Grace was born with an extra chromosome. While this means she cannot read, do math, or hold a job like you and I can, it doesn’t mean she can’t travel. Life is full of limitations. All of us must decipher between the limits we must accept and the ones we can weasel around to grasp something greater.
As a mother of a Down Syndrome child, my mom sought and struggled to find beneficial programs within Grace’s capabilities. While some special needs programs were out there, they were either unattainable by decade long wait lists or mostly unsuitable.
Special Olympics has been long favored and continues to thrive as a perfect outlet for people with disabilities. These Special Olympic sports are conscientiously designed to account for physical and mental restraints. Focused on what is possible, the games become an opportunity for personal success, fun, and improvement.
Travel is like this. For 10 months, travel has proven to be the best facilitator for Grace’s personal growth and health.
Although our permanent life on the road is a better option, it is still difficult. But the challenges of caring for a handicapped daughter and sister will always be present. We could let her stagnate at home or get her out and stimulated.
In foreign countries with new sights, new smells, ways of life and transportation, Grace is constantly being stretched. And she has handled it quite well! Whether is it a strange door knob or riding a camel through the Sahara Desert, Grace is being forced to think, strategize, and problem solve. Keeping her mind alert has been key in fighting her dementia and Alzheimer’s.
If you are considering travel (of any kind) with a person of special needs, I do believe it could broaden your options for a good life. As in our story, sometimes the options offered at home are not enough. If I could give a piece of input for your adventure, it would be to remember that you are the advocate for your member with special needs. You must be strong as a delegator to say yes and no.
Say no when other travelers pressure you to travel differently or faster than you are comfortable with. If going slowly means Grace will be able to participate in something new, then my mom and I are all for it. Know those limits. Don’t bother too much with what guide books say you must see and do.
But don’t forget the strengths. Sometimes you’ll have to reach for it if you know an opportunity will be good.
During our three weeks in Morocco, we took a tour through the stunning High Atlas Mountains and then down near the Algerian border to the Sahara Desert. Our second night was to be spent sleeping under the stars in the desert with the nomadic Bedouins. We would arrive by camel.
The camel ride would only be about an hour and a half and in the cool of the evening. My mom knew Grace could do it. Grace loves horses and a camel is basically a desert horse, right? But the leading Bedouin guide refused to let Grace join when he saw her. He did not want the responsibility for her.
We were told Grace could take the 4×4 jeep instead, but what kind of experience would that be? My mom advocated for Grace to take the camel and won out in the end. Our wonderful tour group members assisted and encouraged Grace the whole way. She was extremely proud of herself. After a long night spent in the desert, we recognized a limit and took Grace on the 4×4 for the journey back.
As important as experiences are, be sure to know what your goals are for traveling with your member of special needs. It’s a great feeling when you realize you are accomplishing them.
For us, one goal is to simply get Grace out walking every day. In this area we have had huge success. On downer, blue days, it is nice to look at how much is really being accomplished in the small things. Grace was getting overweight at home, but from carrying her backpack and traversing hundreds of towns and cities, she is looking in shape again.
Another main ideal for our travels was for Grace to receive a lot of positive, loving interaction from travelers and friends that we would make on the road. We have been blessed to be able to say it has happened. We’ve met a good deal of wonderful souls who have taken time to color, listen to music, talk, and just spend time with my sister.
We also stick to the well-trodden backpacker path. We feel it is safer and fitted up to Grace’s travel ability level. That doesn’t mean our travels are comfortable or easy, but the backpacker path has provided an ideal way to travel without too much unnecessary adventure.
The path to flourishing in life is paved with love and growth. Right now, the best way to get Grace there is through travel.