Travelling with a family member living with autism has its challenges. But it can work if you follow these top tips.
Don’t book an overseas holiday for your first adventure. Start with an overnight stay with family or friends or consider staying in a hotel/motel in your local area. This is a low risk way to identify whether travel is a viable option for your family, discover potential issues and find ways to deal with them.
You may need special diets, accommodation for service animals, extra security if your child is likely to run away or access to a secure outdoor area. Make sure the needs of your family come first – don’t compromise, even if you are tempted to do so for convenience or budget reasons.
Use social stories
Social stories are a great way to help reassure kids, make them aware of what’s going to happen and guide their behaviour. For your trip, include a map, copy of your itinerary, calendar, photos & anything else that will help reassure them and make them feel less anxious about the holiday.
Identify sensory triggers
Know what triggers your child (e.g. smells, sounds, sights, textures) and have strategies in place to deal with them. Pack sensory items such as noise-cancelling headphones, earmuffs, fidget toys, weighted blankets and chewy jewellery to keep your kids calm and address their sensory needs.
Incorporate special interests
Special interests help centre and calm your child in periods of stress and anxiety and they can also be used as a powerful motivator. Where possible, include your child’s special interest in your holiday planning to get them interested in the trip and to give them a sense of control and reassurance.
Be honest with the diagnosis
Share the diagnosis with your travel agent, airline, cruise line or tour operator. If you don’t share the diagnosis, you won’t be able to access the help you need. Put your child’s needs first by being honest and asking for the accommodations you need as an autism family.
You need to be prepared for things to not go to plan such as weather, venue availability, tour schedules, etc. When things go wrong, make sure you have an alternate plan in place or strategies to help your kids cope. Try to look at each adventure in a positive light so you can help your kids through it too.
Minimise travel and movement
Your family is more likely to be settled and relaxed if you base yourself in a single location. Where this isn’t possible, try to stay in a central location instead, and take day trips to your chosen destinations. If you need to travel to multiple locations, stay a few nights in each place to avoid constant travel.
Don’t overload yourselves
It’s stressful to constantly anticipate potential issues, support your kids and try to stay calm yourself. So, build rest time into each day – make it part of your itinerary. Encourage your kids to have downtime by making sure you have quiet time yourself. In other words, lead by example and take a break!
Involve the kids in planning
Talk to them about the holiday and ask for their input. Laminate a map and put it up on the wall as a handy visual guide to where they could be headed. Highlight destinations aligned to their special interests and give them two options to choose from, so they feel included without being overwhelmed.