Autism… and Mexico and Family and Inclusion and…WOW!

“When I asked H to help me with packing today… he got all excited. Turns out he though I asked him about “hacking”… Love that kid! And Yay!! Work at SFU [working at the university] is done – so I am now on HOLIDAY!!!”                July 19, 2012

That is how our trip started out… and yes… we did get all-packed and all-aboard and flew a way down south to just north of Puerto Vallarta for two (you read that right) weeks!

So… when we were planning the trip I had kind of loosely imagined that H would have the opportunity to really connect with some kids as I knew that this time of year our destination would be also be the destination of, primarily, Mexican families. I had also imagined that any social processing challenges might be assumed to be a language difference and that this would potentially level the playing field for him. I know… I’m just a tad diabolical in my thinking!

It’s not easy to be almost 14… and not a part of the neuromajority. At 14 – it is typical that the focus is so much on fitting-in… and naturally H has some anxiety around this as he is able to see the gap between himself and his non Autistic peers. Frequently partnered with his anxiety are responses and reactions that can appear rather less sophisticated than his peers… and it is apparent by their reactions that his peers realize this as well.

But I digress…

In Mexico the children and entire families were interested in connecting with H. We armed him with a tonne of tiny little Canada pins which he wore a few at a time in his hat. He was able to give these away as an icebreaker which provided a social entrance into meeting others. This strategy also supported his growing social confidence as the reaction was invariably positive!

And too… perhaps it is cultural, but there seemed a difference in the families themselves. Many of the vacationers were there with their extended families: young and old interacting in a way that seemed more inclusive and relaxed than what I see at home. It was a joyful atmosphere where it felt like there was an acceptance that children were to be included in all of their family activities and to do so as kids – rather than conditionally – provided they could channel adult-like behaviours.

Here are some of my favourite moments of our adventure. In some of them H is clearly involved and pleased to be with others… in others he is doing his own thing his own way! We were immersed in a world with a slower pace, limited internet access, reduction in social expectation, an overall attitude of acceptance and inclusion, and lots of time to just be!


30 Days of Autism is a project designed to fight stigma, promote civil rights, and increase understanding and acceptance for those who process and experience the world differently.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism, (2012)

About Leah Kelley, Ed.D.

Leah Kelley, M.Ed, Ed.D., Writer, Consultant, Activist, Speaker, and Educator, working with Teacher Candidates at UBC. Authors blog: 30 Days of Autism. Projects support social understanding, Neurodiversity paradigm, Disability Justice, and connecting Disability Studies in Education(DSE)to Educational Practice. Twitter: @leah_kelley Facebook: 30 Days of Autism: Leah Kelley
This entry was posted in acceptance, Anxiety, aproximating typical, Autism, family, fitting in, Journey, Parent and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Autism… and Mexico and Family and Inclusion and…WOW!

  1. When I lived in Thailand for several months, I did not know I was on the spectrum yet, but I did notice that people were more accepting of me there. Some of my traits that might have seemed odd to Americans seemed interesting to Thais. I had dozens of Thai friends while I was there and went on camping trips and vacations with some of them. Thai culture is known for being very tolerant of social differences. I truly believe that culture plays a big role in social expectations and how accepting people are of those who stray from the norm. Some cultures are more rigid and others much more accepting. And in most cultures (but not all), foreigners are allowed to be more different than locals because they are not as familiar with the culture. I have tried to find studies of how culture affects people’s perception of autistic traits, but I have never been able to find any. But I think such studies would be really important in learning more about autism, because I believe that people’s idea of “normal” development in behavior, language, social skills and even cognitive and sensory processing can be influenced by culture much more than people think. In other words, culture determines “normal” much more than human nature does.


    • Leah Kelley says:

      Yes! Brilliant! I thank you for your comment and wonderful eloquence! Interesting to hear about your experience in Thailand.Honestly, I couldn’t help but wonder how my child would fare and develop in a place where he was viewed as more included in the range of what is expected behaviour… and more free to just “be.” I hope we will be able to keep a bit of that with us always!


