Autism Travel Guide

Travelling is dear to many an American. The average national total spending amounts to $644.9 billion (only leisure/pleasure travel). Trips ranged from slipping away for a weekend to enjoying a month long vacation with family.

Travelling for Parents having Children with Autism

Travelling – unless work is making you – takes away the stress of everyday life, offering a break from set routines. Staying bogged down is a bad idea. But there are families who get anxious at the very mention of it. These families have one or more children affected with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Travelling doesn’t evoke eager anticipation in them, for obvious reasons.

NOTE: Currently, 1 out of every 68 children is born with autism. In recent decades, Autism prevalence is on a rise..

Tips to Travel with a Child Having Autism

It’s easier than you think to accommodate a child with Autism into your travel plans. They can be managed in a much less stressful way than what’s getting you anxious. There are resources to help you enjoy a fun-filled family vacation. These resources can help you to choose appropriately the perfect hideaway, essential stuffs to carry and strategies that can help you plan the perfect travel. Above all, you travel experience should add to the overall health and well being of your family, including your child with Autism;  that’s must for epic trips.

Choosing the Right Destination – Starting with Smaller Trips

Good memories depend upon it. You must have insights on how to narrow down on the best spot. The start should be simple.

If it’s the first trip for your child, long flight hours would probably be not the best way towards establishing a new trend within the family. Deciding on the destination needs considering the distance first (therefore, the total travel time), which will be instrumental in getting an autistic child accustomed to a plane trip.

Keep flight durations short while travelling with an child having Autism
Keep flight durations short while travelling with an child having Autism

Or, it could be an extended car ride; or, by train. It simplifies things to a great deal and you can cut your trip short as per need.

Consider you Child’s Needs while Planning an Itenary

A child with Autism must find his/her things of interests in the trip; she should be looking forward to the vacation rather than being bogged down by the unknowns.

If a child is particularly picky, integrating some clever activities and games into traditional outings can turn them into fun adventures for all. For example, creating a scavenger hunt for your kids can turn a trip to a historical site into an adventure, while still granting you your cultural fix. If on the other hand, it’s an outdoor trip, never forget to incorporate a few outdoor sensory activities for your child.

Prefer Nature Trips above the Rest

A family vacation must revolve around the group; not a single person. It shouldn’t exclude anyone. An ASD child must find place in the planning. An adventure out in nature works out best in most of the cases; then to the beach and mountains. Nature-based vacations tend to be flexible and are not usually required to adhere to any strict schedule.

It makes them ideal for autistic children. Sticking to a rigid plan is not for them; spontaneity and improvisation is the key here. In case of reluctance towards any new activity, try cracking a deal. Speak of your choice first and then the child’s. Always add –“…. we know how much you love them”.

MUST READ: Check out our excellent compilation of 52 Outdoor Activities for Children with Autism

Theme Parks for the Sensory Seekers

In case you can’t make it to the Nature, opt for a place with theme park(s). This, however, is not recommended for children who have sensory integration disorder co-existing with Autism (watch  how sensory-overload feels like). Else, a theme park is a fun way for the family to spend time. Search for parks offering accommodations, stroller access and front-of-line privileges for the disabled. These parks also have arrangements to handle sudden emotional outbursts of autistic children. In case there is an issue with

CHECK OUT: This list of 39 Autism Friendly theme parks with Special Needs Access

These parks also have arrangements to handle sudden emotional outbursts of autistic children. In case there is an issue with sensory-overload, the park management can take care of the child. Remember three points:

TIPS:

  1. Always carry earplugs to cut out extra noise.
  2. Keep your days short. An ASD-child must not find it an overwhelming experience.
  3. Visit during non-peak seasons. A less-crowded park is always more pleasurable.

What to Pack before Travelling with a Child having Autism

With the right gear, you can make your child feel happy and comfortable, even on longer trips. As most parents will know, anxiety and Autism often go hand in hand in young adolescents. Anxiety and insecurity can be taken care of by implementing some simple ideas. They’ll help to ensure that the entire vacation goes smoothly.

Autism Travel Resources
Quick view of the travel resources for Autism

pasteDocumentations: Travel with documentation of your child’s Autism diagnosis. A letter from your paediatrician describing some of the symptoms commonly exhibited will come extremely helpful in receiving any preferrential accommodations. It will make your trip and other planned activities easier.

antiseptic_creamMedications: Pack some extra; you never know if you will need more. Just in case. Especially if you are to face some extreme weather. The Transportation Security Administration provides helpful information on their website about how to travel with medication safely. Learn more about Autism Medication strategies

ingredientsTreats for the trip: ASD children often have special dietary needs, so regular snack breaks in between the travel time might become necessary for trips longer than a couple of hours. A sated and hydrated child is sound both in body and mind. Gums or chewy candies help relieve pressure from your child’s ears while flying. They just pop it.

