A Family’s Mission to Change the Narrative Around Autism

Changing the narrative around autism by cycling across the US


To challenge ablism and the narrative around autism, three very brave and committed cyclists trekked across the entire United States. Two of them, Fiona and Travis, are fully grown adults, and the third is their seven year old son, Patch, who was diagnosed with severe autism at 21 months. You may remember this power trio from an earlier blog post at the start of their trip, titled School of the Road. Their incredible feat– cycling from Anacortes Washington to Washington D.C.– was ripe with adventure, learning, and triumph.


When Patch was hardly more than a baby, Travis and Fiona ordered a cycle trailer with the plan to cycle across the US with their son once he turned 2. They imagined endless adventures and opportunities to teach their son about the world. However, when they received Patch’s autism diagnosis their life quickly became a “rigorous schedule of thousands of hours of 1:1 therapy for Patch.” The School of the Road would have to wait.


6 years later, with a slight adaptation to the original vision, the family set out to embark on their incredible, life-changing, stereotype-smashing journey. Travis and Fiona contacted us months in advance to design the perfect support vehicle for their travels. While Travis and Patch would cycle together on a tandem, Fiona needed a solid touring bike that could carry most of their gear and traverse a range of topography. We worked closely with them to provide a bike that would meet those needs and be able to easily fly home with them to Australia at the end of their trip.


The support vehicle, a Bike Friday folding bike, for Patch's brave trip to challenge the cultural narrative on autism


So with Fiona’s brand new Bike Friday, a Pocket Llama, and Travis and Patch’s custom recumbent tandem, the three were poised for adventure.


Patch, and his parents, cycle across the US to change the way we talk about autism and ability


Patch enjoys the mountains and tall trees on his trip across the US

.Camping with their folding bike as they travel across the US


Patch loves riding Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park

Patch safely encounters Buffalo


Patch at the West Virginia State Border


Mission accomplished! These three made it all the way to the White House to dismantle stereotypes around the autsim spectrum


Travis summed up the true heart of their trip saying that what he was so proud of wasn’t the miles traveled per se, but really the range of challenging experiences that his son had and persevered through:


“Our son has severe repetitive and restricted behavioural patterns, sensory needs and is mainly non verbal.

And over the last 8 weeks he has…

* camped in different locations
* stayed in motels
* stayed in strangers houses
* slept in different beds
* tried new foods
* met new people every day
* shopped in a new environment daily
* used different toilets
* coped and experienced different weather conditions
* confronted scary animals
* been bitten by mosquitoes and bees
* coped with irregular meal patterns
* tried lots (and lots) of bush toileting experiences
* coped with people that don’t understand him
* been immersed among different smells and textures everyday
* swam in rivers, lakes and pools
* dealt with hayfever allergies in homes and farming areas across the Great Plains
* And of course learnt about road safety, geography, history, socialising, letters, numbers, directions, following instructions and everything else that is quintessentially American and different to what he has seen in Australia.

So the next time you overhear someone saying autistic people can’t do something tell them they are wrong. Tell them about someone incredible you know that is kicking goals and breaking down stereotypes.”


Travis, we couldn’t agree more. We’re so glad that we were able assist you in this incredible journey. Thank you Fiona, Travis, and especially Patch for your bravery and dedication to changing the narrative around autism.

To learn more about Patch’s adventures, be sure to check out their website: https://schooloftheroad.com/

Click to learn more about the Pocket Llama, the folding touring bike that helped make this amazing adventure possible!


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2 thoughts on “A Family’s Mission to Change the Narrative Around Autism

  1. Clint Viebrock

    I loved this story. I have worked with the Telluride Adaptive Sports Program for 18 years. Some of my most inspiring adventures have been with autistic young people. They have almost always taught me important lessons of what it means to be human. My best wishes go out to this brave family, and hope they continue the adventure. If skiing is on their list of adventures Patch would be welcome in Telluride.

    1. Travis Saunders

      Dear Clint. So great to hear from you and your Sports Program sounds really impressive. We are absolutely committed to creating global change and are working to produce an educational short film on embracing autism. It would be amazing if you could share our kickstarter campaign with your networks to encourage people to contribute so we can make our film happen. Here’s the link https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/428257810/school-of-the-road-autism-and-adventure-documentar
      Thank you Clint and all the best for a great winter program in Telluride, Travis


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