Travel and Autism

I’m sharing correspondence from Michale John Carley I think you will find useful. – Greg Wood
I’m on Day 4 after returning from Asia and I still can’t get my sleep schedule back. How I can be so lucky in adapting when I travel, yet so lousy at it when I get home?…beyond me. But I’d like to share a little about the gig I just had…11 days. 5 presentations, 3 media appearances, 2 site visits, 1 keynote, 8 million selfies, and numerous conversations, meals, and hours on a plane later, I want to congratulations to all new friends of Malaysia, a country made up of parts Muslim, Chinese and Indian culture who, perhaps due to that diversity, were made for such an embracing of the concept of neurodiversity in their first-ever autism initiative. Not that I’ve (or anyone has) witnessed every nation’s launch of this kind, but it’s easily the first that I’ve seen that wasn’t based on a tragic, medical, or disease model. It was positive at its core, and shone a light on their country’s individuals on the spectrum under the context of what they can do, not what they can’t. Congrats to AIM (Autism Initiative Malaysia), NASOM, EO, and Oasis Place KL. Oh, and…Wanna see a cool, 30-second clip of the closing ceremony? Click here. FaceBook users can also access some (mix of posed and action) photos here.
Soon I’ll have a large article on autism and travel (no relation to the Malaysia trip) to share, and after that, Autism Without Fear will begin its new life at Sinkhole, but for now please enjoy a reprint of my column from the Huffington Post this past January, “Packer Protests, National Anthems, and Why Despite His Autism, Green Bay’s Greg Clark Exemplifies All Veterans.” It is being reprinted for Exceptional Parent Magazine’s wonderful special edition for military families (thank you, EP!). You can read it in the lovely advance spread version by clicking here.
Oh yeah…other articles. Just a few…
• Longtime GRASP Chicago member, Jon Evans, is the guest on a long interview with the GEM network. What’s beautiful about this podcast episode is that you can hear the host learning as the interview travels on.
• Big thanks to Spectrum Life Magazine for reprinting my large piece on Autism Peer Supports in (or why they’re not in) Schools. Thanks again to Exceptional Parent Mag for allowing the reprint.
• Once again, I’m so proud to be an Advisor to GallopNYC. Great coverage on NY1, gang!
• And from England (how cool is this?…) World Cup (and this is the first in a series) coverage by and about spectrumfolk!
• In this day and age, how parents still get hoodwinked by the nonsense described in this NPR piece…is beyond me. Can diagnosing clinicians not suggest any sane treatments to help out, please???
• (Longtime comrade) Seth Mnookin has written a justifiably negative review of Edith Sheffer’s book, Asperger’s Children in the NYTimes. Thank you, Seth. Her research is solid. Her intentions are not.
• Again in England…a boxing class for people with disabilities. How awesome (and we can’t replicate in the states, why?)
• Australian buddy, Prue Stevenson, uses her Taekwondo black belt and spectrum ingenuity to create some fun, video performance art. Watch the video!
• While I’ve known for some time, my speaking in Beunos Aires, Argentina this coming October finally hit the web. Another “can’t wait,” for sure.
• Someone has finally funded a study on autism and homelessness (’bout time). Thank you to Brits (again???), Churchard, Ryder, and Greenhill.
Yours, y’all.
Michael John Carley
Author, School Consultant, Founder of GRASP

Traveling with Semester At Sea

Part of my issues in managing anxiety is in the world of travel these days. I had to learn how to keep my stress down but systems like the TSA are always a surprise. I create my own system to be ready for these things but they do not always work. An example is how I pack my luggage and have pre-check. I decided to go back to the class room and take a voyage on the Semester at Sea. I was with over 500 students, faculty and staff, and I was part of a group called life long learners. I had to manage many things outside my daily routine.
I learned how to be a part of a community and gain support. I tried different foods. I made adjustments mentally and physically to ensure my success.  I asked questions about the customs process before each port to ease my anxiety around any surprises. I was allowed to have a meeting before each port with the field trip department to ease my anxiety about things that were not normal like having to get up at 3 am to make a flight to a destination. I found that getting the information individually before our large and noisy pre-port meeting helped me remain calm and less anxious. Some of the topics covered in the pre-port meetings was safety and health issues of each country. The community offered accommodation to me after I explained that I was dealing with Asberger’s. At the beginning of the trip I was pretty anxious that some people thought I was high maintenance.  I attended classes, ate meals with a variety of people each day, enjoyed my interaction with the ship staff. In the past I may have gotten off the ship early, but I completed the full program.  
Here’s some interesting facts:
The ship traveled 22,721 nautical miles or 26,245 land miles
3000 pounds of peanut butter were consumed 
1440 pounds of jam were consumed
The trip lasted 102 days
We covered 4 continents and 14 countries 
We passed through 18 time changes 
The ship had 2 captains
2.5 million gallons of fresh water were consumed
812,000 gallons of fuel was used
Countries visited:
Hawaii, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, India, Myanmar, Mauritius, Chana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Morocco, Portugal, Germany

