(bright upbeat music) ♪ ♪ Yeah the simple things in life ♪ - My guest is author and travel expert, Dawn Barclay.
Her book is titled "Traveling Different."
Welcome and thank you for joining us.
- Thanks so much for having me.
- So, traveling can be such an important part of life.
I always say it creates the memories for my children.
But first, I want you to share your background in the world of travel and then we'll talk about your book.
Well, I was born the daughter of two owners of a major Manhattan travel agency, and I worked for them for several years.
And then, I started working for various travel trade publications.
I've written for four of them.
I'm currently the contributing editor for special needs and family travel for Insider Travel Report.
And then, I wrote this book.
I write fiction as well!
(chuckles) - Very good.
So, definitely have a extensive traveling background.
You know, all families could benefit from your traveling experience and strategies, but families with special needs really benefit from it.
I mean, just the idea of getting through TSA with a family with special needs.
Tell me about some of your ideas and strategies that you would like people to know about and to be familiar with.
When I wrote my book, I interviewed over a hundred people for it, including certified autism travel professionals, parents, and mental health professionals.
So, when you talk about airports?
That's probably the longest chapter in the book, is airline travel.
And, when you mentioned TSA, there's a wonderful program called TSA Cares and it varies depending on where you are in the country and what airport you're using.
But, at the very best they will, if you let them know that you're traveling with someone on the spectrum, or someone with invisible disabilities, they will assign someone to be with you and get you through security and just shadow you.
So, if you get into a sensory meltdown, they're there to help.
- So, you just described what I'm sure some families know but I'm sure many families don't understand what that is.
So, tell me.
TSA Cares; how do they get in touch with that if they are going to even attempt to travel?
Because so many times families won't travel because of all the anxiety that the parents are feeling, let alone what the child might be going through.
So, how do we get in touch with TSA Cares to even get that process started, so that we know we're gonna be met with a friendly face?
- There is an 800-number that you can get either from my book or you can go in and Google "TSA Cares."
Or even better, speak to a certified autism travel professional, because they can take care of all of that for you.
And, they will contact them and tell them what flight you're on, when you're expected to be at the airport.
And, like I said, it varies depending on the airport, but they will handle your issues as best as they're able to.
And, it's just another help there, which is one of the most trying parts of the airport experience is security.
And like you said, some airports might be a little more friendly than others, or expect I can handle maybe some of the challenges that autism or other special needs might bring.
Can you share some of your experience of what families have faced, and just some things that maybe typical families might not even think about?
- Well, a lot of people don't realize that an organization called The Arc runs a program called Wings for Autism, which will let you have a dress rehearsal of the actual airport experience, from arrival all the way to boarding.
So, that's an important program to follow.
Other airports run similar programs on their own.
If you call the airport or the airline involved they may take you on a tour of the airport in advance.
All of these are really valuable experiences for the person on the spectrum to have, because people thrive on predictability and routine especially children on the spectrum.
So, you wanna make as many parts of this trip as predictable as you can in advance.
You never wanna spring a trip on a child.
- And, how do you help the person traveling with the individual with autism or other special needs, when we're on the aircraft?
- Well, there's a number of things you can do.
You can be sure to let the flight attendant know that there may be issues, so that they're not surprised if the child becomes overwhelmed.
You can tell people on your aisle about the same thing.
Just warn them that there might be an issue.
Because I think people are a lot more empathetic when they know what might be happening.
The book goes into where to sit depending on the needs of your child, when to get on the flight, depending on whether they want to wait as late as possible, or they wanna get on early, because the waiting might be more upsetting to the child.
So, it really comes down to all children are different and the parent knows their child best.
And so, I would say that for some families, getting on early, getting it over with, and getting situated might be what they wanna do.
Other families may wanna board at the very, very last minute to have to deal with being in that aircraft longer than they need to be.
I know here in Ontario, California the airport did have-- they had a plane and the families boarded the plane.
