Travelling on the spectrum
I chose to write this piece because of many comments I’ve received over the years regarding my love of travelling. For some people it is a shock when they find out I am on the Autism Spectrum. I don’t know why; maybe it is because of the general thoughts that the word Autism conjures up in people’s minds.
I am often faced with comments from people such as :
” you must be very high on the spectrum because you travel alone all the time with no worry”
” my ( insert relationship) is on the spectrum and can’t even go out of the house by their self”
I often don’t know if people are generally curious or if they are using their words as a way to insult me.
Yes I enjoy “galavanting” around Australia to see shows and catch up with people but what many don’t know is not only was there a long journey to get me where I am today in regards to independence but also that I have been “galavanting” long before my frequent attendance of the theatre.
In 2005 I had just finished High School the previous November and was due to begin a TAFE course up in Nambour on the Sunshine Coast. I don’t have recollections of travelling alone before then on public transport; so I am starting from here.
I lived with my family in Moffat Beach a suburb of Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast. Mum ( who is a very smart lady) had worked out that the easiest and most efficient way for me to attend my classes would be by bus which stopped at the TAFE.
To help me become acquainted with travelling on public transport my mum began by driving me down to the closest bus stop. She taught me how to read the timetable, how to hail the bus correctly and skills such as buying my ticket from the driver ( long before the plastic card system). When I first started doing this without mum there, mum would write on a piece of paper what kind of ticket I wanted and my destination so I could show this to the bus driver.
I became quite apt at travelling this route that I had it memorised street by street; on the way home I even worked out how long I could nap for on the ridiculously long journey that went through nearly every suburb between Nambour and Caloundra. I remember convincing the bus driver to drop me off adjacent to our street at a non existent bus stop because it was easier then walking from down the road. Funnily enough years later while walking ( we had since moved) I realised they had placed a permanent bus stop in that exact place.
Without the help of my mum’s ideas such as writing notes to the bus driver for when I became anxious or unable to speak; I would definitely not be where I am today. At one stage I had a folder with the timetables for every bus route on the Sunshine Coast inside. My room would always be the first place mum would look if dad’s work refidex went missing as for some reason I enjoyed reading it, which is rather funny because :
A) I still suck at reading them
B) I have the worst sense of direction and have at times managed to get people lost going to my own house.
Over the years I would use the methods mum had put into place to get me around. I would travel various places such as The Sunshine Coast, various suburbs of Brisbane , the Gold Coast and Laidley to meet up with Lorraine Ashton Classic Circus on the lot they were showing on.
It wasn’t till many years later that I would use what I had learnt to travel interstate for soccer grand finals. (One thing I learnt though is to tell my mum where I was even when I no longer lived at home; receiving lectures on the phone when you tell your mum that you would love to come over for dinner tonight but you are currently sitting in a football stadium in Sydney is not fun). I also attended gymnastics competitions both in QLD and interstate and of course later musical theatre trips.
Here are a few methods I still use today that may help:
-plan out a trip:
write down a draft schedule ( remember plans can always change,for me this was a huge lesson to learn but important) with daily travel plans and activities.
how are you getting there ?
It is so much easier today with the internet and online journey planners.
*Write down or screen cap the journey such as bus and trains
* Look at your destination on a map or sites such as whereis
*If you have time, take what I call a mock journey; go on the journey and familiarise yourself with your start/end points, landmarks etc
*take photos of the timetables at your stops.
-familiarise yourself with your destination:
*google is your best friend
*don’t be afraid to send emails to venues, people etc to ask questions if it will make it a less stressful visit.
*don’t be afraid to stop and ask for directions
*once again if you have time, go visit it will take the stress and anxiety out of trying to find a new venue on the day.
I learnt this one the hard way; when traveling to a destination I had not been to before I decided to leave it all to the moment. Long story short ( rather funny now)I went into an anxiety attack trying to find a theatre and had to stop and ask a couple of ladies who were also unsure, only to have the friend I was meeting walk up behind me. Found out I was only around the corner from where I was going.
*buy tickets online for any places that need them
*don’t be afraid to ask questions
*many cities in Australia now have a touristy type bus where you can get on/ off – it is also a cool way to familiarise yourself with a new city.
What if I have an anxiety attack?
*always have people you can talk to if you need to even if it is by phone/ messenger.
*find a spot that you are comfortable in to use as a spot to calm down
As much as I like to travel, I am still ridiculously bad in regards to directions and spacial awareness / depth perception but I don’t let this hold me back. If we let our fears hold us back from getting out there we will not see anything.
Here are some photos of my galavanting
( just for fun)