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Traveling with Autism - Our Adventures in Boston

(repost from my original blog dated June 16, 2018)

When I was young I used to dream about places to visit when I got to be an adult. My parents used to take my brother and me somewhere every summer. My most memorable trips were Wisconsin Dells, South Dakota, and Florida. I was in fifth grade when we went to Florida and it was pretty amazing riding a plane for the first time. I wanted to give my own family the same memories.

Fast forward a lot of years and I finally have a son of my own. His first plane ride was to Seattle when he was a toddler. He doesn’t remember that one. He went to Florida once and to Seattle with my mom. The thought of traveling long distances kind of scared me and triggered my anxiety because of all the unknowns and sensory triggers. A couple of years ago, Son and I went to Seattle for his birthday and to visit family. I used that experience to help with this one.

This will be our story and things that worked for us. There are no affiliations with any of the places referenced, it’s just our trip. Son is 18 years old now and has worked very hard to overcome obstacles to where he can adapt easier and sensory input is not even close to as debilitating as it was previously.

Son received a trip to Boston from his Nana for high school graduation. The trip was going to be a Saturday to Wednesday and we had four travelers (Son, my mom, my fiance, and myself).

When we were looking for air and hotel we looked at the airline's times and non-stop flights before the actual airline. We used different websites for air and for hotels. Son was graduating on June 8 with an all-night senior party. We picked a time where Son could come home and get some sleep before the trip. We checked in early to lessen the time standing in line at the airport.

We paid extra for a hotel located downtown. This was decided after comparing the prices of less costly hotels outside the city and adding the cost of a car and parking. I briefly looked at train and bus schedules but if Son got overwhelmed or got a migraine, the last place I want him is on public transportation. We decided the extra money for the hotel was worth not taking the chance of being stuck in the city and any number of sensory overloads that stricks a headache. This theory paid off at the end of the day when Son was worn out and needed some downtime but the rest of us were not ready to go back. We were able to get Son situated in the hotel room and then go back down to the lobby. Renting a car would have been terrible. There is so much traffic and people move around fast. We did not attempt a city bus or the subway as there was no need to.

We stayed at the Omni Parker House. This is a beautiful hotel with a history intertwined. The room was small though. We were told that’s normal for the East and an old hotel. We had four people and had two queen beds, a nightstand, a dresser, and a bathroom. The closet ended up working great as a dressing room.

TIP: Use your hotel concierge. They helped us find restaurants and they helped us get on the whale watch tour without actually going to the waterfront.

In some other support groups, I saw parents request travel accommodations. Parents said this was helpful at some point during the travel. I contacted Son's doctor to ask if there was something they could write for a travel accommodation or just a general doctor’s note. This was mailed to me. It was more of a general note indicating the diagnoses and that some accommodations may be needed for a successful vacation. I kept all our tickets, doctor’s notes, hotel information, and itinerary in one folder in my backpack.

I conducted hours of research on the city layout, our hotel, the proximity to what we wanted to see, the top attractions, places to eat, and menus. This was very beneficial as I already knew the sites to see and places to go in case Son got overwhelmed.

We made a list of everything that was top in the city to see, the neighborhood it was located in, and the anticipated duration. We purchased a Boston Go Pass before we left and printed them off. Boston Go Pass included 40+ attractions. We got the three-day pass and one exclusive attraction was included. We chose whale watching (this trip took four hours). I had wanted to attempt either a day trip to Salem or Cape Cod but we ran out of time.

The Boston Go card includes a hop-on hop-off trolly. This trolley is grey. (There is another trolley that is green and hits an additional couple of stops including Fenway Park.) The trolley was absolutely invaluable. We not only learned a ton (and something different every time) but it saved us from walking and getting tired out. Just make sure and check the latest time the trolley leaves where you are. They did not wait.

We took a taxi to the hotel from the airport. We had four people in a taxi van from Logan airport to our hotel. On the return to the airport trip, the taxi was a passenger car. Uber could have been an option. There is also a subway that goes right to the airport. We were told there was a water taxi.

There is a visitor center in Boston Common. You can get a map of the freedom trail for $9. We used this as opposed to a guided tour. The freedom trail is 2.5 miles long (goes past 16 sites). On a map, it appears a little daunting. We got most of the 16 sites just by walking the city or on the trolley. We broke the city down into sections. Showing the map and sites to Son kept him engaged and he knew what was happening.

The city streets were very packed with people. There were a lot of school trips with lots of children. It’s best to try to get ahead of these large groups if possible as they take a long time to view an attraction. We never had a problem with Bostonians. It seemed as though they were used to tourists while they maneuvered their daily lives. Just move over on the sidewalks so they can get to their destination and not be delayed by tourism dilly-dallying.

We took Delta Airlines and they had movies in the seat and lots to choose from. Son also had his iPad with some movies and games, just in case. We had extra power cords and extra headphones, including noise canceling. At the gate, I talked to the attendant and asked if we were able to pre-board to get situated before the masses got on. In both Minneapolis and Boston, this was accommodated with no problem. In Boston, the attendant was even able to move around seats so Son and I could sit together. I had wrapped snacks in my backpack from home and we packed empty water bottles to fill in the airport.

For parents that have kids with only a couple of things they eat, Boston has things we have in Minneapolis. Dunkin Donuts, Burger King, McDonald's, Chipotle, Walgreens. Street vendors had hot dogs. Boston Commons had a place to get sandwiches.

Most of the sit-down restaurants had cheeseburgers and chicken strips.

TSA. We had four people traveling. I had Son stick with me. I told TSA he was my son. They always let him come with me and we never got separated. In Minneapolis, we had pre-screen boarding so the TSA agent took us to a different line. In Boston, we had to wait in the TSA line. I took the time before the airport and again in line to explain what was going to happen. Before we left the hotel I double-checked all his bags. His electronics and liquid items. I made sure they were easily accessible. We each had a small rolling suitcase and a backpack. We did not check any luggage. Once we got up to the checkpoint, they told me to come in and I indicated Son was with me. I told Son to copy what I did and listen to what they were saying. It took us a little longer to unload our bags but there was no issue with it. Son had on running-type pants and the zippers got flagged in the screening machine. He got pulled aside and checked. They took time and explained what they were doing and he did not get upset.

Earlier I referenced our trip to Seattle, we stayed with family, we had a printed itinerary. My family is familiar with the area and created the itinerary based on what Son wanted to do. He would look at that list and follow it during the day. He never got a headache.

This time was not that easy. We knew what we wanted to do but did not know what day we were going to do the whale watch, the Tea Party experience, and a harbor cruise (all of which take a significant chunk of time). Son asked nonstop what we were doing. We did the best we could day by day and we never just wandered, but that part was kind of a struggle for him. He handled it well though. He was pretty pooped out by dinner time and ready to go back to the hotel.

Honestly, even the adults had a moment of meltdown at some point, it happens to everyone depending on our window of tolerance.

This was such a fun trip. We packed a ton of sites in, went pretty much nonstop, and Son loved seeing everything and having the experience of visiting someplace different. His favorite things were the Tea Party experience and whale watching. I would highly recommend a vacation to the Boston area.


Get a doctor’s note

Take a non-stop flight

Get TSA pre-screened if possible

Tell TSA the person is your child, they won’t separate you

Get to the airport early to get through security, have calming time if necessary, and talk to the desk attendant about pre-boarding

Check out the area before you get there

Most of all enjoy the time you have with family and take in as many sights as you can.

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