Having your child with autism travel can be a challenging task and can limit your experiences as a family. Those challenges may increase when traveling with children with autism. Be prepared, it may require a few more steps.
The key to exposing an individual with autism to a new experience or environment is preparation (you may even think in terms of antecedent strategies). This goes beyond making reservations or mapping out a route to travel. First, think of the specific needs of your child. Does your child experiences sensory differences? How will those be affected at your destination or during the trip? What do you need to bring or prepare to accommodate those sensory challenges? Prepare your child for the sensory features of the destination such as sights, sounds and smells. You can do this by renting DVDs of the location from a travel agency or watching videos posted to the internet. Social narratives can also be used to prepare your child for flying on a plane, waiting in an airport terminal, staying at a hotel, or getting along with siblings on a long car trip. If your child uses visual schedules at home or school, create location-specific schedules to use throughout the trip.
Staying in a new and strange place can be very difficult for an individual on the spectrum. Routines can help the individual feel more comfortable and reduce disruptive behaviors. Try to mimic routines you have established at home. If you have a bedtime routine at home, continue to follow it while away from home.
Safety is another important consideration when staying in new locations or away from home (including preparation for if your child ever tries to wander away). When making the reservation, request a room away from exits if possible. If your child tends to have loud vocalizations, request a room at the end of a hallway. When you check in, ask when the lobby area tends to be loud and busy. Locate the various street-level exits in case you need to use something other than the main door.
Convenience and comfort should also be a part of the preparation. If your child has specific dietary needs, request a room with a refrigerator and microwave. For children that are particular about the arrangement of items in the room or his/her toys, request that housekeeping does not come in clean until you leave. Bringing a pillow and blanket from home can also provide your child with comfort and a sense of familiarity.
When flying, it can be beneficial to disclose your child’s diagnosis to the airline staff prior to boarding. You can tell staff specifically how they can help you in case of negative behavior. Before your travel date, check with the airport or airline to see if they can accommodate a pre-travel visit to familiarize your child with the noises, smells, and crowds.
Make a packing checklist for yourself to ensure no reinforcer, distraction item, or favorite toy are left behind. It can be helpful to have numerous options for passing the time both on an airplane and in a car.
Visit Guest Services immediately upon entering the park. Disclose your child’s disability and provide a letter from your physician detailing your child’s specific needs. Some parks will offer Fast Passes to decrease wait times for rides. You can also request to use a stroller with younger children all the way through the line until you get on the ride.
Having your child wear identification can assist if they wander away from you and when meeting various park staff or cast members. Medical bracelets, stickers on clothing, or buttons can help to quickly explain your child’s needs and communication style.
Make it Your Own
Your vacation is unique and for you only! When having your child with autism vacation with you, it is okay to take a vacation that does look like anyone else’s. If you are going to an amusement park, you do not have to spend all day there. Spend a few hours on rides and then head back to the hotel for some rest or pool time. Watch your child for signs of a coming breakdown and find places to take breaks. When planning out the days, schedule in specific break times so breaks are not an afterthought.
With some extra preparation, packing and research, vacations can be fun and exciting for children with autism and their families.
Sources for this article
Parents.com | Travel Tips for Children with Autism