Autism On the Road: 10 Tips for a Successful Summer Vacation
Summer vacation can provide lasting family memories for everyone, but travelling with autistic children can seem an insurmountable task for many parents. Getting out of the house and shaking up routines can be very stressful for both autistic children and their parents, but I have found over the years that with careful planning, travelling with my kids is worth the effort for all of us.
The best summer vacation is one where we have our own space
What I mean here is not staying with family or friends. When you are first tackling traveling with your autistic children, it can be easier not to try and include other people. Not everyone understands or can provide for the additional needs of those on the spectrum. For instance, our children need down times throughout the day where they can either be alone or together, but away from everyone else. Julia used to love to share a bedroom with Marc, probably because she felt nervous sleeping in a room that was not her own. We make adaptations where necessary, but for the most part we try to keep the routines the same as home. (When I speak of routines, I mean meal times, bed time, bath time and what the children eat remaining the same.)
Although summer holidays are winding down, I’d still like to share some thoughts on what makes travelling with autistic children successful. I have spoken about predictability in past blogs. Individuals with autism need to know what is going to happen to them. Leaving home means everything is going to be different.
Here are 10 ways to create predictability when travelling:
1)Plot your journey on a map. As you pass through certain towns or landmarks they can be checked off.
2)Pull photos off of the internet and use them to create a social story of where you’ll be staying and what you’ll be doing there. Hotel websites will list their amenities; these can be incorporated into a schedule of the stay. Ex: Pool times, breakfast, on-site activities
3)If not staying in a hotel, try to get photos and information of where you will be staying (campground, relative’s house, cabin etc.) Use this information in a social story to lessen anxiety.
4)Take a place that has cooking facilities in order to keep food/meals the same. If a child is following a special diet, eating in a restaurant can be difficult. We also bring many of our own GF/CF products because small town grocery stores often don’t carry these items.
5)Plan activities ahead of time and share the information while still at home. Again, the internet is a great tool as most attractions will have a website, allowing for pre-planning and creating familiarity.
6)Allow your children to bring things that anchor them. For Julia, it’s Playmobil people, Wii Games, Dan Gutman novels, and her Madeline dolls. For Marc it’s his portable DVD player, flags, and Thomas trains and books.
7)Suggest doing something that takes in a special interest. Marc loves butterflies so we took him to Butterfly World. Julia loves the beach so we planned 2 afternoons at a beach. Both children love to swim so we booked hotels that had pools.
8)Consider travelling in a trailer or motor home. You can rent, buy or borrow. We are still considering this option as a family. It is one way to keep your accommodations the same no matter where you are.
9)Consider planning for a treat while on holidays. Marc gets very excited at the prospect of adding a new flag to his collection. Julia is motivated by a visit to a new toy store. These things give Marc and Julia something to look forward to on a holiday.
10)When visiting family, keep visits short in duration and expectations reasonable. My children had not seen their grandmother for 3 years on one trip that we did so we had to keep visits to less than 2 hours. We did expect the children to eat meals with all of us, but did not expect them to linger at the table once the meal was over out of politeness.
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