Vacationing with an autistic child can be incredibly challenging. I know because currently we are at a resort at Disney and my autistic son is frustrated because the WIFI is out. Honestly, that is frustrating to me as well.
And while often it seems like the challenges are greater than the rewards, if you focus on the following tips for what to do before, during, and after your family vacation, you’ll significantly increase the chances that everyone has a great time, even without WIFI!
Before Your Vacation
Prepare your child for travel.
If you are flying, consider taking your child to the airport in advance for a walk-through and/or watch videos of airport social stories. If the airline or airport requires wearing a face mask, practice ahead of time. If you are driving, use a timer to prepare your child for how long you’ll be in the car. Display a calendar and circle the date for the trip. Let your child mark off each day as the vacation gets closer.
Prepare your child for the accommodations.
Show your child videos and photos of the hotel, resort, or other location where you’ll be staying. Talk about what will be the same and different at the new accommodations.
Prepare your child for activities.
Before planning activities or excursions, call ahead and ask questions to know it will be something your child will be successful at and enjoy. Then, show your child videos and photos of what they will be doing. If you can’t find videos and pictures online, ask for them.
During Your Vacation
Keep routines consistent.
Consistent routines is probably the most important factor in your family’s vacation success. If you change time zones, adapt to the current one as soon as possible. Try to follow the same morning and evening routines as well as meal and snack times. Also, make sure you bring (or have access to) your child’s preferred foods, toys, books, etc. Even though the goal is often to try new things on vacation, your child will find comfort in as much familiarity as possible.
Be willing to change plans.
If you have dinner booked for the evening, but your child has had a busy day and they want to stay at the hotel, it’s okay! Order room service or pick up a pizza. The goal is for the experience to be positive, and sometimes that means saying no to things.
Give your child some autonomy.
Let them select an excursion, activity, or restaurant. Allowing them some say in the vacation, will help them to feel invested and promote better outcomes.
After the Vacation
Get back to routine as quickly as possible.
As much as we as adults would like to ease back into our normal schedule, for our autistic children, getting back to routine needs to happen the moment the plane touches down or you pull into your driveway.
Talk positively about the vacation.
Even if there were moments of meltdowns and tears, talk about what went right! That’ll go a lot farther than focusing on the negative.
Plan for the next trip!
It is much easier NOT to travel with a child on the spectrum. But the positive memories you make will last a lifetime, not just for for you, but for your child. Even if it’s difficult, do it!
When you travel with children you are giving them something that can never be taken away….Experience, exposure, and a way of life.
Pamela T. Chandler
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