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When your child has autism, even the most seemingly ordinary experiences of family life can take on mammoth significance. The annual summer vacation you may look back on with innocent nostalgia can suddenly feel like a superhuman feat when you’re devising an accessible vacation for your little one.

How to Make Your Vacation Accessible for An Autistic Child

The good news is that your child can enjoy a memorable family vacation, experiencing all the wonders of childhood excursions with Mom, Dad, and the sibs. The key is to plan ahead, be prepared, and roll with the punches when the time comes.

This article describes strategies to plan an accessible vacation that is truly fun for the whole family.

Plan Ahead

Every parent of a child with autism knows that the unexpected is not your friend. That’s why doing your homework well before setting out is imperative. You will want to be prepared for all aspects of the journey, not just the destination.

That means, of course, selecting a welcoming destination but not overwhelming for persons with autism. Thankfully, there are numerous autism-friendly vacation spots across the US, meaning there will surely be something to capture your family’s interests within your travel range. 

Some theme parks, for example, are better than others regarding manageable crowd sizes and sensory-friendly environments. If a more low-key and relaxing vacation suits your child best, then camping can be a great option and an ideal way to enjoy quality family time.

Determine the Best Mode of Travel

Not all forms of travel will be right for your child, so when planning your vacation, it’s important to consider the best way to get where you’re going. 

In the US, public buildings, such as airports, bus and rail systems, restaurants, stores, and lodgings are required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) statutes. Unfortunately, just because a site is ADA-compliant does not necessarily mean it’s going to be an accessible travel venue that truly accommodates your child’s particular needs.

You may determine, for example, that car travel is a better option than a crowded airplane or train car for a long journey. In such cases, you will want to ensure that your vehicle is equipped with everything your child with autism will need on the road once you’ve arrived. 

The annual summer vacay can suddenly feel like a superhuman feat when youre trying to make your vacation accessible for an autistic child

This should include a good assortment of games, toys, blankets, and snacks to help keep your child comfortable and occupied throughout the journey. If your child has mobility challenges that may be an issue while at the vacation site, especially if it requires a lot of walking, you can equip your car with a mounted carrier for a scooter or wheelchair. 

Once you’ve determined how you will travel, it’s also a good idea to prepare your child well. Creating your storybook with pictures can provide your child with a comforting sense of familiarity while en route. 

If you’re traveling, help your child acclimate to long car rides by taking frequent car excursions of increasing length. And, of course, it’s imperative to plan to stop frequently to rest, eat, and stretch. Planning where and when you will stop is a great idea.

Find the Right Hotels and Resorts

As we’ve seen, public facilities in the US are required by law to be ADA-compliant, but accessible vacationing often means more than meeting this fundamental standard. That’s why it’s important to research hotels, restaurants, and attractions at your destination site and those you may encounter en route.

Knowing which sites are likely to be the most accessible and sensory-friendly is critical. This should include vetting the hotel or resort where you plan to stay and those where you may unexpectedly need to stop to rest and decompress along the way. 

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Choose the Right Activities

No one knows better than a parent what activities will interest, excite, and entertain their child and what will overwhelm or frighten them. So, it’s important to research and identifies those attractions that you think will truly engage and delight your child. 

If you’re looking for specific ideas, pay attention to the activities your child is naturally drawn to. Pay attention to those sensory-friendly toys and games they seem to play with most of those they seem most comfortable with. This can give you great insight into the experiences that will be the most memorable and fun for your child—and the whole family!

The annual summer vacay can suddenly feel like a superhuman feat when youre trying to make your vacation accessible for an autistic child

Have a Safe Space for Your Child

Traveling can be stressful for anyone, but for a child with autism, it can be both overwhelming and scary. That’s why it’s imperative to have an action plan for helping your child manage their stress and anxiety when it comes. 

One of the best strategies is to ensure your child always has a safe space they can retreat to when they begin to get overwhelmed. This might be a specific seat in the back of the car or a quiet corner in your hotel room, for example, but it should be a designated area where your child can retreat and relax.

The Takeaway

Planning an accessible vacation with your child with autism isn’t necessarily easy, but it is most definitely worth it. The key is to do your homework, plan ahead, and be prepared.

Alicia Trautwein is an Autism advocate, writer, motivational speaker, and dedicated mom of four. Alicia’s desire to advocate for Autism comes from her own autism diagnosis and that of her three children, niece, and brother. Her life’s mission is to educate on autism acceptance and change the world for future generations of autistic individuals.

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