- February 17, 2021

Many parents might have heard the story “ Welcome to Holland.” It was a beautiful story written by Emily Kingsley, an American mother of a special needs child. Today I would like to retell the story with a few added elements to better fit with the Vietnamese culture.

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a neurodiversity – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this……

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to America. You buy a bunch of guidebooks and make your wonderful plans. First, you are going to visit the famous Lady of Liberty in New York. Then on to the White House in Washington D.C. Ater that is the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, then travel south to the Walk of Fame in Hollywood. To make sure that you are going to have the most memorable and enjoyable trip, you even go out of your way to learn some handy phrases in English with an American accent. It is just so fascinating!!!

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrived. You packed your bags and off you went. “America here I come!” You said. Several hours later, the plane landed. You could hear the announcement at the airport, “Welcome to Portugal!”

“Portugal?!?” you asked. “What do you mean Portugal?? I signed up for America! I’m supposed to be in America. All my life I have dreamed of going to America.”

But there has been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Portugal and there you must stay. You went through a roller coaster of mixed emotions: loss, depression, anger, devastation….You didn’t ever want to accept that you were now in Portugal and you were desperately looking for a way out.

Time passed by, and one day you realized that actually, this place is not something that horrible, disgusting, filthy, or disease. It’s just a different place from your original plans.

Then you decided to get new guide books to explore this new place, to learn a whole new language- Portuguese. There you met a whole new group of people that you would never have met….

This place is just a different place. It’s slower-paced than America, less flashy than America. But after you have been there for a while, you began to notice that this place has warm turquoise water beaches, gorgeous castles in the forest, world-famous Pastel de Nata, supermarkets with fresh seafood. Oh, and it also has the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge, is just like Golden Gate Bridge, well, actually is more peaceful.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from America… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.

But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to America, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Portugal.


World-famous Pastel de Nata, is used to describe some exceptional strengths that children with Autism have.

Arrabida beautiful beach is used to describe how affectionate children with Autism can be.

The chapel at Sintra is used to describe the purest soul of children with Autism.

The markets with fresh seafood is used to describe the high energy of children with Autism.

Finally, the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge in Lisbon looks almost identical as the Golden Gate Bridge, except that the water here is much warmer and more peaceful.

Mimi Thuong