There are a lot of great family-friendly travel destinations throughout the country and the world. When you have a child on the spectrum, you may feel like travel isn’t an option for you. The reality is that you can travel when you have an autistic child. It can be a wonderful experience for your entire family, with just a few things in mind.
A Guide to Traveling with an Autistic Child
The following are things to keep in mind to plan a good travel experience.
Consider Your Destination
When you have a child on the spectrum, transitions can be difficult. However, at the heart of travel experiences is transitions, where a lot of your challenges can occur. You need to know what your child can handle and what he can’t.
New experiences can be extremely overwhelming for a child with autism. Children with autism are also adept at sensing stress in the people around them.
If you feel like things aren’t going as expected, your child will respond to that.
Rather than choosing a trip where you’d have a tight schedule and perhaps a lot of sightseeing, good destinations tend to be those places where schedules are flexible, and you can take things at a leisurely pace. For example, the beach or mountains can be a good option, especially if you choose a quiet town.
General considerations include your child’s comfort zone and sensory issues, as well as interests, attention span, and processing abilities.
Arrange What You Can Ahead of Time
If you can make some plans ahead of time, then you’ll know what to prepare your child for. You can also reduce your stress, which is likely to help your child be more comfortable.
You might also call some of the places where you’ll go on your trip and let them know if you have any unique needs or require specific accommodations.
For example, if you’re flying, you might give the airline staff a heads-up so they won’t be caught off-guard if something comes up.
Theme parks also tend to be very accommodating when it comes to children and families with special needs.
Practice In Advance
A child with autism tends to do best when they know what to expect and what’s coming up. Go over everything you can about your trip beforehand. This is why some ahead-of-time planning and arrangements are helpful—you’ll know what to prepare your child for.
For example, maybe you can write a social story that’ll go through the steps you will take.
Word-picture scenarios, according to experts, are an excellent way to alleviate stress in children with autism.
Don’t wait until the day before to start the preparation process. Instead, try to do it several weeks ahead of time.
If you’re creating a picture book, arrange the events chronologically.
You can show your child pictures of the hotel or home where you’ll be staying, and you can explain all the images you include. As the trip gets closer, you can ask your child to narrate the images.
While giving your child time to prepare tends to work well, ultimately, you know your child best, so you know what they will be most comfortable with. Some parents find that if they start preparing their autistic child too far in advance for a vacation, it can create more anxiety or symptoms like insomnia.
Create a Calendar
Along with a social story, you can add your trip to a calendar and hang it where your child will see it every day. Then, your child will have a visual reminder to prepare for a change in routine on the day you leave.
What If You’re Flying?
Flying with a child with autism can be nerve-wracking because there are a lot of elements of the flight experience out of your control. There are things in place that can help.
For example, the TSA has protocols for special arrangements for travelers with disabilities. You can role play with your child so that each of you takes turns being a TSA officer and going through security.
Try to be as detailed as you can.
Let the gate attendant know your child is on the spectrum, and you should be able to either board early or late, depending on what you prefer.
Some parents find that using a timer during the flight is helpful because your child will know how much time you have left. In-flight entertainment is always a good idea too.
The Hotel or Rental
When you’re traveling and renting a hotel room or a home, you might think about taking your child’s bedding and blankets. You should also try to book at a room that’s perhaps at the end of a hallway to help prevent loud noises from being disruptive.
Take Plenty of Breaks
Because of how much vacations and traveling disrupts their routines, children with autism can feel like they don’t have an anchor. If you’re going on a trip, make sure you leave plenty of time for quiet breaks and relaxation.
For example, if you’re going to a theme park, don’t try to stay all day and into the night. If you have routines at home, like a bedtime routine, try to do that on your trip too.
Try to ensure your child always wears identification if you’re traveling, especially if you’re going somewhere busy and crowded like a theme park. You can have something pinned to the back of your child’s shirt, with your cell phone number and any information a person might need to keep your child safe if they’re separated from you.
Finally, do the best you can. You can enjoy your vacation with your child who’s on the spectrum and even find time to relax. Just prepare and plan ahead of time and choose an appropriate destination for your child’s needs.