And, they carted them around with a tractor just to have the experience of getting on the plane, putting the luggage away, the flight attendant coming down serving something briefly, and just that experience.
Is that how the others have been that you're aware of?
Or, what do they look like at the other airports?
- They're all different, and it's really a matter of finding out in advance what they can offer you.
And, also that kind of role playing is really valuable.
I know a special education teacher here in Rockland County, which is in New York, set up a classroom to simulate an airplane, and they did exactly what you're talking about.
And, they had a microphone so they could have voices coming over the loudspeaker.
And, different children took different roles of being the flight attendant, or being the pilot.
Because there was one child in the classroom who was going to go on a flight, and was very nervous about it.
So, they made it as easy as they could.
So, you can do that as well.
And, it's a really good idea to show the child it's not a great idea to kick the seat in front of you!
Also, bring maybe something with buttons to push so they don't push the flight attendant button.
(Lillian chuckles) All these are strategies that you can employ.
- And, what would you say that we would share with the general public?
What do you-?
What can we teach them?
Or, what can they learn from when dealing with families like ours?
I would say that if you see a child going into meltdown, don't try to go over and decide you know best.
Leave the family alone so that the parent can deal with the child and calm the child.
And, if you wanna do something helpful just maybe a shrug or a smile to say, "I understand.
Don't worry about it.
I'm not judging you.
"I'm leaving you alone (Dawn chuckles) "so that you can take care of your number one priority, which is your child."
- You know, I always love and value those kind of special angels that are-- that embrace this population, that did exactly what you just said.
They smile and go, "We see you got it.
We're not judging; all is good."
And, I really appreciate those families.
And, I don't know if sometimes they even realize just by that smile or being supportive, that they are helping the family with the challenges or the meltdowns or whatever's going on.
Don't you agree?
I absolutely agree because there was a study done by a group called IBCCES back in-- back a few years ago in 2018 that showed that 87% of families with special needs don't travel.
- [Lillian] Right.
- But, 93% of those would if they knew where to go and what to do.
And, the number one reason that I found in my research was the reason they weren't traveling is they were afraid people were gonna judge them if their child went into meltdown.
And, I think that's just an awful decision, because you're depriving yourself and your family of a great experience with travel, just because you're worrying about what someone else might think, and it's only important what you think.
If you can get to that point, where it's only important to what you think, because you worry about the others around you.
And then, just the idea: even when you're traveling with a baby or a toddler who's typical, and they're crying and whining, and doing all the things?
That five-hour flight from California to New York can be a long flight!
(Lillian chuckles) - Yeah, we've all been there.
I was vomited on as soon as the flight took off!
And, I couldn't do anything (Dawn laughs) except put a sweater over my soaked blouse.
And, you know what?
And, so will the people who were sitting next to me.
They'll live, because there's always gonna be another day and another flight!
(both chuckle) - So, tell me about the-- I read about this.
The Sunflower lanyard program.
I was not familiar with this.
What is this?
- Yeah, it started in England.
I believe Gatwick Airport was the first to employ it.
And, it is a lanyard with a sunflower on it that people can get free of charge.
And, it's sort of an identifier for the wearer that this person might need additional assistance.
And, it's just a nice way of quietly telling the world, of those who will help you when you need help, that this is somebody who might need additional assistance.
I thought that was nice.
I liked the sunflower idea.
It wasn't a puzzle piece.
It wasn't "autism" all over it.
It was just something sweet or kind, and kind of a clue.
So, in your book on page 225, you offer a chapter of suggested itinerary.
That's really like doing homework for the families.
Can you talk a little bit about that itinerary and maybe some of the things that you suggest in the book?
- Well, the whole purpose of the book was really so that people could turn any vacation into an easier way to travel, if you had someone on the spectrum.
Or, someone who's anxious or inflexible, 'cause that's part of the title, as well.
So, I do talk about where to-- how to travel, how to get there, where to stay when you get there, and then what to do when you arrive!
[Lillian chuckles] So, I do list different venues that have been Certified Autism Centers, or call themselves "autism friendly."
