By Megan Amodeo
Most of us have memories of road trips and family vacations solidified into our brains from childhood. Those memories always seem to more lighthearted and amusing than the actual experience of driving endless hours in a packed car.
If you have never been on a road trip, you’re missing out on a character-building lesson.
Typically, my family of five takes our annual road trip to Walt Disney World. This excursion is broken up into a two-day driving trip because it takes over twenty hours in total. We have been doing this same trip for the past decade. Yes, that’s right, the exact same trip every year.
We aren’t insane, we’re autistic.
Actually, three of the five of us are on the spectrum. That means we, the autistics, are the majority. We like things to be scheduled and routine, so Disney World fits our family perfectly. Due to modern technology, I can start planning our trip at least six months in advance. That makes my autistic heart incredibly happy.
I literally can plan rides, meals and just about everything else before we even set foot in the park. Believe me when I say this is thrilling. I make calendars and charts for the entire trip. I’m not sure that the typical members of my family are as elated as I am about the planning of our trip. My husband has learned after more than twenty years of marriage that planning and organizing every detail is an absolute must for me and our autistic daughters. I’m sure he thinks about throwing caution to the wind and just seeing what would happen. He knows that planning really is the only way to travel with autistic family members.
When we started this ritual ten years ago, we considered flying to Orlando. After much debate, we decided that our youngest daughter might not like flying. We actually thought we might get kicked off the plane. I’m sure you’ve read stories about parents and children being asked to leave because they were too disruptive. At the time, my youngest had a number of sensory issues. We feared flying would be too stimulating for her. That is why we started driving to Florida.
Driving was no easy task as turned out.
She didn’t like the car trip. She screamed and threw up all the way down and all the way back. She hated the sun in her eyes, the motion of the car, and everything that involved being in the car. We had to throw out her car seat. It was our ritual every trip but about two years ago, she settled in (with a dose of anti-nausea medication), and finally did not have to vomit her way to Disney World. We celebrated when she made the entire trip without throwing up. It was a momentous milestone!
You might think that the road trip was the rough part of the trip, but you’d be wrong.
That first trip, my girls were five, seven and nine years old. My five-year-old had an extreme fear of automatic toilets. She hated the sound of the flushing, and the uncertainty of when the toilet would flush. For the record, Disney World has a lot of automatic toilets. We were only able to find a handful of manual flush toilets. We spent more time than I care to recount in and out of bathrooms that first trip. Although, we did learn a trick to fool the uncertainty of the automatic flush. If you place your hand or a piece of paper over the sensor, it will not flush until you want it to (just remove your hand).
My daughters are also picky eaters.
I tried my best to review menus beforehand. Luckily, Disney lists all their restaurant menus on their website. During one of our trips, we had appetizers included with our meal plan. When the waitress brought my youngest a cup of soup, my daughter shouted that soup was not enough food for her to eat. The waitress seemed horrified that my daughter had basically yelled about soup. This definitely was not the first time something like this happened. She also refused to eat at several restaurants. Again, waiters and waitresses attempted to get her attention and encouraged her to eat. I knew this wouldn’t work. She ignored them.
I always carry a bag filled with sensory fidgets, small toy and headphones.
What works is letting her “be.” Our “sensory bag” has been a lifesaver for her and my other daughters. It helps them when they are feeling overwhelmed. And, it provides them significant relief from extremely crowded spaces.
Despite the challenges, our annual trip is fun and filled with happy memories.
People always ask us why we don’t go somewhere else for vacation. The truth is, we love Disney. We have all adapted to going on the same trip for the past ten years. We love routine and order. Disney World checks all the boxes for us.
Megan Amodeo is an autistic stay-at-home mom with 3 beautiful daughters, two on the autism spectrum and one with ADHD. She’s been married to her neurotypical husband for almost 20 years. Prior to having children, Megan worked in special education. Today, she shares her life experiences and advice on Geek Club Books blog and in Zoom Autism Magazine.
Read more articles on “Traveling the Spectrum Way” in Zoom Autism Magazine, Issue 16:
- From Our Editors: Keep Exploring! Traveling the Spectrum Way
- Get Globetrotting Advice from Dr. Stephen Shore
- I Did It! How I Planned My Independent Travel by Erin Clemens
- On the Road! Traveling Outside My Children’s Comfort Zones by Katie Dyer
- Traveling to the Czech Republic for Autism Acceptance by Rachel Barcellona
- Cummings and Goings: Many Views for Traveling on the Spectrum by Conner Cummings
- How I Braved 70 Travel Hours with Sensory Success! by Gretchen McIntire (Leary)
- The View from Here: Autism and My Cancer Journey by Douglas Sparling
(Includes updates from Jacob Fuentes (College), Carly Fulgham (motherhood), and Anita Lesko (Career)
Discover more Zoom Issues:
- Issue 13: Family
- Issue 14: Trailblazers
- Issue 15: Powerful Women
- Archived issues on the Zoom Home Page
- More autistic-written articles and author interviews on our blog