Dr. Chris O’Shea & Sherri O’Shea
Let me introduce you to our family. Chris and I, Sherri, live in a small town in rural Ontario, Canada. Chris currently works at a resort and provides first aid to skiers in the winter and teaches downhill mountain biking in the summer. He is also building a business teaching Red Cross First Aid courses. I work for Canada Post. We have two kids who have been diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum – Sebastian (11) and Tryphena (8). They both have Aspergers.
As all parents, with kids on or off the spectrum, we try and provide the best life possible for our children. But as we know, kids on the spectrum can require much more care and attention as they are mildly to severely limited by there ability to cope with the world. This can be in behaviours like trusting everyone or not trusting anyone except family. They can be limited by food texture, colour, smell of food, etc. Sounds, smells, and other sensory input can create a wide range of responses individual to each of our children. As a result, we have to cope with much more advanced preparation when thinking of going somewhere new to hopefully reduce everyone’s stress level.
I enter contests for fun and one day the phone rang and we were told that we had won a trip for 4 to Beaches Ocho Rios (BOR) in Jamaica. When I was sure it was a legitimate call, we were really excited – my best winning before that was a basic sewing machine. Then we became very scared and anxious. How could we travel with our kids who were 6 and 3 at the time.. Sebastian thinks everyone is his friend and Tryphena can obsess on, what to others, seem the simplest of things. We were worried about the airport, the commute to the resort, what would they eat, could they adapt. We almost cancelled the trip, but then we sat down and took a breath. We thought maybe it would be a good opportunity to try when we had the support of the contest people and the resort. We wanted to be like any other family. So we committed to it and worked through our anxieties by reaching out.
We began by contacting the resort and explained our issues with food. They assured us that they could help us and we could speak to the chef when we arrived, They would cook the pasta that the children are used to from home or anything else they would make our stay easier. Between the contest people and the resort, we arranged for my sister to come and paid for her to stay with us as we felt we needed another family member there help with the kids while we did the PR things with the contest people. We even filled a suitcase with food and took it with us as we were worried that they would not eat Jamaican food.
To keep this first post brief, it was a successful family holiday! The staff responded to us very well and our family had a great time. There was the odd up and down but they were minor and now forgotten. But we will never forget how much we were welcomed at Beaches and how it does really feel like our second home. Each time we return, they welcome us home – and it really does feel like home.
On our last trip, we saw Brian Roper, the manager, having a breakfast meeting and we had invited him to visit us at our room. While we chatted we asked about his meeting. He explained that it was an organization – IBCCES – which educates companies about special needs and that Beaches was working with them to help improve how the resort accommodated children who were on the Autism spectrum. We were very supportive and volunteered to provide feedback from our own experiences and concerns. Our offer was accepted and we had a great meeting at the resort and have followed up with phone calls and our offer to be a resource on this site for families who want to talk to someone who has been there and can offer support and answers to questions and concerns. Please feel free to reach out and we will support you with our knowledge of the resort or point you to someone else who can help if we don’t have the answer. You are not alone in wanting to travel and enjoy the wonderful experiences possible with your family.
Some people feel asking for help makes them look silly, but as I always tell people at work or home – no question is silly if you don’t know the answer. We look forward to your questions.
-Sherri & Chris
The O’Sheas are respected parent contributers to Autism Travel.