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Traveling with Tommy: Disrupting the Routine of the Autistic Child

Flickr Creative Commons / Massachusetts Office of Travel & TourismBoy, did we learn our lesson. We’ve always been able to travel with Tommy, our autistic child, but this time, we ran into trouble.

Autistic kids generally like routine. When Tommy was younger, around six to nine, we could create routine for him. On this trip, at age 11, he exhibited a mind of his own, and it was difficult for us to build that cocoon of normalcy round him.

We ventured to Florida over spring break. The weather was nice, i.e., the sun was out, but it was a bit cool, in the 60s. In years gone by, we could have coaxed our son into the unheated swimming pool, but not this time. Tommy wouldn’t leave the room. He didn’t like the remodeling that was going on. The whole hotel was being redone. It was quite noisy.

The problem was we’d picked a cheap hotel, the cheapest we could find. And as the saying goes, you get what you pay for.  Many hotels would close for renovation, but not this one. Workmen hammered and sawed away. The place was a virtual construction site.

Probably the worst moment occurred when we were sleeping. Suddenly, we were all awakened by loud groaning. At first, I thought someone was on the toilet with a severe stomachache. As the moans got louder and much worse, I decided some woman might be trying to deliver a baby.

Tommy yelled, “What’s that?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

And then, it dawned on me. How could I be so naive? The lady and her partner were having sex. But there was pain in that moan. It sounded like rough sex.

Better hotels usually don’t draw this kind of sexually free-as-a-bird clientele. People are more refined, quieter in their natural processes. People have some dignity. But not at this place.

We’d never seen so many rednecks in all our lives. They had all seemed to come down from the North on their motorcycles and in their pickups and selected this hotel to reside in for a week.

On day four of our stay, we’d decided we’d had enough. We were moving to a classier, more expensive hotel, down the street. It was worth it to pay the extra money.

In our three-day stay at the cheapie hotel other bad things had happened: the toilet busted; they’d turned off the water for a day; the TV went out; the WIFI had disappeared.

I don’t have autism; I can put up with “minor” issues such as these. But by Wednesday night Tommy was extremely upset. The routine he was craving just wasn’t here.

At the second motel, things went smoother. We all got a good night’s sleep, and Tommy relaxed.

Here’s the lesson we learned: with an autistic kid, sometimes, you can’t go the cheapest way. Word to the wise. Bite the bullet and pay for a decent hotel, or a decent “whatever.” You and your child will be much happier.

Autistic children often form obsessions. When Tommy was little, he was obsessed with chandeliers and ceiling fans. Whenever he saw either of these, he flew into a frenzy. He loved to take pictures of fans and chandeliers with the little camera his aunt had purchased him. This obsession lasted a couple of years.

Next, came helium balloons. Whenever we’d go to the grocery store, Tommy wanted us to purchase balloons. He loved the smiley faces on them; the range of colors they came in. They even came in different shapes. Our home was full of helium balloons, floating everywhere.  

When he got older, he became obsessed with video games, particularly Mine Craft and Angry Birds. He’d play these for hours until we’d shoo him off the computer and make him play outside.

At eleven, his current obsession was claw machines. This was an unfortunate one because as everyone knows, the claw machine is a ridiculous waste of money. They engineer the machines to drop the cheap toys and trinkets, causing the player to dump more and more quarters into the game.

Whenever we go to a restaurant that features a claw machine, Tommy must play. He must have dumped $100 into claw machines over the years, but he’d never won a thing.

Well, this time, while we were down in Florida, Tommy plucked a toy bear out of a machine.

He shouted, “I got it!” He could not contain his joy. The whole restaurant started laughing, and applauding his success. My kid had finally won a prize out of a claw machine!

For a moment, amid all of the applause and laughter in the seafood restaurant, Tommy was famous. Successful. It was rare moments like these that made all the pain, uncertainty and misunderstanding of autism worth it.

Parents of autistic children: you to will have these peak moments.

Tommy is a hell of a kid. I love him just the way he is.

Looking back, it was times like these I was happy to be alive.

Traveling with Tommy: Disrupting the Routine of the Autistic Child

Laura Yeager

Laura Yeager has been writing for over 35 years. Some of her favorite topics include mental health, writing, religion, parenthood, dogs, and her day-to-day life. She is a mental health writer for Her articles about writing have appeared in The Writer Magazine, The Toastmaster Magazine, and Her spiritual writing has been featured in several venues including Aleteia USA, Busted Halo, The Liguorian Magazine, Canticle Magazine and Guideposts Magazine. A graduate of The Writers' Workshop at The University of Iowa, Laura teaches writing at Kent State University and online Creative Writing at Gotham Writers' Workshop in New York.

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APA Reference
Yeager, L. (2018). Traveling with Tommy: Disrupting the Routine of the Autistic Child. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 2 Nov 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.