I do emphasize that it's important to pace your trip to work with the child and their abilities, so you don't cram, you know, six things in every day when one thing might do.
And then, just spend the rest of the day decompressing in front of the pool, or in front of a TV, whatever the child might need.
But, also to perhaps revolve the trip around a child's special interest.
Now, children on the spectrum tend to have very specific interests that they talk about all the time.
So, why not use that as a way to make the trip really special for the child?
If the child loves dinosaurs, why aren't you going to a city that has a dinosaur museum?
I try to talk about a lot of different types of vacation, whether they're sports-related vacations, where the child has an individual sports activity, like golf or skiing or even scuba that they can work on that have adaptive programs for them, as well as regular programs for the neurotypical siblings.
And, I do talk about places like resorts and cruises that might work really well for a child on the spectrum, because there are staff that are specially trained.
- So, in reading your book I learned more about, and some of the notes that I had, I want you to tell me a little bit about the Autism Certified destinations or cities.
And, what's the difference between the destination and the cities?
- One is that, I believe, it's Mesa that is geared more toward tourism, as opposed to Visalia, where all the different businesses are trying to be autism friendly.
So, there's this group, IBCCES.
It stands for the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards.
And, they created programs that certify both travel agents, destinations, and part of the destinations, including for hotels and museums, and all of that.
They all get the Certified Autism Center, and then they have this program that certifies.
The tourist board usually goes in, and they take the training, and then they get other companies, venues, suppliers to also take the training.
So, that when you go to a place like Mesa, Arizona and you have a child on the spectrum, almost anywhere you go is going to be there for you.
And, is going to know how to help you and what you need.
So, this is really, really valuable.
I can see how that would be quite valuable.
And then, I think you listed-- like, you were just saying, in Visalia they might have several museums or things that would attract someone on the spectrum; that it becomes their vacation, but it makes it easier on the family to enjoy when that individual is happier.
Is that fair to say?
I think it's really important that if you're going to, say, a museum, that they have a sensory room.
Or, they have an area where the lighting is lower and it's quieter, and perhaps it's less crowded on the days that they designate as sensory days.
Because it's just easier; it's always important.
Like, theme parks are now using signage to show where you can go to a quieter place to decompress.
Many of the theme parks have become Certified Autism Centers.
And, there are also groups like CAN, which is the Champion Autism Network, who have done similar programs in Myrtle Beach and Surfside Beach, South Carolina.
So, it's not just IBCCES.
There are other designating programs, as well.
- And then, you did talk about the sibling.
And, I think sometimes the sibling doesn't get the attention that the individual with autism might be getting, because they're trying to accommodate those needs.
But, talk to me a little bit, or maybe your suggestions on the sibling who, or siblings if there's more than one, and trying to make it a vacation for the entire family.
So, when you go to a resort that's a Certified Autism Center like Beaches, which is in Turks and Caicos in Jamaica, or you go on a cruise, they're large enough.
And, the staff is trained well enough that there are programs for the child who's on the spectrum, but also for the neurotypical children, as well.
So, if you go on a large cruise line like Royal Caribbean, there's going to be something for everyone.
And also, there's a group called Autism on the Seas that plans specialty cruises for people-- families on the spectrum.
So, that there are people-- other families you can meet and compare notes, [Lillian laughs] commiserate, but you know your child is always being taken care of at the same time.
So, I think that's really beneficial.
As well as, as I said before, sports vacations that have an adaptive component.
And, I was amazed how many ski resorts have programs, not only for people in wheelchairs, but people who are on the spectrum.
Scuba diving; there's even surfing, which I found out and put in my blog, "Traveling Different," because I found out about it after I finished the book!
But, there are so many programs that-- Also, golf.
You know, there are-- Golf is a great sport for children who just want to, over and over again, perfect [Lillian laughs] their stroke, and not have to worry about a team sport where, you know, there are social situations that might not be comfortable for them.