  2. Missus Tribble says:

    What fantastic pictures – he seems very happy!


    • Leah Kelley says:

      Thank you so much for your comment. And… you know what?? I think my boy is mostly happy. That represents a big change from a few years back…
      Thank you for pointing me to that!


      • Missus Tribble says:

        My son is of a similar age to yours (he’s 16) and is profoundly autistic with limited speech. Seeing him in photographs when he’s engaging in extreme sports or completing obstacle courses always makes me smile, because he’s grinning like a loon in each and every one of them 🙂

        I think my son is generally happy, but he does have violent meltdowns born of frustration. I’m guessing that your lad was having them for a while, from what you say?


      • Leah Kelley says:

        Missus Tribble ❀
        Thank you for taking time to comment. It is so wonderful to observe our guys engaging in activities that give him such joy – such a great measure of quality of life… and our honouring of that which is important to them.

        And… you’ve got me thinking I might write a post about meltdowns… so be sure to check back 🙂


  3. I’m so glad this was a good experience for all of you. 🙂 Definitely, cultural differences tend to be assumed more in my experience too – it’s easy to just assume he’s a little different because he’s Canadian, and there’s a language barrier and everything else. And when there’s an assumption of difference, it doesn’t matter that much anymore, and people are able to look past that to the actual person. I actually addressed that concept in my age and social interactions post – same principle… But I am so glad you all had a great time. 🙂


    • Leah Kelley says:

      Thanks E… we have both had big traveling adventures this summer. I like your insights about the assumption of difference… I have read the post to which your are referring – but I think I may need to reread it now 🙂


  4. Looks and sounds like you guys have a fantastic time!!! So happy things turned out so well for all of you. Great pics too Leah!


    • Leah Kelley says:

      Yes!! It was a great time. Thanks for your comment Diane, and I will happily accept your compliment on my photos! I have seen some of yours – so this is high praise indeed! Yay!


  5. coyotetooth says:

    A large part of my job is supporting people on holiday. I took a young gentleman to Florida for 2 weeks. This young man believes all Americans are wonderful after the experience he had visiting. He believes Americans are a more accepting nation. Wether it was standing in a long queue waiting for boarding the Hulk, or pressed into a crowd to get seats to see Shamu, he struck up conversations with everyone. And laughed and smiled with everyone. He felt welcomed and a sense of belonging.

    This gentleman, in non-holiday mode, is considered by NT staff as being impossible and rude. He often faces difficulties communicating with store workers. He avoids crowded places. He is outcast. Or, was. He’s made a turn. He has accepted himself.

    Expectations can wear the body, mind, and soul down. Especially when repeatedly beaten. Or, expectations can lift the body, mind, and soul up. Especially when reinforced.

    Now, I’m setting great expectations for a 40 year old gentleman that has never been on a holiday in his life. To Benidorm! (not particularly a place I would choose, as it is over crowded, noisy, and o so Brit abroad; and my despite for humans will be tested *smirk*). The planning is in place. The expectations are at an all time high. The gentleman will have something to talk about for years.

    I will have a sense of deja vu.


    • Leah Kelley says:

      Thank you for sharing… and the *smirk* and wow, your job sounds awesome! I must admit however – I had to Google ‘Benedorm’, which according to Wikipedia is: “the “Manhattan of Spain” or “Beniyork”. According to the Urban Age project, Benidorm has the most high-rise buildings per capita in the world.”

      I think H would feel the lure – as he has a fascination with NY and is working on multiple projects to earn money to get there. I may have to hit you up for some travel tips sometime in the future:)

      It is a funny thing about expectations… I think you have done a good job of sharing the tricky balance between lifting and squashing. I find I have to be so mindful of this… as do, I suppose, all of us.


  6. Evelyne Simon says:

    Do check out It shows how Asperger teenagers understand those who define themselves as neurotypicals: they are not wrong.
    Aspergers have always been with us and are an important part of a well-functioning society: I don’t think the States qualifies.


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