Traveling with children with autism may seem difficult, but when you plan your vacations ahead of time and with care, they can be an absolute treat and a great way to strengthen familial bonds.
Here are a few tips to make your vacation a pleasurable one for your child and the entire family.
Choose an ideal destination for your child
Encourage your children to participate actively in the planning process and evaluate their current interests, attention span, sensory processing/information-processing abilities, and relate it to your upcoming trip. Choose a place where your child would still get to do activities that they typically enjoy. For example, if your child loves amusement parks, try taking them to Disneyland, if your child loves playing with water, consider planning a beach vacation. Make sure you’re not overwhelming your child by involving them in too many activities, as this would result in stressing out not just your child, but the rest of the family as well.
Arrange proper identification for your child
Parents of children with autism often struggle to manage their child’s wandering during vacations. Nearly half of children with autism tend to wander or run off, causing tremendous concern and anxiety to parents.
Here are a few identification tools you can use
- Tracking devices: Choose a suitable device that matches your child’s requirement and have your child wear it every time you are out. Practice using the tracking device before the vacation to sort out any problems.
- Personal IDs: Use medical IDs for personal identification. These should include information about your child, address, and phone number and any medical information. Create a few handouts to give out, if necessary. These handouts should contain your address and phone number as well as a picture of your child.
Predict your child’s needs
Parents can typically anticipate their child’s needs. However, this becomes even more necessary with the child with autism. This is because children with autism typically struggle to accept changes in their routine, and a vacation requires a divergence from their usual schedule. This could lead to meltdowns and anxiety attacks. To reduce such incidents from happening when traveling, here are some ideas. Call the airline in advance to check for delays. This gives you enough time to make special accommodations. Work with your child on the need for patience for TSA lines at the airport as well as amusement park rides. Use social stories to help prepare your child for the trip including ordering food in restaurants, sleeping in a new bed in the hotel or resort, and tolerating long car rides.
Prepare a checklist of essentials
Prepare a checklist so you leave behind nothing that is important to your child. Always have reinforcements handy to reward your child for their good behavior. You can use soothers such as MP3 players a piece of cloth, string, or a toy to help keep your child calm. Pack their favorite snacks, toys, stuffed animals, books and assistive communication tools. Enlist your child's help so they can add necessary items or alert you if something is missing.
Enact vacation scenarios with your child
Preparations for an upcoming trip should start well in advance of the trip. It is recommended to start your groundwork at least 2-3 months before the vacation. Talk about the trip with your child every day by creating sequential picture stories of planned events and provide simple captions for each picture. Role-playing is one of the best ways to help children understand what they can expect to see while on vacation. Having meaningful conversations about the trip with your child or teenager will help to relieve stress and reduce problematic behaviors during the vacation.