Summer is in full swing! — At least here in the United States! Summer is a time for barbecues with friends and vacations with families. But, traveling with children with Autism is often more daunting than rewarding. Some of my favorite childhood memories are from my family vacations. I am sure you can think of some fond memories yourself.
Every parent wants to create unforgettable experiences for their children. But vacations aren’t relaxing or fun when you have to worry about meltdowns, what your kid will eat and whether or not places are Autism Friendly …. Here are 5 Tips for making travel easier for your family.
Tip 1: Seek out businesses that are Autism friendly.
Most movie theaters have sensory friendly screenings and several businesses like Chuckie Cheese and Bounce U have specific sensory friendly hours. During this time, music is often turned down, lights are left on and children are not expected to stay in their seats. Many theme parks have sensory friendly days or sensory areas where children with Autism can go to calm down. They will often provide weighted blankets and passes for children with Autism to skip the lines.
The Huffington post recently shared a list of some of the most Autism friendly theme parks in the United States. The most notable is Sesame Place which became the first certified Autism center. All of their staff are trained on how to help children with Autism have a better experience.
Tip 2: When Visiting a Theme Park Download a Map Ahead of Time
I cannot stress enough how much easier your trips to theme parks will be if you plan in advance. Walking around aimless is stressful for everyone. It is even more so for kids on the spectrum who may not fully be able to express what they want to do or why they have to double back because you walked in the wrong direction to the carousel they so desperately want to ride. It will also allow you to identify and avoid things you know may trigger a meltdown for your child such as the clowns they have an irrational fear of or the escalator that will trigger a meltdown if they don’t get to ride it at least a dozen times!
Tip 3: Bring Food With You
Let’s face it. Most kids on the spectrum are not known for their patience. Waiting in long lines to eat can cause tantrums and frustration. Our kids tend to want what they want when they want it. It is far easier to pull a snack out of your bag then to search for one when your child decides he is hungry– which is usually when you are in the farthest place possible from a snack stand — or at least it seems that way doesn’t it? Bring at least snacks with you if you decide not to pack whole meals.
But, I don’t need to tell you that kids on the spectrum often eat a limited variety of foods and the smallest change in texture or taste can cause them to reject even their favorite foods.
After all– almost half of you reading this, subscribed to our list by downloading our Free e-Book — Just Freaking Eat it: 5 Steps for Exhausted Parents to Get Your Sensory Kid to Eat! — [ If you haven’t gotten your copy yet — Click Here — to download it for free!]
Tip 4: Use Social Stories to Prep Your Child for the Vacation
I love using social stories to prep kids for what to expect on family vacations. Changes in routine can be difficult for some kids to cope with. But if they expect the changes, they can be far easier to accept. Writing them with your children who have the ability to participate can also help them know what to look forward to. You can also use a social story to help them prep for scary or annoying things like plane rides, sleeping in a new place or waiting in a long line.
If you don’t know what a social story is, it is a story written in a specific style that is clinically proven by hundreds of studies to help children with Autism know how to respond in new situations. It can be the difference between experiencing the vacation of your dreams or living a nightmare.
Tip 5: Bring Plenty of Things to Keep Your Child Entertained
Vacations are not the time to try to limit screen times on the iPad or try to get your child to stop watching their favorite episode of Thomas the Train over and over. Inevitably, during every vacation, no matter how organized and structured you are, your child will have a lot of downtime. Be prepared and bring whatever will entertain them with you, even if it is something you normally wouldn’t grant them free access to like an iPad or toy they may wind up using to engaging in stimming behaviors. Remember, the purpose of a vacation is to have fun. If your child spins a top for the entire duration of dinner or watches the same thirty seconds of Toy Story for two hours on a train ride, it is not the end of the world. Sometimes you have to pick your battles.
One of my favorite sayings is to “stand your vision and not your ground.” Family vacations are supposed to be fun and as stress free as possible. It is okay to give in a little on a vacation. If your child eats a few more french fries than you normally allow him to eat, plays a little more with iPad apps and watches a little more on Youtube– it will be ok! You won’t break your child or ruin his therapy. The most important thing is your family has fun!
Spooner, F., Knight, V., Browder, D., Jimenez, B. A. & DiBiase, W. (2011). Evaluating evidence-based practices in teaching science content to students with severe developmental disabilities. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 36(1/2), 62-75. doi: 10.2511/rpsd.36.1-2.62