Travel helps kids. Full stop. I just want to throw that out there. If you haven’t read about the magic that travel sometimes brings, or the amazing developmental changes our family has experienced, then you may be thinking that I am being silly. But really, today I want to talk about travel as it helps kids to become who they are meant to be, and that is, unstoppable.
Today, the world will celebrate a very special day dedicated to supporting girls in standing up for their rights and make their voices heard: International Day of the Girl. In fact, 2019 is a major milestone for this day, because it marks 25 years since the groundbreaking conference that focused on gender empowerment, reproductive health, and gender equality.
This year’s theme of International Day of the Girl is Girlforce: Unscripted and Unstoppable. According to a publication from Unicef, “Today, girls are moving from dreaming to achieving. More are attending and completing school, fewer are getting married or becoming mothers while still children, and more are gaining the skills they need to excel in the future world of work. Girls are breaking boundaries and barriers posed by stereotypes and exclusion, including those directed at children with disabilities and those living in marginalized communities. As entrepreneurs, innovators and initiators of global movements, girls are leading and fostering a world that is relevant for them and future generations.”
I’ve been thinking about these terms “unscripted” and “unstoppable” when it comes to breaking the boundaries posed by exclusion due to disability. My mission, my passion, as always been a truly inclusive society, where girls, and boys for that matter, can exist in a world that is made for them. Right now, we are making progress, but true inclusion has a long way to go.
Our contribution to this fight is to make the world accessible to families and individuals with disability. For every child we help to see the world, we are giving them a skill and an experience that will set them apart from their peers.
But you might be asking, does travel really change my child that much?
I am so glad you asked! Have you read my story yet?
To recap, our son Aidan is ten and is challenged by autism, ADHD, SPD, anxiety, and a host of medical difficulties. For the first five years of his life he was non-verbal, not toilet-trained, tube-fed, and sensory averse. Thanks to the power of travel, within six months, all of that changed.
He became conversational, toilet trained, made friends, and started eating, all because we challenged him with new environments on a regular basis. We continue to travel with him, and each time we push him to do something outside of his comfort zone, his confidence grows and he is happier.
One of the reasons we are in the business of helping families travel with a special needs child is that we are passionate about helping other families reap the benefits of travel like we have. Our son’s changes were extreme, definitely. However, we want to help all children – those with specials needs or not – become more confident, thrive in their own lives, and develop a bigger, more compassionate view of the world.
Travel helps kids become unscripted.
Families who are able to travel together give their children priceless gifts. It does not matter if you are flying to Japan or road-tripping it to the state next door, your children get to experience new cultures, different ways of life, and new people who may not be at all like them. They gain world values, a sense of their place in the world, and the practice of being independent.
If you are the parent to a child with autism, you understand that change can be hard on children. Our children like routines and rituals, where they feel safe and predictable. But, as citizens of the world, we know that change in life is inevitable. We cannot predict what will happen to us. And how do we teach our children how to handle the unexpected and create coping strategies to deal with the inevitable?
Many children cope by scripting, repeating phrases or sentences that they have heard or been told as a way to deal with the stress of change. Others find ways to keep routine in place when situations are changing.
In our family, we teach Aidan to be flexible by traveling. Travel requires him to eat different foods and sleep in strange places. Travel requires him to try experiences he may be too frightened to try. Travel forces him to face his anxiety and figure out how to overcome that anxiety independently.
When you are traveling, you can help your child experience changes to their basic routines with you by their side by doing other activities they love first, and challenging them second. With each successful trip, you can help your child learn that while their routine may not always be consistent, they can be safe in a variety of situations. It takes away their script for a minute and lets them live a life unscripted.
Travel helps kids become unstoppable.
When your child learns that there is a bigger world beyond their environment, they learn to dream bigger. They see new possibilities for what their life could look like. They become motivated to help certain causes, related to people and places that they have visited.
Traveling with kids also helps them embrace diversity. Whether they are traveling to another country or another part of the United States, they will encounter people who are different. Even within regions of our own country they will hear different accents and meet different types of people. And as they encounter people with different features or skin color or accents, they will learn that people are also quite similar in terms of their goals in life, their dreams, their needs.
Small Things Add up to Big Things
There is not necessarily a one-to-one correlation between traveling and helping the quality of life for girls in developing countries. But with every child who learns to appreciate other cultures, or who takes an interest in a cause that is bigger than themselves, is a step in the right direction.
Maybe that snorkeling trip leads to a career in marine biology. Maybe that ride on Small World is the spark that leads to international travel. Maybe a ride on a roller coaster develops into a love of physics and technology. Maybe that trip to a national monument inspires your child to become a professor of history. Or maybe your child simply ends up being someone who accepts other people, respects their humanity, and helps them also be unscripted and unstoppable.