A vacation to remember

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014


MY ENTIRE family just had a month-long vacation in the United States and of course, we had with us our eldest son with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). It was both challenging and at the same time rewarding for the entire family to have this once-in-a-lifetime family bonding.

The planning and preparation for the vacation was quite amusing. My son, Jan, who was used to spending summer at a piano school did not want to change his schedule for a trip to the US. He did not want to miss the piano recital which was usually done at the end of the summer class. We all know that one of the characteristics of individuals with ASD is their difficulty adjusting to changes in routines.

We had to write down the details of our itinerary with caution as any change might affect his behavior during the trip. We had to balance giving exact information about the places to be visited and the people we expected to meet. The schedule and list of daily activities was effective for him and he always referred to his own copy from time to time.

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We also prepared him for changes in the usual things he does back home. For example, we usually give him the freedom to order the food he fancies to eat in a restaurant. Since we know that he sometimes orders around two types of food from a menu, we gave him advanced instructions that it is either me or my husband who will do the ordering this time.

We anticipated that our budget might easily get drained if we allow him to order his food freely. The instructions were also effective on him. It was good that he just patiently waited while we did the ordering of food.

We also had to warn him about buying shirts in the malls as he usually does. We explained to him that the money used in buying things in the US should be in dollars and not in pesos. We purposely did not put dollars in his wallet so he can control his expenses during the trip. It was amazing that he understood the instructions and did not attempt to buy stuff at the malls there.

The only thing we found difficult to explain to him was the change in time zones. Considering that he was very keen on time, his body clock and the time on his watch and gadgets somehow confused him. We were not able to explain to him that daytime in the Philippines is night time in USA. It also confused him that there was still daylight when it was already 7 p.m.

This confusion made him say that he already wanted to go home to Manila during the first week of our vacation. The problem was solved when we adjusted the time on his watch, cellphone and tablet.

One of the best things that made us appreciate Jan’s disability was the fact that we were always given priority access during queues for the rides at the Disney theme parks in Florida. The parks issue a Disability Pass for persons with ASD as they understand that waiting in line could pose a problem. While regular guests pay additional fee for a fast pass for the rides, ours was for free and we simply had to flash Jan’s Disability Pass and get to our rides in a snap. We also get special seating for shows and parades because of our dear Jan.

Last but not the least, the family is thankful that everyone enjoyed the vacation, including Jan who spent his 22nd birthday on May 20. It was surprising that Jan was game enough to join the rides at the Disney theme parks and that he understood the 3D shows, movies and parades. He demonstrated courage and patience way beyond what was expected of him. Thank you, Jan, for a memorable vacation.

*****

Jane Ann S. Gonzales is a mother of a youth with autism. She is an advocate/core member of the Autism Society Philippines and Directress of the Independent Living Learning Centre (ILLC) Davao, a centre for teenagers and adults with special needs. For comments or questions, please email janeanngonzales@yahoo.com).

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on May 28, 2014.

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