Credit: Jane Sandwood, freelance writer
Date: December 20, 2018
Every year as many as 35% of Americans take a family vacation according to a recent survey conducted by the American Automobile Association (AAA). While going on holiday is the most exciting time of the year for most families, it can be somewhat daunting for those who have a child on the autism spectrum. Sometimes it may seem like a better idea to just stay home instead of exposing a child that relies on stringent routines to potential chaos. As parents, however, we want our children to experience as much as possible which includes partaking in a family holiday, either locally or abroad. If you are thinking of going on holiday you might benefit from a few guidelines that can make your prep and actual trip easier and more enjoyable for the whole family.
Plan Well Ahead
Whether you are planning to relax in the Maine countryside or are eager for an international adventure that involves road-tripping in the UK, you will have to plan your trip carefully. Where possible try to book flights for some time in the morning, after your child’s regular wake-up time. This is usually the time of day that children on the spectrum are most relaxed and less prone to having a meltdown. Choose a direct flight if at all possible and be sure to alert the airline if your child’s special needs require your family to board first or last. It may also be a good idea, depending on your child’s individual needs, of course, to inform your tour operator of any special requirements well in advance to ensure that all your needs are met.
Remain as Flexible as Possible
As important as planning ahead is, so too is remaining as flexible as possible. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself or your child, and try to limit the number of activities you schedule for a single day. Set aside enough downtime each day, taking into consideration your child’s regular meal and nap times. Draw up a rough itinerary but be prepared for sudden changes to the schedule as children on the spectrum are prone to sporadic meltdown.
Remember that your child may feel overwhelmed by traveling as well as being in a strange environment. Pack what you can in order to make him feel safe and comfortable, and be prepared to make additional purchases if you cannot take what is needed with you in the car or on the plane. Items such as a weighted blanket, fidget and texture toys, noise-eliminating headphones, chewing gum, and a sleep mask are all considered necessities for a child on the spectrum and should be kept nearby at all times to help make your child as relaxed as possible.
A family vacation is meant to be an enjoyable experience for all and can be as long as you do not set your expectations too high, placing immense pressure on both yourself and your child. Remember that even if things don’t go according to plan, you are able to make special memories with those dearest to you which, in itself, is an immense blessing.