Summer is coming and many of you are wondering if travel is an option for your family. Those long lines, the cramped spaces, the hustle and bustle of way too many stressed out people, and those looks you get from strangers…
How can you take your child with Autism on a family trip and make it a positive experience for all?
After talking with many parents about traveling with their child with Autism, we have collected some ideas that will help you become travel- savvy for vacations with your child with Autism.
Pack your gadgets:
- Noise canceling headphones are great for when the environment gets loud and crazy on the plane, in an amusement park, a restaurant, etc. Bring them with you everywhere and train your child to ask for them. If you haven’t used headphones before, have your child practice wearing them before your trip.
- Airplane travel harnesses are like a car seat and can provide stability and safety for a child on an airplane. There are also travel harnesses for the car that act as a car seat. You can use this lighter and packable harness for jumping into cabs or for an older child with autism who is not ready to travel without a car seat.
- Bring your child’s favorite reinforcers, both electronic and not electronic. During landing and take off in a plane, you will not be able to use your electronic devices, so bring along some other toys as back up.
- Almost all airports are now offering mock-security and boarding practice for people who find the airport travel experience too stressful. Call your nearby airport and set up a time to do this with your family. You can practice this multiple times and with your gadgets. Bring everything you would need for the actual experience!
- Create a visual schedule and bring it with you wherever you go, including the airport and the amusement parks. You could have a schedule for every day of your vacation and for every airplane or vehicle you board. A schedule could include leaving and returning to a hotel room, when to eat, when to get ready for bed, when to stand in line, how many activities you plan to do and which places you plan to go, relaxation time, etc! The possibilities are countless! Refer back to your schedule with your child often so that your child is reminded of what to expect.
- Call the airline ahead of time and make sure to let them know you are traveling with a child with Autism. Ask them how they can make your experience easier. You never know what resources they’ll provide you with.
- Call ahead and make sure your family can sit together. One family we spoke to had a family member sit on both sides of their child and in front in case their child needed to kick or move around more in their seat.
- Call or visit ‘guest relations’ at each amusement park or activity you do. Most places will provide your family with passes to skip lines.
- Chances are you will have to wait in at least one long line, regardless of how many passes you can get. Plan ahead and have something for your child to do in these lines, whether it is a book, listening to music, wearing the noise canceling headphones, playing a game on an iPad, etc.
- Choose activities and vacations that incorporate a topic your child enjoys. One mother said her child loved sea animals, so she took him to Sea World.
- Get your family excited about your adventure while at the same time orienting your child with Autism with what to expect. Watch movies about your target destination or an activity you will do while there. If you’re going to Disney Land, watch Disney movies and play Disney games. One mother, who brought her child to Sea World, spent a couple months having her child play with aquarium toys and watch sea-life videos.
Safety & Awareness:
- There are a lot of people who still do not know what Autism is or how to identify it. Chances are you will encounter a stranger who does not understand your child’s behaviors and needs. It is okay to educate and bring awareness to these people. If you find yourself in a situation where it is necessary to do so, explain clearly to the person that your child has Autism. Maybe even pack a few brochures about what Autism is and let them research Autism on their own. Several parents have suggested dressing their children in vibrant t-shirts that say “I have Autism.” Bright t-shirts would also help to identify your child if you become separated from each other.
- Anything can happen on vacation so make sure that your child has identification and contact info for you in case you get separated.
- Even the traveler experts know that making room for relaxation time makes vacation much better! Don’t ware yourself out. Allow your family time to sit in the hotel and relax while you gear up for the next adventure.
- Read about one parent’s personal experience traveling to Disney Land with her autistic child. Read more. >>
- Related blog post: Oh, the Places You’ll go… with Autism!
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