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Tuesday 21 Nov 2017

10 Tips for Vacationing for Families of Individuals with Autism

The thought of vacation to some families can bring on feelings of fear, anxiety or dread especially for those of you traveling with very young children or children with disabilities. Parents of individuals with autism may avoid the “V-word” altogether just to circumvent the stress of traveling. We are going to present 10 tips to families of individuals with autism to help you all take the first step toward vacationing success without all the stress.

Tip 1: GO!!
This may seem silly, but it’s the most important! The first step to have a successful vacation adventure is to make the decision to GO! So many families I work with cringe when I bring up the idea of taking a vacation with their child with autism. The fact is, however, that if you don’t go then you and your child are missing out on a world of learning and experiences! The thought may be scary at first, but once you take the first step towards vacation and realize that it can be successful you’ll never look back!

Tip 2: Choose an Appropriate Vacation Spot
What does your child like to do? You want to choose a vacation destination which is going to provide a lot of options for fun and interesting activities for you and your child. Disney can be a great destination for families and they have a lot of great resources for families of individuals who need special accommodations. Ocean destinations can be a wonderful choice because they typically have a plethora of fantastic activities for the whole family. Another great option is a cruise! Cruise lines are in the business of fun! They have many activities on-board as well as offer times to get off the boat and see some fantastic sights.

Tip 3: Choose an Appropriate Mode of Transportation
Plane, train or automobile? There’s more than one way to get where you want to go, but you have to determine which works best for you and your family. Each mode of transportation has it’s benefits and disadvantages. Airplanes get you where you want to go quickly, but there are lots of things to take into consideration such as wait time, security checks, and length of the plane ride. Cars can be great because you can avoid crowds of strangers but traveling in a car typically requires sitting for long periods of time. Trains can be a great choice because while they may take longer to get you to your destination, there is a lot of opportunity to move around while on the train and see lots of different sights.

Tip 4: Take the WHOLE Family
Rather than just traveling with your family unit (parents and kids only), consider traveling with grandparent or aunts, uncles and cousins. Traveling as a group can alleviate the stress on parents because there are more watchful eyes to ensure everyone stays safe, grandparents can babysit which allows parents time to go out on their own, and cousins make perfect playmates to enjoy activities together.

Tip 5: Plan, Plan and Plan
Make sure you have everything planned out and confirmed including packing, travel, car rental, hotel, activities, meals, down-time, etc. The more time you put into list-making and planning, the more prepared you will feel and be! Make sure you plan enough activities so you and your children have things to do every day, but also make sure to plan for down-time to allow much needed relaxation and recuperation. Don’t forget to include your children in the choosing of activities. Getting them involved in the planning increases excitement and understanding of what is going to happen.

Tip 6: Prep your Child
Once you have your plan set, it’s time to prep your child for what’s to come. Writing social stories for each part of your vacation can help to explain what you’re going to be doing and what the expectations are for each part of the trip. Additionally, creating visual schedules for each day can decrease anxiety or frustration around unclear expectations. The other thing not to forget is to build reinforcement into each day. Make sure there is something your child is looking forward to so it will serve to motivate them to maintain the expected behavior throughout the other planned activities.

Tip 7: Bring Special Items from Home
Whether this is your first trip or you’ve been on a few, it’s always a good idea to bring some special items from home. Your child’s favorite blanket, pillow, toy or movie can really help make your vacation home feel a little more like home. These familiar items can make being in an unfamiliar place a little less anxiety producing and these items can be used as reinforcers.

Tip 8: Purchase Some New Toys, Games or Movies
Before you leave on vacation, make a stop at the dollar store or the toy store to pick up some new toys, games or movies to surprise your child with throughout the vacation. Wrap them up and make them the reinforcers for especially difficult portions of the day, or use them to distract your child during particularly challenging times of the trip (i.e. down-time, waiting, long meals, etc.).

Tip 9: Identification and Security to the Max
There’s nothing more fear-provoking than losing track of your child. Adding to that fear is losing track of your child in an unfamiliar place. Make sure you have 3 forms of identification on your child. Shoe tags, medical bracelets, sewing or safety-pinning identifying information into clothing, and giving your child a wallet with ID are all good choices. If your child is prone to bolting, make sure to bring child-proofing items for the doors. Take digital pictures of you child each morning so you have a picture of what they’re wearing to make describing what they’re wearing simple. Lastly, getting to know the staff where you’re staying can also be a good strategy so they can be another set of eyes and ears to help you make your vacation a successful endeavor.

Tip 10: Have FUN!!
Now that you’ve done all your planning, prepping, packing, and you’re finally at your destination it’s time to have FUN! If you take all the right steps, your vacation is likely to be a success. In the event that something doesn’t go according to plan (i.e. the definition of parenthood) don’t forget to laugh first, realize it’s not the end of the world and now you know what to prepare for the next time. Best of luck and happy travels!

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