A vacation is intended to be a time for you and your family to reward yourself and each other after a period of hard work, development, and change. It signifies a break from a variety of locations and situations, such as school for children and a pause in job demands for adults.
It can, however, add to the pressures for a family with one or more members who have autism.
Planning ahead of time might be far more beneficial to them than you might think. The first part of the blog explains some potential challenges the family might encounter when traveling with a person with autism.
In this second part of the blog, we'll discuss several tips that have shown to be useful when traveling (by air or by land) with persons who have ASD.
BEFORE THE TRIP
Weeks ahead of your planned trip, create a list of things you might need. Be as detailed with it as possible.
Keep in mind the items that can help in maintaining your child's home routine during your vacation. If you bring the appropriate stuff with you, it can make a whole lot of difference for your child.
Here’s a number of things that may be beneficial to you during your trip:
● Favorite food and snacks. If your child tends to be picky with their food, it’s better to bring something that they truly enjoy rather than buying or looking for food in your travel destination.
Since there might be a limited selection of food in the terminal or location you’re staying at, it’s a safe option to just bring your own.
Also, for a child who seeks sensory stimulation orally, pack chewy items like fruit gummies or a bagel.
● Headphones, ear plugs, or music players. Travel noise can be unpleasant for those with autism.
Crowded transportations can send them into sensory overload, that’s why some music can help soothe them in this environment.
● Comfort items. Bring a particular item to help the individual prepare for the journey and make them feel more at ease.
A favorite electronic item or book might help a person focus throughout long days of travel, which are often filled with hours of waiting.
It is advisable that you let your child pack their own backpack. This gives them something to be responsible for while also allowing them to choose which comfort items to bring with them on this new adventure. These familiar items will help to relieve stress and boredom while waiting.
● Entertainment. Aside from their comfort items, bring along toys, electronic devices, books, or movies to keep your child happy and engaged for the duration of your trip. Save a few of their favorites a few weeks before your trip. To pass the time on your flight, vehicle, or train travel, pull them out one at a time.
Practice is one of the most effective ways to prepare for anything new. Although it may seem evident, you'd be shocked at how many variables there are in travel that can induce anxiety in a person with autism.
It can be tough to meet basic needs, such as finding appropriate food options or a bathroom, while also taking in new sights and noises while you're in a new place.
The more new things a person is introduced to, the better equipped they will be to cope with the real journey.
Naturally, public transportations and destinations will be packed with crowds. A lot of stimuli will come with this as well. People bumping into each other, talking, yelling, giggling, and random sounds of gadgets can be just a few of these uncontrollable instances.
If your child tends to be overwhelmed with a lot of people and stimuli, some practice and exposure can be useful. Practice taking them out to public places with crowds, but make sure to keep an eye on things that can be stressful to them. This would help you know what kind of stimuli you should be looking out for during your trip.
Allow plenty of time for the individual to prepare for the trip by talking about it frequently. Tell them information about your travel process and destination to help them visualize what to expect. Give them time to ask questions and have them explain the process to you.
This method can show how much of the traveling process the child understands, as well as areas where they are uncertain or have concerns.
When they successfully explain the entire procedure to you, be sure to reward them. You should discuss this vacation several weeks before the scheduled departure, so that you can anticipate any potential stressors and how to deal with them.
DURING THE TRIP
Car rides, like other modes of land transportation, can possess a variety of potential triggers in people with autism. Knowing what they are can make a huge difference in your travel experience. Since the car is such a small space, even the tiniest sensory stimuli can be amplified.
Determine what music agitates and soothes your child. If they can, allow them to pick out what music they want to listen to. Along with music, it is important to identify the level of volume that is tolerable for them.
Also, scents can play a huge part in your car ride. Identify the scents that bring them comfort and ease, but be wary of the air fresheners that you use.
It's also a good idea to schedule stops for food or restroom breaks and let them know when and where they'll be so they know what to anticipate. Always keep them up to date on your plans, such as the estimated time of arrival at the stops or the location where you'll be staying.
Keep in mind that you should assist them in preparing for schedule changes that are beyond your control. If you encounter heavy traffic, inform them of the changes and alter your timer and map accordingly.
Entertainment during a long drive is also beneficial. Remember to keep in mind the things that can help them with their boredom. Fill up a bag with activities they can find pleasurable to keep them occupied.
During the ride, bring out the items one at a time, so that they would have enough something to do during the length of the journey. Interactive road trip games with the other members in the car, such as I Spy, can also be beneficial.
Flying is the quickest way to get to your destination, but it can also be the most difficult if you're traveling with a child who has autism. Be aware of the challenges you might encounter in the airport and the flight itself. Navigating through a crowd, waiting in many different lines, security checkpoints, and routine flight delays are just a few of the obstacles you may face.
Be sure to keep an eye on your child at all times. Inform another family member to reduce chances of your child getting separated from you. Make sure they have some sort of identification on them, such as wearable ID tags. Hold on to them (on one side and one more adult on the other) as much as possible to prevent your child from wandering away, since airports tend to get pretty crowded.
For travelers with disabilities, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has established a protocol that allows for special accommodations. Individuals with autism can be screened without having to be separated from their traveling companions.
During the screening procedure, you can speak with a TSA officer about the best method to alleviate any concerns. You may also provide the officer with the TSA notification card (https://www.tsa.gov/sites/default/files/disability_notification_card_508.pdf) or other medical documentation to describe your child’s condition.
For medications, make sure that they are clearly labeled. Pack them in a way that will be easier to locate from your other belongings during the screening process. Inform the TSA officers if you have: medications in liquid form, medications that need special handling, or medications that require freezer packs, IV bags, pumps, syringes, etc.
On the airplane
During boarding, inform the gate attendant that you are traveling with an individual with autism. You will then be allowed to board early or last, depending on your preference.
Boarding early means you won’t have to wait in line at the gate or on the plane as other passengers get to their seats. Boarding last, on the other hand, gives you the advantage of not having to wait in line at the gate and spending less time in the plane waiting in your seat as other passengers board.
Allowing your child to be mindful of the time helps your child know how much longer they have to wait in-flight for. In the meantime, give them in-flight entertainment to ease their boredom.
Give them access to their backpack. Their favorite toys, books, or games can help them keep occupied and calm during the flight.
To prevent discomfort in the ears during takeoff and landing, give them something safe to chew on to avoid chances of ear-popping.
Where to stay
When traveling, pay extra care in deciding where to stay. Make sure to book a hotel with as little noise disturbance as possible. It would also be helpful to book a room with a refrigerator to store some food and snacks, since unfamiliar food may not be pleasurable for your child.
As much as possible, plan ahead. Prior to your travel, call the place to inquire about availability, food choices, and any other matters that can make your stay more comfortable.
No one should have to miss out on the joys of traveling. With a little extra preparation, your entire family may enjoy the time of their lives while sharing new experiences and memories together.