Hi, guys! I know that it has been a couple weeks since I last posted. I was traveling around Italy and Paris for the past three weeks with my family and we just got back last Thursday. This post is special for me to do since I don’t usually write about my personal life. It also is a bit nerve-wracking because I will be writing about my little brothers, Michael and Jack.
They are fraternal twins, seventeen years old, and both of them are on the autism spectrum. They can talk, but their speech intelligibility is still developing. This causes my family and friends, and their amazing teachers and aides to ask them yes or no questions if we don’t immediately catch what they are trying to say.
Despite the fact that they are on the autism spectrum, they are the happiest boys I know and had a blast in Italy and Paris. They were able to go abroad thanks to years of exposing them to different social situations and learning how to help alleviate their sensory issues. For Jack, this sometimes means that we have to make sure that his OCD-like tendency to perseverate is under control since he fixates on pieces of trash on the ground and if something is out of place. Unlike Jack, Michael will need to be comforted if he gets anxious or stressed while waiting in line or will need to step out of a crowd if he feels like he is being overstimulated. We also brought two of our respite workers, Brittany Schmitt and Stacey Hermes, to make sure that the boys were comfortable and safe throughout the entire trip.
During the three weeks my family (my parents, my twin sister Meghan, and my grandparents, Memaw and Poppy) and I were abroad, we all learned how big their capacity to adapt is even though we understood that they would be fine as long as they had their devices (iPads and Nintendo 3Ds).
While we were flying, the boys didn’t get a wink of sleep during our nine-hour flight to Zurich and our one hour flight to Florence (our home base for the trip). It wasn’t because they were having trouble falling asleep. Michael was just chilling, jabbering to himself as he played with his iPad. The one thing that never left his sight (and grip) during the flights was his Olaf plush toy.
Olaf is his favorite Disney character and he has about seven Olaf plush toys. He cuddles with them and likes to hear the catch phrases that one of the Olafs’ says when you try to take it apart. He also uses Olaf as a stress-relief toy since cuddling it allows him to calm down when he is experiencing sensory overload.
Jack, on the other hand, was curious about everything that was happening on the first flight and how we were able to check on our flight’s progress mid-flight. He is very time-oriented and likes to keep to a set schedule when you tell him what he is going to be doing at an exact time. As a result, he enjoyed the flight more than he would have if he couldn’t check how much closer we were getting to Zurich for our connecting flight. In addition, he made all of us (Mom, Dad, Meghan (my twin), Stacey, Britt, and I) laugh when we landed in Zurich by clapping and saying, “We did it!”
When we visited the Vatican, Michael and Jack surprised me. I originally had thought that they would have a hard time with the tour even though we bought skip-the-line tickets for everything since I knew that it was going to be cramped and hot that day. I liked that I was wrong. They listened to their audio guides for as long as they could and managed to keep up with our tour group despite how packed the museums were (over 10,000 people visit each day) and the ungodly heat.
The boys also did well thanks to Brittany and Stacey’s help. At one point, Brittany and Stacey took both of the boys off to the side and Britt had them stand by a fan while our group was stuck in the mass of bodies and smart phones. I still believe that this made a huge difference for the boys because it allowed them to take a moment to acclimate to their surroundings and make it through the rest of the tour.
In addition to showing us how well they could adjust, they also demonstrated that their potential to grow intellectually was greater than what we already knew. Jack and Michael’s vocabulary grew thanks our modeling and transitioning between activities. They learned how to say taxi, metro, and Paris. I tried to teach both of them how to say Italy and I usually heard something that sounded like “Ialy.”
The best moment that demonstrated this was when we found out that Jack knew how to say metro. We had just finished watching the Eiffel Tower’s light show during our first day in Paris and we were sitting near the steps to the metro. Jack noticed the metro sign and pointed toward the stairs as my parents were figuring out what to do next. He told Stacey, “metro,” and let his arm fall back to his side. When Stacey told my mom what happened, she went slack jawed and said in a hushed tone, “You’re kidding me.” It also was a sweet moment since it showed us that this trip had already made a positive impact on them.
The boys’ favorite parts of the trip were whenever we were on the move. The picture above is from our boat cruise on the Seine. They played with the iPods, iPads, and 3DS’ and sang Shania Twain (their favorite singer, hands down). It gave them a semblance of normalcy since they jam out whenever they aren’t playing games on their devices.
After we landed back in Chicago and had gotten past security, I had a cute moment with Michael while we waited for our luggage. He could sense everyone’s anxiety about our luggage since we had flown back from the same airport that had lost eight out of ten of our checked bags when we first arrived in Florence. We got all the bags six hours later but we were still nervous about having to deal with the same thing. Michael let me hold his hand and lean on him for a while. I noticed that he would move every time more luggage would slide down onto the luggage belt. I realized then that he was just as anxious as the rest of us about it and was using his height to his advantage since he is almost my dad’s size.
Overall, the boys were amazing. This trip allowed us to have a deeper insight into how their personal growth was continuing to improve and taught us that we could take them anywhere as long as we make sure that they have enough devices and people checking on them to ensure that they feel comfortable.