Planning a family vacation with Autism - 10 tips for success

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alex
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02 Nov 2018, 10:42 am


 
Going on vacation is is supposed to be relaxing but it can often turn out to be the opposite for those on the spectrum if we don’t plan it right. And for parents of autistics, that stress can spread to the whole family. When I was a kid, my parents made a lot of efforts to take our family on vacations and while I’m sure they probably felt frustrated at times, they took a very smart approach that took into account my needs as an autistic so our vacations usually were quite successful and when they were stressful my parents ...



Magna
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02 Nov 2018, 12:34 pm

Thanks, Alex. This is such great advice. I'm reticent to go on vacation myself for many of the reasons and challenges you describe that I encounter. I'm getting better at trying to waylay my fears about taking vacations since I know they're good for my family to go on such adventures.

We took our first vacation in 13 years and I used many of the tips you described including planning out and researching most aspects of the trip in advance. I was able to do most of the planning which made me more comfortable. I think having an autistic child assist in the planning process is a great idea.

I also wanted to pick a place and time that was in the off season for the very reasons you mentioned. Unbeknownst to us, there was a fat-tire off road bike race happening that same weekend so it was busier than I expected, but I was able to roll with it (no pun intended).

I'm sure parents of autistic children would already know to do this, but making sure all "tools" needed for an autistic person's sensory issues are a must. I know I don't go anywhere without sunglasses, hat and earplugs as well as clothing options.

Notifying the staff: That's an interesting tip to me. I can see some advantages for doing that, not only for the family but also for the staff. I worked a good number of years in the restaurant industry when I was younger. Meltdowns or plain old tantrums can happen with any child, NT or ND. Not knowing exactly what your opinion might be on this, you and I might differ though in whether or not it's OK for a child, any child, to completely melt down (e.g. have a screaming fit) in a restaurant where the family might continue to eat. I don't think that would be right at all, NT or ND. I think any child who became completely "unglued", as courtesy to the other patrons, should be removed from the restaurant by a parent. Maybe you where thinking of different scenarios in relation to this.

Like you said, having the kids be aware of the plans and the itinerary beforehand and reminded each day or even again during the day can make such a big difference rather than having an autistic child being in unfamiliar places, for unknown periods of time can be scary and very upsetting.

I enjoy reading every article I see you put out there. Thanks again.


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02 Nov 2018, 10:33 pm

If there is one thing which I think is a must have it's having a place to retreat to (where possible) and making sure you're not venturing too far (again, where possible).

Our family likes to go to all-inclusive resorts (and sometimes, cruises). Having the ability to go back to the room to get away from people and everything, at any time, makes a huge difference. I don't know that I'd be able to survive otherwise. I can imagine how important something like that might be to parents of Autistic children, just being able to have a break from the noise and crowd.

Having a family that also understands my need to do that is also big.

On cruises we do do excursions where you don't have the option of retreating. I can do them, but it's exhausting.


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CockneyRebel
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03 Nov 2018, 8:02 am

I think those are all very good suggestions. That way, the whole family can have a good time. My parents took those things in account when we planned our family vacations.



StillAlienAfterAllTheseYears
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05 Nov 2018, 1:39 pm

Alex, thanks for the very useful tips. One thing we find useful is to minimize change - if we are to stay in a different hotel each night, try to stay in the same chain of hotel as for many chains they all look the same, the rooms are the same, have the same layout, the same (or very similar) breakfasts, etc. That way everyone knows just what to expect.



tern
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05 Nov 2018, 2:00 pm

Planning where next meal is not always doable when outside the English-speaking world. Be aware of the possibilities, plural, but each one depends on whether it's a place you can cope with when you get there.



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05 Nov 2018, 5:14 pm

Hi - As a parent of a child with ASD, I really appreciate these tips. We've had both very successful and very disastrous vacations. My son is now 11, and still minimally verbal, so here are a few more tips I can offer:

1. We've had our best successes when I share a social story about our trip. This has a vague plan of things we will do or see, as well as photos of the hotel or resort. (Thank you, Google Images!) The times when I have not used a social story have made things really difficult.

2. My son loves to swim, so we usually build this into EVERY trip. I always find a pool in our hotel - an indoor one if it is winter time.

3. A regular "routine" to our trip days work best. So I like us to go out an about every morning (sightsee or an activity) and then after lunch (in a restaurant) we come home to chill out on digital devices. (The whole family appreciates this part!) In the afternoon, we usually swim, and that is followed by dinner.

3. Resorts or hotels with a kitchen or mini-kitchen make life a little easier. Eating out for every meal can be difficult. This is also more cost-efficient.

Love all the comments! Please keep sharing your tips!



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05 Nov 2018, 10:11 pm

Good ideas. One more: since autistic kids (and adults) can be even pickier eaters than other kids, do research in advance to find out what restaurants are in the area. This is especially important when traveling to a foreign country with very unfamiliar food.



