Vacations and the HFA

Since I’ve started writing this blog, one of my goals has been to find topics not covered. Anybody can write about eye contact after all. Relationships are an area I refuse to touch. No, I’m looking for the very specific experiences that get overlooked.

Vacations are one.

Before I get into this, I want to stress something. I am grateful for having had the experiences I had growing up of course. I got to go to some cool places and I’m glad for that. I’ll never forget those trips. But this is a place to really explore issues and I’d be lying to say I wasn’t a complete asshole at times on most of my family’s trips.

So let me lay out a basic thesis: HFAs are not travelers, at least not as kids. Of course we’re not. We don’t like leaving our comfort zones. We don’t like having our routine upset. If you’re a kid then vacations are a time when you have zero control over your life. You might get to voice what you want but you sure as hell aren’t guaranteed it. Also, the less I can say about getting to the destination the better. Long car rides are not for the autistic.

As I said, I wasn’t always the easiest on trips growing up and for good reason. My idea of a dream vacation was going to bookstores but there was no way the rest of my family shared that desire. And I should stress, that crankiness over vacations not being like that? It didn’t stop at say 12. I have memories up through 18 I feel guilt over.

Much of this stemmed from lack of control. I’ve mentioned this before but that was much of why I hated being a kid. I could do nothing. Vacations were where that came out in full force. At least as a kid I had my room. But here I was completely exposed for upwards of 6-7 days. That fries you.

One thing that always drove me nuts was the drive. With the exception of a wonderful trip to Hot Springs in 2001, trips for the Shinn family meant 8-9 hours in the car. That was sheer sensory stimulation. Typically I brought books but only when I was 18 and we went to Gulf Shores did it hit me to bring new ones. I read some great stuff that trip. Otherwise, that was my limited shield from having a younger brother, sister, and parents in a car. That can be hard.

As I said, control over what we could/could not do was limited. Sure, I would rather go to every shop but even I know that’s kinda stupid. However, I was still me. So I wanted to go. I definitely made restaurants hell. I still do btw. No Chinese or Italian. I wanted control and I had none.

All of this is to make the situation sound bad. So here’s the thing: it’s not. I talked to my mother before writing this and she pointed out how well behaved I was on trips. And she was right. Ultimately a lot of my memories were of isolated incidents. And here is the real truth: I liked going on trips. It might have presented obstacles. But I did have fun.

Ironically it occurs to me that for the minefields vacations present, we present benefits on trips. We’re quiet and obedient. We might fight for what we want but we don’t tire too easily. We don’t get cranky.  We’re weirdly good at self medication through focusing on other things. And we do enjoy the hell out of activities.

And ultimately this is something to stress: vacations are good for us. They expand us and they test us. They give us memories we will never forget. The little minor stuff we face on it becomes just minor in retrospect. I got to see Chicago, Indianapolis, New Mexico, all of Texas, and the Gulf Coast as I traveled as a kid. As an adult I’ve gone back to Chicago, throughout Missouri, Memphis so often it doesn’t count, Dallas, Oklahoma, and Denver.

So stretch, stretch I say.

And yes, I’ve taken my dream trips to do nothing but book shopping. And they were awesome. But they had an unexpected effect. I wound up seeing most of the Dallas Metroplex going from store to store. That was awesome. I had a full experience that way.

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