It can stop their ears from hurting. Read more about Autism nutrition essentials and how GFCF diet can help your child with Autism.

beach_ballHealthy Distractions: Activities to keep your child occupied during a long trip is essential. You don’t need to personally entertain the child constantly that way; materials he/she enjoys will keep him/her busy. In the room or during shorter road trips, colouring and story books, portable movie players, electronic games – for more, please download one of our recommended top apps for Autism into your smartphone or tablet. For noise-sensitive children, get a pair of noise-canceling headphones.[/fusion_builder_column]

CHECK OUT: 7 Mind simulating games that can help your child with Autism/ADHD

If you plan to go out leaving the child in your accommodation one of those days, then you must prepare for it in advance. An autistic child is most comfortable in his familiar surroundings. Bring familiar items that will help create a sense of home while you’re away. Many children with autism feel frightened by change, and may feel panicked by a hotel room that looks completely unfamiliar. Try to pack objects they associate with home (like nightlights, picture frame, comforters including stuffed animal, favourite toy, blanket…anything as long as it is convenient to pack.

Tips During your Travel with an Autistic Child

while travelling with an Autistic child

Going somewhere is actually about getting there successfully. It requires making the most of your travel time with a child who has autism. There are measures to make the process a hassle-free one. The following applies for all preferred modes of transportation.

  • Creating fun, social stories. Reference it throughout the trip. This will help the child understand what to expect during a trip. Include information about some of the specific activities you have planned. Your social story should start at least a week before the trip and gradually tow-in with the travels.
  • Inform airline authority (through customer service, or at the terminal desk) about an autistic youngster being aboard. Most airlines and some airports have staff members to assist families with special needs before, during and after the flight. Additionally, you may be entitled to priority seating ahead of other passengers, so you won’t feel rushed to settle into your seats in the middle of a line of people.
  • Wearing identification is must for the child, should the young one wander off during ticket and customs check or at the hotel reception. An ID bracelet, or necklace tags, even handwritten cards pinned to the clothing with guardian’s phone number. With a recent photo, it works even better.
  • Plan out some breaks. Autistic individuals need regular breaks, or it turns them anxious. Agitated speech and body language are good indicators, so switch activities; new ones come with new appeal! Colouring books, puzzles…all are good to go. Regular pit stops or break journeys when travelling inter-continental are vital!

Coping with Stressful situations while Travelling

Handling stress while travelling with an Autistic Child

Journeys come with stress; there’s no way to cut it out completely. Despite all of the advanced, careful planning you do, no family – especially one having children with autism – is immune to stress situations. Encountering stressful situations are inevitable in an expedition. But hectic scenarios are manageable. There are coping strategies. Additionally, you are encouraged to develop some of your own.

A child won’t know how to behave in a brand new environment; more so, if it’s intimidating. As a parent/caregiver, you must figure out how to perfectly handle a meltdown. Practicing for these situations with your family can help blunting the edge through establishing a routine familiarity. There are many ways to introduce a child to the hotel and airport atmosphere, do that before your big trip. Mix a bit of fun into it. If your local airport participates in programs like Wings for Autism, it’s all the better. It’s an airport test-run to help autistic kids gain a sense of the airport atmosphere.

Carry informational cards, the ones that will let others know of your child’s difficulties if required. It also comes handy in case of a meltdown or any other episode. This will reduce the chances for uncomfortable conversations and confrontations with strangers.

Your daily schedule must stay as close as possible to your home routine. Adhering to an almost same schedule is an extremely effective way to manage autism symptoms from showing up frequently. You might be thinking of escaping monotony – which is the very purpose of a vacation – but shaking things up is not the way an autistic individual will want it. Throwing the whole routine out the window is not exactly what a smooth transition means. Aim for similar waking hours, meal times, and bedtime traditions, such as reading a beloved book before it’s time for lights out.

RESOURCE: While during a travel, plans change. However, your child with Autism may not be as adept to changes as most of us typically are. Planning ahead and giving your child advance notice helps in these situations. Use our Change in Routine visual card to make these changes a smoother experience for your child.

Do remember

ASD presents challenges to everyday lives and vacations too! But you go to a vacation to relax and bond as a family; not to induce further stress and trouble. Create new memories, new traditions and carefully plan all those few essentials ahead. This will satiate your spirit of adventure and your family’s safety and make the journey joyful. Remember, there are a few additional bits you need to do when travelling with an autistic child, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have great fun. Bon voyage 🙂

ASD presents challenges to everyday lives and vacations too! But you go to a vacation to relax and bond as a family; not to induce further stress and trouble. Create new memories, new traditions and carefully plan all those few essentials ahead. This will satiate your spirit of adventure and your family’s safety and make the journey joyful. Remember, there are a few additional bits you need to do when travelling with an autistic child, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have great fun. Bon voyage 🙂


Mary Alexa
Mary Alexa

Hello everyone my name is Mary. I studied at University of Michigan under Dr. Richard Solomon, founder of the P.L.A.Y. Project for Children on the Autism Spectrum. I live in the Dominican Republic working at an International School with children on the autism spectrum. Empowering parents with knowledge and techniques to support their children’s needs as well as the needs of the entire family and community has been my main focus for the past seven years. Read More

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