One thing is for sure: travel is the ultimate educator, guide, coach and friend you could ever have. The changes I have witnessed in my daughter are amazing, she is more sociable, confident and loves adventures. Thriving on change and new experiences.
I’m traveling to the forests of the world with my 8-year-old daughter Iris Grace. When she was diagnosed with severe autism at 2 years old, I couldn’t have imagined 6 years later we would be going on adventures like this one. It all started with following her interests and learning to live in the moment, watching and listening to understand how she experiences the world. Each trip is tailored to Iris’s interests and we educate her during the journey as well as building on her self-care and life skills. She learns in a real way that means something to her, that is flexible and free-flowing. I am documenting the journeys inspiring others, showing them the beauty in our world that needs to be protected for future generations.
We believe ‘Different is Brilliant’, raising positive awareness for autism. It’s about following the lead of your child and building on strengths instead of focusing on the weaknesses.
Iris’s love of nature is the foundation of her development, the inspiration for her paintings and where I have found she learns best. Our latest adventure was in April 2018, a 2-week road trip in Greece, visiting forests that are some of Europe’s oldest self-planted beech and oaks, ancient ruins, beautiful beaches, olive groves & historic cities.
More info: irisgracepainting.com
Our 2 week Road Trip in Greece
We were studying ancient Greece in Iris’ home education and I wanted to engage her more in the subject. As I researched Greece, I realised that there was so much to explore in the country beyond the typical tourist sites, masses of natural landscapes where she could be free and happy to explore. It’s a safe country to travel in and they are very kind and welcoming to children.
Iris walking confidently through markets in Athens
Although, like many children with autism, Iris needed stillness and routine, there was an undeniable traveler’s spirit emerging in her. She was filled with a curiosity that was no longer satisfied by her paintings, or the books that used to be her fortress in the confusion of autism. My old home-schooling system of pre-set topics and themes seemed not to be as powerful as it had been: Iris seemed to learn better on the spot and in the moment. She was changing, and my methods needed to transform along with her.
We visited the incredible Meteora monasteries rising like ecclesiastical eagles’ nests
In many ways, this realisation that Iris could cope with more than we had understood felt liberating. Would it be possible to expand the horizons as far as foreign adventures? But it was also daunting. How far could we take a child whose challenges are clear to see in everyday life? Although Iris was now able to speak and read, her limited ability to converse and socialise were obstacles that couldn’t be ignored. Her behaviour when things went awry was becoming more difficult to manage as she grew taller and stronger. What would happen if she became unable to cope so far from home and her familiar comforts? Might it be possible to take Thula, her cat, on trips, and if not, how would Iris cope without her? How would their relationship change? How far should I try to push past what seemed possible: would the potential benefits outweigh the difficulties?
These monasteries are among the most awe-inspiring religious sites on earth
Autism is a way of being, functioning, and seeing the world. It isn’t something to be fixed or cured but we can help people on the spectrum find it easier to negotiate a world that has become very difficult for them. With support and understanding, anything is possible and there can be a bright future. Remembering that we all function differently and perceive life in our own way, so how can there be a one size fits all approach? We need to understand each person as an individual, not just a diagnosis. It’s incredibly complex as it’s constantly changing and developing as life goes on from moment to moment.
Spent time playing by the turquoise waters in the lush forest valleys
Happily playing and interacting with friends
We saw her open up and enjoy herself in the center of the community
Trying different activities and meeting new people
Playing with musicians, chatting with the locals built on Iris’s confidence
And we watched in delight as she overcame fears
Discovering the epic tales of heroes
Enjoying the view
At times it would all get too much, so I gave her time
Even great little explorers need to be held
And for someone to listen to her worries
Nature has its way of calming and releasing her troubles
She enjoys the peace and tranquility
The freedom of the sandy beaches
Colourful wild flowers
And mind blowing tiny creatures
Curious machinery at the Olive Farm
The spectacular Vikos Gorge with its magical turquoise waters was another memorable sight and a place for exploration for Iris
Image credits: www.eyeem.com
Then dreaming of more adventures
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