destination and something more this time – 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, where every room is booked, was a bit intimidating.
Ronan is non-verbal. But that doesn't mean he isn't loud.
Would other guests hear him? Would someone complain? Would he even be quiet if we asked him?
Ronan is easy going. But that doesn't mean he will adapt quickly to the massive changes in his routine.
Would he want to be outside at the park, at the beach, or on the bay all day doing things he doesn't normally do?
Ronan is a happy kid. But that doesn't mean he doesn't have sad moments.
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, which was the longest day we'd be outdoors, I knew that Ronan would tire much quicker than the rest of us would. That's why we researched what accommodations the amusement park could offer someone with disabilities. We have an adaptive stroller for when Ronan needs physical assistance, but as clunky and as big as it is, it was better to rent a wheelchair from the park. Plus, Ronan loves wheelchairs.
When we head to the children’s hospital, which he can walk into and out of without assistance, he insists that I get one for him. Pointing to the ones by the main entrance and standing his ground until I bring one to him, Ronan sits like a king when I take him to his appointments with medical specialists. I knew he'd be just as excited to be wheeled around the park.
While the others spent the day riding all the fast and twisty roller coasters, one scaredy-cat little sister, and my Mom and I, quietly rolled Ronan from one corner of the park to the other checking out the food options and the quieter attractions.
I anticipated that some of the other activities and outings we had scheduled for the siblings wouldn't be ones Ronan would want to do. When the kids, my husband, and my Mom went to the wind tunnel, Ronan had a time slot to go, too. We’d been there before, but it was ambitious of me to think he'd suit up and fly. Like everything else, though, we always offer for Ronan to try to do what the typical kids are doing. He had signed yes that he wanted to go up like his little brother did, but when it was time to get the equipment on, he stepped back and signed no, no, no. As I’ve done in the past, I asked Ronan to try, try again. But I knew not to push him. The flight crew, as 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 that everyone else had.
The next day was one of the most enjoyable days. That’s when we went to the beach. Ronan has loved to be in the water and swim since he was very young, but with some neuropathy issues in his lower legs, he no longer likes to go to the pool. Without being able to tell us why, we assume that the cooler pool temperature must be painful. Ronan never tires of the waves while seaside, so we made sure that he had every chance to enjoy some time at the beach.
With one wave after another crashing onto him, he smiled the entire time he sat in the surf.
Another outdoor event the day before we left had us smiling so big. I had set up a kayaking tour of a bay that leads to the ocean. The kids had never kayaked like that before, and the last time I paddled as far as we would be going that evening was back in 1998 or ‘99. That’s when I kayaked with my husband around Liberty Island in New York.
It would be an adventure for us for sure!
I was especially excited that my Mom was able to also join us on this adventure of ours. She and Ronan’s younger brother, who’s now 6’2” tall, would be in one 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 remained optimistic about all of us, and especially Ronan, being able to go. But the farther away from shore we got, the more nervous I became.
What have I signed us up to do??
What if Ronan flipped out? What if he tried to stand 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 a waterway we didn’t know in an area we’d never visited with people who didn’t know us. Was I the biggest fool in the world to think we could handle this?
No, I wasn’t.
Sitting like a king in the front of the kayak, with his hand gently splashing water every few minutes, Ronan was in his element.
Spending several hours in 50 feet of water in the middle of a saltwater bay that’s full of jellyfish, as well as unique maritime and US history, the kids loved our little outing. I loved it also. The only mishap that night was when Ronan got too relaxed in the kayak and dropped his foot in the water. His shoe, with his custom orthotic insert, was fully soaked. Since we are not seasoned kayakers, several of us we were almost fully soaked by the time we were back at the boat launch. We knew we’d get a little bit wet, but some of the splashes were not from terrible beginner paddling. The extra splashes happened during the unscheduled, full-on Jameson Family amateur kayaking competition. Our guide had said we could ease on in, but the closer we got to shore, the faster some of us began to paddle.
Being very patient while the other kids got to enjoy some summer fun, Ronan did pretty well while we were in the hotel and when we were out in town. His brother and sisters loved the amusement park, the indoor skydiving and being at the beach. If he could tell me, I bet Ronan's favorite vacation activity was going to the beach. I bet he would say that he loved eating out, listening to his music and watching videos on his iPad, too. Those are things he loves at home.
Those are things he loves when he’s traveling.
Vacations don’t always work for families like mine. Last weekend, we as a family, including my Mom, spent a great deal of time outside. We did things we don’t normally get to do. We got along well, and we all want to come back another time. I’m praying that our next adventure, whenever that can happen, will be every bit as fun as this one was.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.