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David and Mercedes Rizzo encourage parents of children with special needs to step outside their comfort zones.

Going to visit Alaska has been on our bucket list for quite a while. Now we can check that box off our list. Our family recently returned from a trip to “the last frontier.” When we think about it, we took a pretty big risk in traveling from the Philadelphia area to Alaska. This is because our daughter Danielle has autism and she is nonverbal. When you are a special-needs parent sometimes it seems easier to collapse your world and to limit your horizons, especially regarding travel. The thought of traveling on an airplane just seems like too much.




In the beginning of our family's journey with autism, we were pulled in this direction. We became wary of travel and we missed it very much. Yet, through the years we began to realize that we were limiting Danielle by not traveling. Traveling can be fun, but it can also be hard especially if there are delays or crowds. It can be exhilarating and fatiguing at the same time. Vacations by their very nature involve changes from our routines, and this can be quite challenging—especially to someone who has autism and relies on a routine. 

However, travel is important. Saint Augustine once said, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” There’s even a patron saint of travelers, Saint Christopher. Legend has it that he used to carry travelers across a fierce river. One day a small child asked Christopher to take him across. The water was especially fast and dangerous that day, but the saint hoisted the child up and placed him on his own aging but still burly shoulders. Cautiously he set foot in the rapids. 

Christopher felt an increasingly great weight pushing down as he walked. It felt as if he carried the full weight of the world on his back and shoulders. His foot nearly slipped on one of the pebbles that dotted the bottom of the fast-moving river, but he held fast to the child and carried on until he made it to the opposite bank. He set the child down and knew in his heart that he had been carrying the Christ-child on his shoulders, carrying with Him the full weight of the world! Christopher was forever changed and strengthened by this experience. 


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Vacations involve changes from our routines, and this can be quite challenging—especially to someone who has autism and relies on a routine.



In the spirit of Saint Christopher, our family traveled to Alaska and hiked on the Matanuska Glacier. This was the highlight of our trip. First, we had to walk out to the glacier and across a floating bridge that rocked back side to side. So far so good; we were on our way. The hike on the glacier was at times steeper than expected. Danielle followed along with the instructions given by our guide and took step after step, carefully placing her feet on the next level of ice.

All the years of Danielle's ice skating with Special Olympics had come in handy. At first, we tried to hold her hand, but we quickly realized she was more skilled and steadier at this than we were. We let her just walk and she did amazing. When we reached close to the top, it was hard to imagine how far we had actually climbed.




One of the highlights of the glacier hike, not only for us but for our four children, was to hold our water bottles to the melt-water and drink from the flowing stream. The glacier was truly magnificent, the views like something from a movie set. Everywhere we looked there was beauty around us. Had we not taken the risk and travelled to Alaska, not only would we and our other children have missed this, but Danielle would have missed it too. It is hard to know what she thought about this unique experience. Our other children were able to voice how cool of an experience this was. They were snapping pictures and talking about what they saw. 

Perhaps you and your family are about to take a trip; maybe you are planning a trip from your bucket list. While you may be excited, you may also feel anxious about the logistics of it all. This is a good time to stop and say a quick prayer that God will join you on your journey. When we pray, our hearts and minds turn to the very dwelling place of God. We took the risk; we are so glad we did. 

Safe travels.  



Copyright 2023 David and Mercedes Rizzo
Images: copyright 2023 David and Mercedes Rizzo, all rights reserved.