Traveling with children is stressful! Traveling with a child on the autism spectrum can be terrifying! However, with a little planning and preparation, you can have that family trip you have been too scared to plan!
1. If your child gets overwhelmed by crowds, noises, and lights, DON’T have your first trip be to a big theme park! Maybe try an island vacation, or a local beach or even just a nearby city with kid-friendly activities.
2. Start reading about where you are going. If you decide to visit San Diego, get a map and some guidebooks and start planning all the places you will visit. Plan on visiting one tourist site each day and one park or playground where you don’t have to be so structured. Plan your meals too! Children, in general, like to know what to expect, and children with autism feel a lot more in control and calm when they know where they are going and what is expected of them.
3. Start talking about rules and routines. The airport can be a very overwhelming place even for adults! Draw a picture of the layout of your nearest airport and go through what will be expected from your child at each point. What happens when we check in our bags? What happens when we go through airport security? What do we do when we are waiting at the gate? If you map these routines out for your child, he will know what to expect and will be less likely to have a meltdown! I call the security check, the “Magic Gate”. My kids knew that when they passed the “magic gate” they would be allowed on the plane!
4. If your child has any allergies or food sensitivities, be sure to take his food along. No amount of planning can stop a hungry and tired child from having a meltdown! Be prepared and be happy!
5. When your child is using his best behavior, PRAISE, PRAISE, and PRAISE him some more! WOW! You were so sweet to wait patiently while mommy checked in our bags! Praising reinforces the good behavior and you are more likely to see that good behavior again!
6. Try to keep a schedule on your vacation that is similar to your routine at home. If you do any at home therapies (such as Brainjogging) or your child has any favorite toys. Be sure to bring them a long (within reason). Your child will appreciate the familiar activities and toys when he is away from home.
7. Pick your battles! You want your child to listen and follow directions, but parents need to realize that what they think makes perfect sense, doesn’t always make sense to our little ones. Especially when your little one has processing issues, you might have to explain your point another way, or even let it go, if your child is getting visibly upset.
8. Have fun!! If you are on vacation, and you are not having fun, something is wrong! Family vacations are for relaxing with your loved ones. Plan your day and prepare your child, but also be flexible if things don’t go exactly the way you planned. Each vacation will be better than the last! Bon voyage!