Traveling Alone with Asperger’s

In 2016 I took my first trip traveling alone with people I did not know.  In the planning process I assessed my needs which have been on going over the years as travel has become more challenging for me on the spectrum. With good planning it can be a good experience.  

Over the years I have put together my own system in dealing with my anxiety in going through what I call the gauntlet of the TSA system. I make sure that when I leave for the airport everything like my watch, etc is my back pack. The only thing in my hand is my phone, boarding pass, and billfold. I do not wear lace up shoes and I wear special pants that don’t require a belt to be taken off at the airport.  I use Global Entry and pre-check to ease my stress.  I struggle with others not being prepared and that a person has control of my life for several minutes and question my judgment. When my system works I am calm and move with ease as a single traveler. I start packing for my trips a week or two before departure for effective weight management and items to bring.  After I make it through the long lines I use the airline club like Admiral Club with American. I find the yearly membership fee is about what I would pay for food in the terminal during a year of round trips. I find going into a peaceful place with good snacks is well worth being away from the crowds.  
For my trip to Germany and meeting a tour in Italy I found that selecting a good, upscale tour company is a great help.  The first thing I did to make my trip enjoyable was to travel business class to have plenty of room to be relaxed.  I felt very calm compared to being cramped on a long trip in economy class with lots of anxiety.  While others are boarding the plane I am already relaxed in my seat. Making the change of flights in Europe was easy for me as a business class passenger. I spent a day in Berlin and researched a man that gave a guided tour alone with no other folks. This allowed more concentration on what we were seeing and not having to worry about other’s needs. I was met at the train station and he made sure I got the right train back to Hamburg.  
My trip to Italy was with a tour company called A&K, a first class company and worth the extra money that I paid to keep my anxiety levels down. We were a group of 5 people with a guide.  The guide called us her kids and made sure everyone was engaged with the sights and comfortable with our personal needs in the accommodations. The hotels that we stayed at were selected by A&K. The places we dined at in each local city were arrogated by the tour director who knew the owners. We were always welcomed like friends. A&K also offered some local experiences that were great to meet and see folks off the tourist path. We went to a farm where cheese was made, dinner at a local resident home for the evening, learned how to make pasta in a cooking school, learned how to make pizza in a local restaurant.  The group had a husband and wife and a mother and daughter.  The hard part was being the odd man in the trip. There were times when we had alone time to do what we wanted and that was hard for me to plan in a unknown city.  I would stay close to the hotel to avoid being taken advantage of.  At times I would ask the married couple if I could join them to go shopping or to eat a meal.  When I did eat alone in the hotel restaurant I would manage to get into a conservation with people at a nearby table to make my meal more enjoyable.  Being on the spectrum some days I was just over loaded and I had to meet my own needs by taking a rest while the group was going through a museum with a long line,  making sure I go to bed the same time every night, drink plenty of water, good shoes, and aback pack with what I may need in a day, including power bars.  
 I learned in purchasing souvenirs and gifts to buy things that are small enough to pack, carry an extra bag in luggage for any over flow, and ask about shipping it back home for me. I did that with a couple of things and worth the money.  No checked bag fees, no customs issues, no hassle carrying it on the plane.  A must for me in the future. The other folks in my group had to drag stuff around from bus to bus, to hotel to hotel.   
On the day of departure from Italy I was escorted to the airport to navigate the customs for my tax refund on items purchased and to get checked in. Having an escort that knew the tax official kept my stress level down.
Once through the security process and passport control, I headed to the lounge. Back in the US, I used my global entry, with paperwork filled out for items purchased, which made it easy to go through the TSA process with recheck. Being back in Philadelphia airport was familiar. I had a car pick me and went back to my apartment with ease.