4 Reasons My Autistic Son’s an Amazing Travel Companion

And how he makes the experience better for the group

Young man in front of fountian
Diego at Bar Harbor’s “Fontana di Trevi”

This summer, my family was supposed to go to South Africa on vacation, a huge deal given that we’ve never been anywhere in Africa and that my son, Diego, who has autism, has long been obsessed with African animals, from the dung beetle to the springbok.

With the pandemic, we obviously cancelled the trip. Actually, we “postponed it” to summer 2021, as Diego often reminds us.

I didn’t plan to go anywhere this summer beyond Connecticut, where we live, and New York City, where my other son, Andres, lives. Last minute, however, I asked my sister if Diego and I could join her on a week long trip to Maine.

I asked knowing she’d say yes even though she’d reserved to stay in places meant for seven, not nine, guests. My six siblings and I are used to crowding more people into a place than the number it’s supposed to accommodate.

Luckily, no adult males other than Diego were going, so we wouldn’t have to worry about needy humans who find it problematic to sleep three to a bed meant for two people or to share a bathroom with nine family members.

Our Maine trip was magical and made me realize what an amazing travel companion Diego is.

For starters, Diego can sleep anywhere, with anyone.

Getting a good night’s sleep is always important and there’s no better person to share a bed with than Diego. Once he lies down, he does not move or get up for at least nine hours.

It’s quite extraordinary. He sleeps as if lying in a coffin. When it gets bright, he’ll cover his eyes with his forearm or pull the sheet over his head. Other than that, he’s still.

Then there’s the refreshing fact that Diego hardly ever complains.

He doesn’t seem to mind situations that typically bother the youth during family trips. He doesn’t ask if we’re there yet or how long till we get there. He doesn’t mind which bed or room he gets — which is great, since he doesn’t have it in him to say no if someone asked him to trade.

He does complain about stuff that normally aggravates him, like not heading out to eat at 7:00 pm when the plan was to go out to eat at 7:00 pm. But such complaints are to be expected and easy to appease.

Diego’s agenda is to be part of the action and group, to spend time with us and have our attention. You’ll never hear him whine that we never do what he wants to do, like I do when our family of four goes on vacation.

Another great thing about Diego is that he’s predictable and follows the rules.

When we set off on the eight-hour journey to Maine, we decided on two rules for the trip: no complaining and having fun. Since rules are for following, as everyone knows but few take to heart the way Diego does, all I had to do if Diego started complaining (which, as explained above, he hardly does) was to remind him of the rules.

Diego’s day has a rhythm. His silly hour is at around 6:30 pm. His constant talking subsides at approximately 7:00 pm, a little while after taking his meds. He gets really sleepy at 8:30 pm and wakes up between 7:30 and 8:30 am.

Finally, Diego’s up for anything. Not only is Diego fine with any plan, he thoroughly enjoys each one. We went to the beach in Acadia National Park and he didn’t hesitate to get in and frolic in the freezing cold (55 ºF, or 13 ºC) Atlantic. We hiked the unexpectedly difficult and quite dangerous Beehive Trail and he happily forged through.

Man in the ocean
Freezing cold water in Acadia
two hikers climbing
Hiking the super steep Beehive trail.

Aunt Lole is going for a walk? Diego will join her. And, if the moment they get back from their walk I decide I now want to go on a walk? Diego will join me too.

Ask him to carry the water bottle, empty the dishwasher, take the garbage out, and you always know his answer will be yes. Lately, he has taken to responding with, “I did it because I love you.”

Yeah, Diego sure knows how to make himself endearing, generalizing the “because I love you” to various situations, such as: “I need to say good-night to dad because I love him,” and “Can you buy me an iced tea because you love me?”

Food’s seldom a problem for Diego, as long as there are gluten-free options, given his Celiac condition. He’s as excited to have french fries from McDonald’s for lunch as he is about seafood stew at the fancy restaurant.

It’s not that outdoor activities just happen to be his thing. He was the same when we went to Rome. He was just as excited about visiting museums and monuments, associating what he beheld to his favorite movies or other things he had seen elsewhere.

In Bar Harbor, he actually said the fountain (the one shown in the picture above) was just like Rome’s Fontana di Trevi.

Diego doesn’t have the safety skills to go out and explore on his own, but that’s OK. He’s game for everything and finds magic in things big and small in all kinds of destinations.

Diego’s certainly a trip.

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