It's an individual sport, and they can-- - Yes!
- take all the time that they need and they can keep doing it and doing it and doing it, - just like their-- - Right!
- bodies might wanna do the repetitiveness of it.
- Yes, yes.
- And, it always seems so more inviting when you can be with other families who really get you, you know?
And I think that's for typical families, also.
We travel with our friends and families, but those other families that understand what you're going through, or get it.
Or, you know, there's nothing they haven't seen.
That just seems to feel more comfortable.
- Yes, absolutely.
- So, you also had some-?
A social story that I think you wrote about that's called "I'm Going to the Airport."
Carol Gray created "Social Stories" years ago.
But, you have this-- is this one-?
Did you write this one, or did somebody you know write this one?
- Oh, no.
I think that it was from JetBlue-- - Oh!
- as I recall.
It was definitely not my Social Story!
(chuckles) But, I do have a link to it in the book.
So, that's what it is.
But, do you mind sharing just a little bit of what a Social Story is?
It's a story written from the child's point of view, that will take them bit-by-bit through an experience they're gonna have.
And, it will show them-- it brings up the questions that'll come up, and how they might deal with them as they go through.
- [Lillian] Right.
- So, again: predictability, routine, introducing them to the possible outcomes, making sure that they know that their parents will be with them throughout, and they're never gonna be alone.
- Kind of just a reassuring book that you can read again over and over and over again, right?
- And, they should-- They should be written far in advance of the vacation and read over and over.
Same thing with a visual schedule: why not create a schedule and a backup schedule, (Lillian laughs) in case things don't go as you would hope with the weather.
- So, I'm gonna just say-- - So, the child can easily see that.
- I'm gonna just say on that backup schedule!
So, we were traveling and I had a schedule.
And, we were reviewing it with my son.
Every day we'd review it.
And, one day we were traveling through the south somewhere.
He took the schedule, rolled down the window, and threw it out the window!
And, we're on a freeway.
So, we weren't getting that schedule back!
And, like a typical family, all we could do was laugh.
It was hilarious!
He was telling me, "Lady, I'm tired of this schedule!"
And, he didn't like my schedule, [Dawn laughs] and threw it right out the window!
(laughs) - Well, it's always good to get feedback!
(both laugh) - At the time I just went, "Oh my gosh, what was on that thing I'm not gonna remember?"
But, you're right.
You punt, right?
You figure it out.
Now, I wanna ask you-- - And, you bring up a very important point: make a copy!
(both laugh) Yeah.
I hadn't thought of that then, but thanks for that now!
Now, now as a travel agent, would you have ever thought of these families, had you not experienced yourself?
I mean, would it have been on your list of things to write about when you've written so many other things?
I haven't been a travel agent for a very long time.
I wasn't a travel agent and a writer at the same time.
I sort of graduated from being an agent to being a writer.
And, I can tell you that researching this book was definitely an epiphany for me.
I did not do these things when I traveled with my family, and my anxious and inflexible children!
And so, at my book launch, my son was in the audience and said, "Do you have any regrets (she laughs) about how you traveled?"
And, I was like, "I never dreamt to create a trip "revolving around your special interests.
"I never dreamt to, you know, pace it the way you needed it to be paced and I apologize."
So, I learned as much as, you know, as anybody else reading this book.
And, I am very thankful for the travel agents, many of them are special-needs parents themselves, as well as their clients who contributed to this book.
- Now, I was gonna ask you, you know, why did you write the book?
And so, the obvious reason is there, but tell me a little bit of why you decided to do the research, write the book for other families.
- I mean, I've been a travel writer for 34 years now.
And, when I saw-- I needed a book like this in the early 2000s, and it didn't exist.
So, I decided to write it.
And, at that time I spoke to some autism experts like Tony Attwood.
I spoke to ADHD experts like Ellen Littman.
And then, I kind of hit a wall, 'cause I didn't know where to go with it.
And, when IBCCES created the Certified Autism travel professional designation, then I had a better idea of where to do my research.
