Have autism, will travel.
By Dina Farmer | Published on October 1, 2020 | 5 Minute Read
I'm Dina Farmer, mom to two wonderful little boys one of which is on the autism spectrum. My oldest son was recently diagnosed with high function autism and ADHD. He is an incredibly smart little boy that can out logic me on a good day. We are a military family and really struggled to get the support and help I knew my son needed. As a military family, we've enjoyed traveling around the world and exposing my son and later his younger brother to so many different states and countries. He has gained a love for traveling. Yet, as he got older he began to display more and more typical autistic behavior. It became difficult to travel with him although he had a growing list of places he wanted to see in the world. I became a travel advisor to fuel our travels around the world, but as I noticed his behaviors getting worse I pushed aside our own travels to focus on how I could help my son and my clients rather than take time for our own family travels.
My son wasn't diagnosed until he was 8 years old. The reason being is each time I would bring up behaviors such as his pacing and him talking at me rather than to me, I would get brushed off over and over again. The providers would chalk it up to him just being a boy or something he would grow out of overtime. With the arrival of my second one, I noticed my second son developing at a much more "normal" level. My father also kept telling me my son was "unique and such a special little boy". I know he didn't want to say directly that there was something different about my son but ultimately he encouraged me to get my son tested. With that final push from my father, I decided it was no longer time to allow the doctors to tell me otherwise and I fought tooth and nail to get my son an appointment to see a developmental specialist. It took a really long time for us to get an appointment for him, and it was such a relief to know what was going on with my son. I took some time to grieve the loss of what I pictured my life to be as a mother and then pulled up my boot strings a little tighter and because undertaking all the therapies that were heading quickly in our direction.
It hasn't been an easy journey navigating the military healthcare system to get referrals to seek services from the therapists my son needs. It's great when it works but sometimes it takes a while to get approval for referrals or jumping through several hoops before you can get the services you need. I was very often left frustrated in that my son needed these therapies but the military healthcare system was making it so much more difficult than it needed to be. Once we got it all squared away and I navigated this all on my own things have gotten better except I have to remember when expiration dates come up for his referrals. It has only been a year since my son was diagnosed and we are slowly making strides with my son and all of these therapies. My son recently asked if we could go to Playa del Carmen and Holbox to hang out at the beach and because he loves Dia de los Muertos. I began to get on edge about planning a trip with him because we still have a lot of work to do as far as his therapies go, but I began to think to myself "Why is this diagnosis stopping me from planning a trip for my family?" Just because my son was diagnosed with autism didn't mean we have to stop traveling. Instead, we just need to use the tools we've learned during his therapies to make traveling easier for us. I tested out local states first and I have plans to take him international now that he's been diagnosed once we get all this COVID-19 stuff in some state of control.
"Just because my son was diagnosed with autism didn't mean we have to stop traveling. Instead, we just need to use the tools we've learned during his therapies to make traveling easier for us. "
On this same point as a travel advisor, I realized if I struggled to travel then other families must also share the same struggles. While planning my vacations with my boys I found that there wasn't a ton of information out there about autism travel or travel suppliers that meet the needs of families with autism to travel. I decided that I wanted to show support to the autism community by helping other families get out in the world and travel. Travel has so many benefits for autism families, such as exposure to new things, it brings your family out of the sometimes isolation of daily therapies, and it presents an opportunity to bond as a family. It brings a chance to desensitize them to some sensory aversions and spreads awareness of autism. I strongly believe that traveling is for everyone and if I can get just one family to plan a trip even if it's the next state over that one trip can help raise awareness and bring that family closer together.
Finally, I would recommend if you have recently been diagnosed remember that you are not alone, find a HELP. You don't have to do this alone and you are not alone. While yes, I navigated the military healthcare system by myself I sought support and community while I was doing this. Reach out and ask for help. There will always be someone that has gone through what you are going through now and ready and willing to help.
About the Author
Dina Farmer is a mother of two amazing little boys one of which is on the autism spectrum. Dina is a Travel Advisor, an IBCCES Certified Autism Travel Professional, and an Accessible Travel Advocate. She enjoys spending time traveling with her boys and her profession is to help special needs families navigate the challenges of travel so they can get out there to explore the world and reconnect.