Mel, a parent to three autistic teenagers and  Co-Founder of Different Journeys, has given a unique insight into the challenges of traveling as a family, and the value of traveling with that little extra support from Interchange Outer East. Whether it’s for a second pair of eyes, extra flexibility, someone to lend an ear, or a chance to have a night out without the kids, there are many advantages to joining an IOE overseas adventure as a family!

‘Traveling can be challenging yet exciting and it is a rite of passage which many people just assume everyone can access. However for many families who have children with additional needs, this can present many problems that actually prevents you from even trying to travel.

In 2017 we tried our first family holiday overseas by ourselves when we went to America. There was so much planning and preparation involved and we still couldn’t plan for every contingency. This becomes an added challenge for families, making what should be an enjoyable time, quiet stressful. In reflection this holiday was successful and we had a good time.

When the chance of a supported holiday came up, we committed with trepidation. We didn’t have total control – that was the job of Interchange Outer East (aka Fred). What if we didn’t get on with the other families on the trip? What if their children were better behaved than ours? These were just a few of the questions roaming around our heads.

We had to have our own meetings with Michelle from Spot on travel to ensure that all the needs of our children were met. I’m sure we were driving Fred mad with all the extra organisation etc.

So in the early hours of January 5th we arrived at Melbourne Airport with 14 other people. In fact, there were 6 diagnosed autistic people on the trip. There was excitement in the air and can I say when we arrived back home on the 20th January we were all still talking, laughing and planning our next trip together.

What did we learn as a family;

– There are more families out there with similar issues to ours, the journey doesn’t have to be so lonely if we all reach out and talk openly and freely;
– We had time to go and do our own thing if we didn’t want to go with the group. This included staying and just doing nothing at our hotel
– We could have support for the first time with the extra support that was offered on the trip. There were times we went out by ourselves as a couple, or with the other parents on the trip without children.
– There was safety in numbers if the children wanted to do things with the others in the group and we didn’t. It alleviated many an argument that would have previously occurred.
– We were able to feel included and supported and in essence not so alone
– We created positive, happy memories (except if you ask our daughter who was keeping notes on her family members and all the silly things they did)
– We were able to laugh with others and ourselves and strengthen existing friendships and create new ones.

The opportunity provided by interchange to have a supported holiday was amazing and very much appreciated. The support staff (Fred, Fay, Ryan, Sarah & Tom) were wonderful in the support, help, friendship & comradeship they provided. Nothing was a burden. To us they were just part of the holiday, not support workers.

Whilst we have been able to have successful holidays in the past in spite of all the work, preparation & stress that comes with planning a holiday for three ASD teens, we have never experienced a trip where we have been given so much assistance just to enjoy a ‘normal’ family holiday, with both the kids and with each other as a couple. To be able to relax by the pool or leave the kids in a motel room whilst we had a meal has been something we have rarely, if ever, done in the pas … what a revelation!!!!!

We can’t thank IOE enough for the chance to do this and are actively thinking about what other adventures Fred can take us on!!’

The Wheatfill Family