But, you know, I think it was a glaring omission out there that this book didn't exist.
And, I like to think of it as the travel bible for ASD, and ASD families.
And, all there really was on the market were sort of memoirs and individual families talking about their particular experiences.
And, I wanted to have an overall type of research book out there.
- And, what have you heard from families that have read the book, or individuals that have read the book?
What's been the feedback?
- I've had people tell me they're really grateful to have that information, and to have so many different-- Well, you could see yourself if you read the book.
It's not just one piece of advice.
I come at it from different angles, and I offer several pieces of advice.
And, I try to be as comprehensive as I could, and they seemed to really appreciate that.
Okay, so in my doing my background to prepare for this interview, I read one little thing about you being a trivia player, right?
(laughs) - So, what is your special niche of trivia that you really gravitate to?
- Oh, wow.
- I didn't know if-- Do you mind sharing what that is?
- Oh, no!
I think that's great!
No, I was definitely the weakest link on a team called The Penguins.
My fellow trivia players had all been on "Millionaire," and they had been on "Jeopardy."
And, I sort of would contribute very, very odd, weird pieces of information.
I think one of the questions we got once was name the best-selling car in the world, and it starts with an M. And, nobody could get it.
And, I said, "how about Matchbox?"
And, it was the answer!
- Ohh, look at you!
- And, that was my shining moment of trivia!
(laughs) - Wow, that's really good.
So, as you have gone on tour with your book, and shared it with families- and I'm certain this has happened.
That more things have come up since the book, and you have to kind of keep it going.
What new things have developed that you're now sharing about?
You did mention the surfing as one of the things.
What other things are new that, if you could keep the book going and going and going, what you would be adding?
- Well, that's why I have the blog; is to keep going and going and updating.
So, one of the things I found was the different cities that are becoming Autism Certified, the idea of the surfing.
There was somebody who asked me?
A podcaster who asked me, "What do you do after the trip for the come-down?"
And, I thought, "Wow, that should've been the final chapter of my book: After."
After the trip is over, how do you come down?
Because I know when you have a child with autism that has a big experience, the come-down can be really low.
I mean, it can be sort of devastating for them when it's over.
So, I wrote a whole piece on 'after', what to do afterward.
- Hmm, I hadn't thought of that.
I know that, and you described this in the interview today, that letting them know and not surprise them, right?
The not-surprise just doesn't work.
I learned that the hard way.
We were in New Jersey and we didn't wanna tell my son we were leaving tomorrow.
He knew it.
None of us wanted to hear him talk about it all night long, and we wouldn't get any sleep.
And so, we, as a family- my husband, my daughter, and myself- elected not to tell him.
He knew it, he knew it.
But once we said it, that made it reality, right?
So, none of us chose to tell him that we're flying out tomorrow.
So, when the day came the next day, he wouldn't get on an aircraft.
He wouldn't get out of the car!
And, by now he's 22 years old.
He's 180 pounds.
There's no way we're gonna carry him or get through TSA.
So, that was a thousand dollar learning experience.
Because, my daughter and I got off the plane, or got out of the car and got onto the plane.
My husband and my son started driving from New Jersey to California.
When they got to Ohio, my husband was calling me and said, "He's ready now.
He said, 'Daddy, go home?'"
And so, I had to book a flight, which was a thousand dollar flight!
(Lillian chuckles) So, I learned the hard way on that one.
So, that's my experience!
And, that's what the parents said when I did that story, is "prepare them for the end of the trip before the trip begins."
It's just another part of the trip, so they're prepared.
Never spring anything on a child, as you learned.
A beginning, a middle, and an end.
- Yes, yes!
- Well, Dawn?
Thank you so much for your time and for your book, so many families like myself can learn from it.
Thank you so much!
- Thank you.
- [Lillian] This program was originally produced for 91.9 KVCR Radio.
(bright upbeat music) ♪ ♪ ♪ Yeah, the simple things in life ♪