Embracing the obsession while traveling with autistic son

Robbie Day, who has autism and is obsessed with Legos, at the home of Lego in Billund, Denmark. Traveling with someone affected by autism is a live-and-learn-and-enjoy experience. CYNTHIA ORR DAY
Robbie Day, who has autism and is obsessed with Legos, at the home of Lego in Billund, Denmark. Traveling with someone affected by autism is a live-and-learn-and-enjoy experience. CYNTHIA ORR DAY
Posted: May 28, 2012

If you have ever traveled with a child with autism, you know you must bring along the obsession. For my son, 14, it is Legos. But rather than just carry them (though we did), we made it our destination — we traveled to Billund, Denmark, home of the Lego company and source of all things Lego.

Our journey of seven days included four in Denmark and three in London, since Lego is designing a Big Ben kit.

Traveling for a child on the autism spectrum isn’t impossible, but even for a high-functioning child, the issues must be considered, teased apart, and reimagined in a foreign setting.

After two days wandering the beautiful but chilly streets of Copenhagen off season (Tivoli was closed), eating fish along the picturesque Nyhaven waterfront and crepes along Stroget, the longest pedestrian shopping area in Europe, we rented a car and drove the three hours to Billund. The route included a bridge crossing of indigo-blue waters mixing the Baltic with the North Sea.

Thanks to a wonderful connection we’d made, we were treated to an insider’s tour of the mini-figure factory and the private Lego museum by two Lego designers, Mark Stafford and Megan Rothrock. There we saw Legos from the earliest toys created by Lego founder Ole Kirk Christiansen to today’s production lines. LegoLand Denmark, featuring a mini-land of famous buildings copied in Legos from all over Europe and America, was right next door, with a spot-on child-friendly hotel where we stayed.

We continued on to London, where we ate loads of “chips” (the typical white food of autism) and traipsed across the city via the Tube to see castles, churches, the Eye, and of course, Big Ben.

Traveling with someone affected by autism is a live-and-learn experience. Much is what you would do for a neuro-typical child. But with autism, failure can lead to days of disaster. To accommodate my son’s autism, I learned I must try to position him on the airplane far from a baby’s cry. Where most can tune out a baby, he cannot, and it becomes like the handle of an emotional-breakdown ratchet.

Do plan downtime in the hotel room. Don’t plan too much in a day. Allow for lots of sleep. Sore feet can become the obsession du jour, so be careful with your child’s shoe choice. Have emergency meet-up points at every stop to reduce anxiety, and be prepared for the typical wandering that can accompany autism. Don’t move too slowly. Moving faster helps keep up the interest level. If you love dining out, bring along a Kindle DX or similar electronic device. It may be just what it takes to get you to your happy place and your child successfully through the dinner. Explain all routines ahead of time.

And don’t forget: Enjoy yourself, too!

To comment, e-mail TravelTalk@phillynews.com.

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