How I helped prepare my autistic son for his first a trip abroadAug 31, 2022
How we helped Sebastian prepare for the trip to Helsinki
Here in the Angel household, we did different things this summer.
Typically every summer, we spend a few weeks near Barcelona with my parents (that’s where I am from originally).
But not this summer!
One of my nieces got married in Helsinki, Finland, where she lives, and she invited us to the wedding. While we were all super excited about that, my husband and I were also worried about travelling with my autistic son Sebastian.
When Sebastian was little, we travelled abroad a couple of times (not to our usual destination Barcelona), which never went well. Sebastian didn’t enjoy being in a new place, having a different routine, food, etc. He was very unsettled on those trips, which was stressful for us too.
Since then, we decided to keep it simple, and we just did holidays in Barcelona with my parents (no complaints about that :-). When he travels to see my parents, he is familiar with the environment, the people, and the food, and we have a bit of a routine there, so it’s a stress-free break for all of us.
When my niece invited us to her wedding, we wondered: is Sebastian ready to travel to new places?
He turned 13 this summer and has grown and matured a lot since those early two trips. We spoke to him and decided to travel to my niece’s wedding. Wahey!
Months before the trip, we helped Sebastian prepare as much as possible to reduce the stress that all those changes could bring him.
These are some of the things we did before we travelled:
- We told Sebastian well in advance about the trip. Immediately he had a lot of worries: I don’t speak the language, where will we stay, how long are we going for, etc. That gave us plenty of opportunities to provide him with as much information as possible, so he started feeling safe as he knew what would happen.
- We booked our stay with a well-known international chain of hotels, so the hotel was similar to the hotels we have stayed at in Ireland.
- Weeks before the trip, we went online and looked at photos of all the places we would visit: our hotel and the venues where the different wedding celebrations would take place.
- Eating out is a significant issue for him when travelling abroad as Sebastian’s diet is very restricted. Since my niece lives in Helsinki, she gave us names of a few restaurants he could enjoy.
- As Sebastian is a picky eater, to say the least, we wanted to make sure there was going to be food he liked at the wedding festivities. We spoke to my niece, and she kindly made arrangements for him.
- Sebastian and I spoke about the plans for each day in Helsinki. All the wedding events were well planned, but for the rest of the time there, we decided we were going to explore the city.
- Sebastian is anxious when travelling by plane, so we made sure we had what makes him feel safe and calm on the plane: his headphones, iPad charged and a movie downloaded, chewing gum, snacks, and travel sickness bands (they help!). We also availed of Dublin airport facilities for autistic people to avoid the unusual long queues.
When the day arrived, we were all excited to travel.
Although John and I would have loved to do all the touristy things in Helsinki, our main priority was for the kids to have a memorable trip. We visited The Rock Church (Carved out of the rock) and the National History Museum, strolled by the Esplanadi and went on the Big Wheel. All fun stuff.
My children were delighted to meet all their family on the days of the wedding celebrations. There was a quiet area in both venues where kids could relax, and we let Sebastian go whenever he needed to.
We were in Helsinki for five days and had a fabulous time.
John and I were delighted to see how well Sebastian coped with everything; Sebastian even said he wanted to return to Finland again. This was a significant achievement for us as a family.
When Sebastian was little, even things like going for a coffee, a picnic, or a family Christmas dinner were difficult for him and us, but at 13, he did his first stress-free new-country-city break! Isn’t that fantastic?
He just needed time to grow and learn about the world.
With time and the support of his family, teachers and SNAs, he did indeed achieve this!