The Cultural Detective team is proud to share with you a guest blog post by Kathi Silva, author of an extraordinary new book entitled, Extraordinary Experiences: Tales of Special Needs Abroad, 249 pages.
Experiencing another culture is meant to be fun, adventurous, and mind-opening. But what happens when you mix the joys of living or traveling abroad with the struggles of having a physical, intellectual, medical, or other special need?
In 2015, our family prepared for our sixth international move, knowing that images and realities do not always agree. We moved to the tiny South American country of Uruguay expecting to be limited with ways to support our twins on the autism spectrum, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that in Uruguay’s harmonious culture with its emphasis on social relationships, our twins were embraced, understood, and even admired. At that point in their development, they didn’t need structured speech and occupational therapy as in years past, but they did need positive interactions with people. For example, rather than working with a certified occupational therapist, we found Sebastián — an amazing Uruguayan personal trainer who had my twins running wacky obstacle courses, tossing weighted balls and playing agility games on the beach. The twins loved these training sessions, and Sebastián became a mentor and a big part of why we loved Uruguay. I realized that just because a country doesn’t have top-notch services, it doesn’t mean it won’t be a good fit for my children.
And from there, the idea for a book came to me. I wondered if others had the same sense of curiosity as I did as to whether countries and cultures, regardless of how “developed” or not they are, can be receptive to expats with special needs. I hoped to find common denominators – clues – to help me determine if a country we were considering would not only provide the services my special-needs children require, but would have the right formula in other ways to make it a successful move for us. Would the culture be patient, tolerant and kind to my quirky kids? Would I find the resources I needed to meet my children’s physical, emotional, and social needs? Would the medical professionals share my values and goals for my children? Would the expat community surrounding me be supportive?
It took over three years and many hours of work to bring such a special collection of stories together into book form. Now I know I’m not alone in wanting to share the news that the world provides us with more open doors than closed ones. While there’s no way to guarantee our overseas adventures will always be good, there are things we can do and ways we can approach our experiences living or traveling overseas with special needs.
Extraordinary Experiences: Tales of Special Needs Abroad is not a how-to manual, but a book of real-life experiences in which you will find inspiration, guidance and insights from ordinary people who have made extraordinary adjustments to their experiences far from home. I believe that every reader can gain something within these pages, whether it be the insight they’re looking for, the sense that there is a tribe of like-minded people who believe a disability doesn’t have to hold them back, or just some good, heartfelt stories from a distinctive population of expats.
The book is available through Amazon in paperback or Kindle format and all proceeds go to the non-profit organization Tales from a Small Planet.
Kathi Silva grew up in Texas with a fascination for other cultures. In addition to advocating for inclusion and quality of life issues for her children and others with special needs, she works as a freelance editor while completing her master’s degree in education. She is proud of the small seeds of kindness and light she and her family have planted wherever they go, and is grateful that her children have taught her how truly beautiful diversity can be. She has lived most of her adult life overseas in Ecuador, France, South Africa, Venezuela, Serbia, Uruguay, and Uganda.