Monday, July 20, 2009

Vacations, Traveling, and Autism

Summer is a fun time for most, a time when vacations are common and people spend a lot of time traveling.  But as I've found, traveling with an autistic child can be a bit harrowing if not approached correctly.  Vacation plans can also be just a stressful if not more so than day to day life.  But that's why planning is so important, as outlined in this Examiner article

First, make sure you have everything planned.  You need to know how you are to travel, where you are staying, how long it will be, and even when you will be eating.  For my son, we need to have regular meal times to keep his schedule as normal as possible.  But also remember to keep your plans realistic.  Don't spend a lot of time running between each attraction and show, trying to take in as much as you can.  It will most likely end up being a complete sensory overload for your autistic child, and cause a melt down or two.  Moderation is key, and makes the vacation more enjoyable. 

Second, make sure you have entertainment available during waits.  My son likes to use the iPod Touch for various applications with which he enjoys playing and learning.  We also try to make any wait time a chance to interact, in order to keep his social skills sharpened.  We play counting games and sing softly, both of which he enjoys. 

Third, keep some snacks handy.  Some places will let you bring your own food and drinks, others will not.  Most of the time I've found that having a bag of popcorn does wonders for my son who will get cranky when hungry, and I always have water or a hydration pack from which to drink. 

Fourth, explain to family what your limitations are, and what is to be expected.  My wife has a family that loves to do everything together, though it can be a frustrating experience for some of the family members.  By explaining what we expect from the trip and we are not hurt if they want to do something on their own or even as a group without us, we find the family understanding. 

Lastly, take advantage of the location you are visiting.  For instance, some theme parks like Disneyland have special disability passes for rides which can often bypass the longer lines in order to move through more quickly.  Of course, don't abuse the pass by riding the same ride several times in a row and angering those who have been waiting patiently.  Courtesy always goes a long way when in large crowds. 

Also, look for less structured and more relaxed vacation opportunities.  My son loves the water, so a trip to the beach or the lake is a treat he doesn't ever want to pass up.  As long as he is within view, it's a good experience for him and a great experience for us as parents.  Focus on what your autistic child likes to do and encourage it instead of trying to force an experience that he may or may not find interesting. 

So those are my travel tips for a vacation with an autistic child.  As long as you know what is happening and your child knows what is happening, there is no reason why you all shouldn't have a great vacation.

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