For many families, this year’s summer vacation can’t come soon enough. The last 12 months have been emotionally draining for all of us. The chance to have a rest and a bit of a reset is something we all deserve. That said, plenty of states have still not yet fully reopened. Many traditional vacation options, such as summer camps, may not be fully running this summer. You summer vacation in 2021 can be great though, it just requires you to plan a little extra.

How to Plan for An Unpredictable Summer Vacation in 2021

So with this in mind, families need to prepare for an unpredictable and perhaps slightly different summer vacation this year. For families of children with autism, some extra trip planning to help prepare your child and planning to ensure an autism-friendly experience can help make all the difference. 

Dealing with Friends and Extended Family

For those of us who have been socially distancing and unable to meet with friends and family throughout most of the pandemic, summer vacation is the perfect opportunity to reconnect in person. This is especially the case if you’re planning a camping trip or other type of COVID-safe vacation. 

However, for a child with autism, suddenly being exposed to many people outside of your immediate family can be overwhelming. But not only this, accommodating friends and family also mean subtle changes to social norms, expectations, and traditions. If your family has been staying in a tight bubble for large parts of the pandemic, this will be even more challenging for your child. 

Therefore, plan and have some “ground rules” to ensure this doesn’t become overwhelming.

This could include:

  • Creating a schedule and sharing it: Decide what you’ll be doing when, such as meal times and activities, and let your friends and family know in advance. Peer pressure to do things, even when it comes from the best of intentions, can be difficult for anyone to manage, so setting expectations with your vacation guests before you arrive will help prevent this.
  • Providing some pointers ahead of time: Okay, so close family such as your mom or sister probably won’t need to be reminded of the basics, but friends or more extended family could benefit from this. Ahead of time, provide some information on types of food your child likes, some of their interests, and how best to engage with them. 

Keeping to a Routine 

As we all know, keeping a routine is extremely important to children with autism. And during pre-COVID times, the routine could be planned into a vacation with a bit of effort. However, the problem we have to deal with now is managing the unexpected, such as attractions being closed, restaurants being complete due to capacity limits, or lines being much longer than usual due to biosecurity measures.

This means that even the most carefully laid plans can be scuppered if you find yourself waiting in line for hours to enter your favorite attraction.

Some ways to plan for this:

  • Avoid any attractions that draw big crowds: Rather than take the risk, it may be best to write off visiting any big attractions such as theme parks in 2021. While many of these attractions now provide excellent autism-friendly facilities, extended wait times and other disruptions to regular service could be a reality this summer.
  • Self-catering versus all-inclusive: Again, factoring in biosecurity measures and social distancing needs, vacationers at all-inclusive resorts may experience longer wait times and differing meal times this year. Therefore, self-catering is a much safer option for families of children with autism, as this way, you can ensure set meal times.    

Don’t Be Afraid to Try Something New.

Keeping to a routine shouldn’t mean avoiding trying new things. As summer 2021 will still be far from normal, now could be an ideal opportunity to try something that your family might not usually consider.  

The obvious choice here is to make use of the great outdoors this year. If your family enjoys going to DisneyWorld, consider a camping trip as an alternative for your summer vacation of 2021.

Now, of course, I’m not saying you should jump straight in at the deep end! When it comes to camping, for example, you could consider hiring a pre-pitched “glamping” tent. These often come with a kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom facilities.

This could also be an excellent opportunity to introduce your child to some new activities gently. This could be anything from fishing to kite flying to painting. If you’re avoiding more traditional attractions this year, you’ll need to think a little bit outside of the box.

Whatever you choose to do this year, remember to stay patient, set your expectations accordingly and enjoy yourself. We’ve all earned this summer vacation in 2021, and we deserve to plan a break with our loved ones. And who knows, perhaps you’ll discover new activities that your family loves doing, which you would never have tried pre-COVID! 

Estee Rothstein, BCBA and Executive Director at Golden Care Therapy, a New Jersey-based provider of in-home ABA therapy for children with autism. Estee also regularly contributes to discussions around autism as both a public speaker and writer.

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