The heat comes before the fun… every year. Nonetheless, summer happens to all of us and eventually do come the long nights, summer BBQ’s, and pool parties. And inevitably that sometimes entails vacations and traveling outside of our local comfort zones. By land, air or salty sea PediaPlex knows traveling CAN be challenging for ASD families and kids but it also CAN be fun! Through years of experience and expert clinical input, we have some fantastic content to pass along to you.
One of the biggest impacts on an autistic child’s day is their routine. Nothing that happens on a trip falls under the category of “everyday routine”. Almost everything is different from the usual… the people, the sounds, the places. Knowing this, try to schedule normal activities at the same time as when you are at home. Such as regular meal times, normal sleep and wake schedule, naps at usual times, etc. This will give a more solid foundation and stability for your child during a relatively hectic vacation. Relatedly, many of the sounds while traveling are unfamiliar, distracting and L O U D to our autistic children. So, consider bringing earplugs or earmuffs if that is something agreeable to your child especially for moments when your child may be overwhelmed and in need of a quiet place to calm down.
In preparation ahead of your travel, experts recommend creating a picture book or binder which can relate upcoming scenarios to your child. Remember to make it sequential when possible, illustrating weekly or daily activities in order. Include things such as pictures of your hotel, taxis, airplanes, and other things your family will see during your travel. Not only can this be comforting for your child but can even be turned into a fun activity along the way! We suggest considering this exercise each day as you prepare the activities and agenda. Remember to include your child in the narration of places and schedules – this will all help to build a sense of familiarity in an unknown environment.
While some of us still enjoy a good old fashioned car trip, many times travelling by plane is the preferred choice. In this case, we strongly encourage you to contact your airline and the airport far in advance of your trip and let them know you are travelling with a child/children with autism. Specifically, on the day of travel, it is wise to communicate long lines present a potential challenge and seek special accommodations at security checkpoints and during boarding. Many major airlines and hotels now have accommodations for autistic children and are happy to assist you.
When packing, take extra care to pack everything your child requires which includes their reinforcement items. Also, any special “loveys” or sentimental items are a MUST HAVE for a successful trip. Autistic children see these loveys as part of themselves, their identity, and forgetting it would likely result in a big ‘ole U-turn with the family wagon pointed straight towards home as meltdown ensues. You know their comfort items best so take extra care not to forget any of them at home. It can be helpful to include your child in the packing process or let him/her observe you packing all of their important things.
No trip will ever go perfectly according to plan and as parents of ASD children we are used to a few speed bumps along the path (understatement!!). But these few and simple suggestions can TREMENDOUSLY reduce the amount of potential stress your child will experience on your next family trip. One thing we all know in the PediPlex family is how to have fun in life and vacations don’t need to be any different – happy travels!!!
The PediaPlex Family,