Traveling with an Autistic Child

Children with autism have many gifts, abilities, and unique traits that set them apart from other children.  They also have many struggles & behaviors that can make life very challenging for their parents & caregivers.  For example, many children with autism are sensitive to change, to noises, to quick movements, etc.  For parents who want to travel with their autistic children, this usually creates quite a battle; as the autistic children are faced with all kinds of triggers & stressful situations.  Many families end up deciding not to go on anymore vacations with their children. The good news is there are ways you can make the event a little less stressful, a little less of a surprise, and seem a little less sudden for the child with autism.  Knowing the necessary steps to take in planning & going through with a vacation can make a huge difference-for any family!  This can turn what could’ve been a stressful, hectic time of travel into something fun, exciting, and a time the whole family can enjoy.

In order for any vacation to go smoothly, preparation has to be an important key.  Planning & preparation for a vacation make a huge difference, no matter if you have an autistic child or not.  But for families with autistic children the preparation is even more important.  Say you’re planning to take a plane on your vacation.  If you happen to live close to the airport you’re going to be taking, start exposing your child to the environment early; the sounds, the smells, the commotion of the airport.  If you’re going to be visiting amusement parks on your vacation, be aware of how certain rides, movements, and other factors that may trigger or upset your child.  If the noises may bother your child, you could have them wear sound-deadening headphone to help drown out audio sounds.  Also keep in mind if your child has sensitivities to food; be sure to pack some snacks so that your child won’t go hungry while enjoying the day.

Maybe you’re planning a vacation to the beach, which is a great spot for just about anyone.  But if you have a child with sensitivities to sound, or to how things feel, it may not be the best idea.  You could fill a bucket of sand for them to put their feet in, or you could get a CD with ocean wave sounds for them to listen to.  The thing to remember is you’re going to want to do this repeatedly for more than just the day before you leave, as that won’t be enough time for your child to become familiar with the sound, sensation or feel.

Another great idea used by many families with autistic children is to expose them to the great outdoors.  Take them camping, hiking, fishing, etc.  Parents off worry prior to their first camping trip how their child is going to handle all that space, all that freedom, and even all those new things to get into; poison ivy, thick forests, etc.  But many families have found that once they take their family camping, they realize they actually have more fun than they originally anticipated.  The parents are able to have fun with the child, on their level.  They can go exploring together in the woods, they can enjoy the unique sounds & sights in nature you don’t normally get to hear in a busy city.  It’s always a good idea to bring along earplugs or headphones; especially in case you’re camping in a campground where you have neighbors close by.  Your neighbors might not be the quietest when your child is trying to go to sleep.  Or the environmental sounds your child hears late at night might frighten them.

Whatever you decide to do for a family vacation, there are things you can do ahead of time to prepare your special child so that it won’t cause as much stress & strain on them, or you.  It will increase the likelihood the whole family will enjoy the time together, the time away from the usual, and most importantly, less worries equals more relaxation for everyone.  It may take a little extra preparation, or some added pieces to the equation, but it is possible for a family with autistic children to not only go on vacations, but to thoroughly enjoy them together, and look forward to them.

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