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Six Tips for Travel with Children on the Autism Spectrum

Posted on 06/06/2017 at 12:18 PM by Courtney Croatt

Travel can be daunting for some families, but it presents a unique challenge for families with children who have autism. Here are a few tips when planning a family trip away from home:

1. Remember Your Child’s Preferences and Strengths When Selecting a Location

  • Most children with autism prefer familiar routines and activities. Make an attempt to keep a similar schedule on your trip and bring familiar items that are important to your child. Consider packing bedding, food, drinks, toys, or other items that your child finds comforting.

  • Plan a trip with opportunities to include activities your child will enjoy.

  • Your child may benefit from being included on selecting the location and activities.

 2. Build Up to a Big Trip

  • Practice vacation activities on a smaller scale (e.g. smaller day trips or overnights close to home) to help your family prepare for your actual trip.

  • Your family will learn what you will need in place for a bigger vacation down the road and your vacation plans will not seem as unfamiliar and unpredictable to your child with autism.

 3. Prepare the Staff at Trip Locations and Activities

  • There are a number of autism-friendly resorts, vacation destinations and travel companies that will assist with making trip arrangements and accommodations if you call ahead and let them know what services you may need.

  • It may be beneficial to travel with a physician’s note stating your child’s diagnosis along with any medications they are prescribed.

  • You may want to consider a way to communicate with people around you about your child’s diagnosis. If you do not want to explain your child’s disability to onlookers, it may be easier for your child to wear an Autism Awareness button or a shirt, or you could create cards to hand out when necessary.  

 4. Prepare Your Child for the Trip

  • Teach them about the vacation activities and expectations in their preferred form of communication (e.g. line drawings, photographs, words, videos)

  • Examples of visual stories can be found on the internet or your child’s school team may have access to some beneficial resources and effective strategies they have utilized when introducing your child to a new situation.  

 5. Anticipate and Plan for Potentially Challenging Situations

  • Consider what your child typically is trying to communicate with behavior and provide them more opportunities throughout the day.

  • Children who prefer to escape situations or activities may do well with having choices, scheduled breaks, or using visual schedules and timers to indicate how long certain activities will last.

  • Avoid wait times when possible by calling ahead for reservations and ordering food as soon as possible.

  • If your child does not do well with transportation, consider traveling through the night, making frequent scheduled stops or booking direct flights.

  • For children who want to do their favorite activities or have their preferred toys, schedule time for those things throughout the day to show them when they will be able to play with them.

  • Have access to an activity bag at all times that includes their favorite toys, games and food items. Use the bag as a distraction when you encounter longer wait times.

 6. Consider Your Child’s Safety

  • Consider using tools that are specifically designed for preventing and responding to lost children: 1) Belt warning systems sound an alarm if your child is too far away from a parent/caregiver, 2) GPS trackers indicate the child’s location, 3) Identification bracelets assist others in contacting your family.

  • Depending on the needs of your child or the size of your family, you may consider enlisting the help of a traveling companion to assist with your trip plans. This could be a family member, close friend or even a hired nanny.

  • Prior to your trip, play out potential situations your family could encounter and develop possible solutions ahead of time to avoid additional stress.

Above all, take your time and enjoy the memories you are making with your family! You don’t need to rush or do everything on your plan. Step back from the stress that traveling can bring and remind yourself why you originally wanted to take the trip. Wishing you safe and happy travels!

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