Dawn M. Barclay is an author, a mom, and someone who has demonstrated expertise in dealing with the challenging situation of travelling with titularly ‘neurodivergent’ children, in the pages of her new book. With Travelling Different: Vacation Strategies for Parents of the Anxious, the Inflexible, and the Neurodiverse, she’s able to shine a light on something twenty years ago that would have seemed unfathomable.
The idea of travelling to diverse and interesting places, with potentially mentally handicapped children in tow? That there would actually be arrangements and places that, if utilized ahead of time, can make one simultaneously enjoy vacation with no caveats, or looking over their shoulder? As Barclay brilliantly demonstrates, time-and-again through relentless, A to Z presentational qualities, the answer – thank goodness – is yes. “Many of the families on the spectrum interviewed said one of their primary goals when traveling abroad was to introduce their children to different cultures.
But international travel creates additional trials: adapting to new foods, languages, currencies, and potential health concerns that may require vaccinations,” Barclay writes in one of the book’s key passages. “…For children who are already sensitive to changes in their environment, do the benefits outweigh the challenges? Dr. Tony Attwood, an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) expert, believes that they do. ‘In general, I have found children with ASD have adapted to vacations, especially abroad, remarkably well,’ he says…The consensus was that anything’s possible with the right preparation, though it depends on the travelers involved…‘It all depends on [the children’s] age and specific developmental and behavioral challenges as well as their past experiences with travel,’ says Chandra Nims Brown of Cruise Planners—Global Travel Pros in Williamsburg, Virginia. ‘Both can successfully be done under the right circumstances.’”
By both establishing her own guidelines, as well as providing numerous citations throughout the text from varied echelons of professionals, Barclay is able to win over the reader’s trust easily. But what is even more impressive about what she is able to do is make the text emotionally resonant, too. It’s a deeply moving book, not just because of the real-world implications it focuses on the utilizable benefits for, but because of how effectively Barclay is able to communicate about them. It can feel like a very frightening and lonesome situation, particularly when it comes to balancing wants and needs of one’s own, with the immediacy of the needs of one’s child.
Barclay is warm and sympathetic to this, in addition to being knowledgeable, and that’s a rare, highly effective combination. “There’s a definite dichotomy of opinion regarding the most suitable accommodations for children on the spectrum. Both sides have valid points but, ultimately, parents know their child best. Whatever your choice, as always, it is important to let the hotel or resort know your circumstances up front,” Barclay writes. “…Having only family members around is a clear advantage. However, Haraty points out that one drawback could be location; house/apartment shares may not be as centrally located as a hotel…Again, there is some debate about location:
Should travelers with children on the spectrum ask for rooms close to or far from the elevators? Likewise, should you book a main level room or something on an upper floor? There are the pros and cons to both but, as always, consider your particular child’s needs and predilections when booking.”