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06 Nov 2018, 1:42 am

These are all good suggestions.

We mostly go to the same places and stay in the same rooms and enjoy the familiarity of places we already know we love.

In particular with regard to space and staying with others I find setting up a solitary breakout area key. This is a place where my child can set up their toys exactly as they want and grandparents, siblings and others know they should not move anything.

During the travelling itself, ensure sensory needs aren’t bottled up. Bring putty, take stretch breaks, even the pressure of backpack straps might be soothing to someone with proprioceptive needs and a hoodie can go a long way to block out extra noise and unwanted sensory input.

Allow your family to take up space. You are on holiday just like everyone else. There is no reason you shouldn’t be able to make noise, have happy (or unhappy) children playing, and have fun.



alex
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06 Nov 2018, 4:32 am

tern wrote:
Planning where next meal is not always doable when outside the English-speaking world. Be aware of the possibilities, plural, but each one depends on whether it's a place you can cope with when you get there.


An important point is that meals don't have to be eaten at restaurants, even when you're traveling. Get a cooler & bring sandwiches or go to a deli and order something to go and take it to the park. Not sure why it needs to be english speaking, especially if you speak the language of the country you're in. But either way, sites like trip advisor will be good for planning.

There's also an app that tells you the decibel level of restaurants so that is a good way to avoid noisy places.


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graemephillips
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06 Nov 2018, 6:56 am

Thoughts on the points raised (being someone diagnosed aged 3 or 4): -

1. Create a concrete plan you share with you child and set expectations before going on the vacation

Within sensible limits. Life is full of changes, unexpected events and unpredictability. Trying to outline everything in advance is not preparing a child for life. On the other hand, if it is a country where anybody would struggle without planning details in advance, plan things: - when I travelled round China, I had train and accommodation reservation details and maps to the accommodation printed. Previous experience says you will come a cropper if you doesn't do this!

2. Make sure you’re staying in a place with enough space

Depending on how much it is valued by the family's members. If they plan to be out and about, it will matter less.

3. Plan your vacation during the destination’s off-season and go to a place that’s less crowded in general

Agreed: - in the case of a theme park, you will have more fun, as you will spend more time on the rides and less in queues.

4. Plan a lot of physical activities

Good for any child: - too few children do the recommended exercise!

5. Doing more shorter vacations like day or weekend trips can be easier than going on a single longer vacation

Trial and error: - try shorter ones and work your way up. On the other hand, it may be tiring to do lots of work to prepare and then have to return shortly after arriving!

6. Since activities can be overwhelming, limit them in time and scope and plan them so that they work for your child

A balance of what everyone desires is good. Family situations where everything revolves around the autistic child are a bad idea: - it can breed resentment in other siblings, make the autistic children spoilt and not prepare them for life.

7. Always have a plan of where your next meal is coming from

Good as a general strategy, though when it comes to sensory issues, encourage the child to try new things. Holidays (particularly foreign ones) are about new experiences. Show some respect to the locals and take an interest in different things locally, which includes a willingness to try new things, including foods, rather than demanding that your destination replicate the dietary offering from where you come from. Too many autistic children have parents who give in to silly dietary preferences and the parents should just say "It's this or an empty tummy".

8. Be aware of your child’s needs and prioritize those over your own.

No! Being autistic doesn't mean family life revolves around you! Life is about give and take! Instead, parents should choose things that either appeal to a broad majority of the family or alternate between the children's interests! That is life! You take turns and and have reciprocity and/or find a middle ground when people have different interests and show interest in other people's interests!

9 Prepare staff in advance - Tell them you have a kid on the spectrum and explain that a meltdown is possible.

Maybe, but before they get that far, parents should be teaching their autistic children coping mechanisms and self-awareness. For instance, if noise is a trigger, the child should politely bring it to their parents' attention if it is overwhelming, ask for permission to go to a quieter spot by themselves etc. It is not for everyone else to manage their bad moods and meltdowns!

10. If you have multiple kids on the spectrum, consider one parent taking them each separately on different vacations based on their needs and interests.

That would be a tough decision, as holidays are supposed to be about cementing bonds between families. Again, the children need to learn about reciprocity and compromise! Caving into all their personal preferences like this will make them spoilt and not teach them about life and how to form relationships!

If they want to go on holidays focused on their interests, that is something for when they are older and can travel alone! Many autistic people (myself included) will enjoy the independence and self-reliance that solo travel brings, so coach them so that they are ready for this one day (if practical)!



xatrix26
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06 Nov 2018, 7:30 am

Excellent advice my friend. I'll keep these in mind if I'm ever in a position to go on a vacation as I haven't been on one in eight years and 15 years before that. And I wouldn't have called the last one the real vacation as it ended up being just another excuse dating experience with extended family. Great tips none the less.



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09 Nov 2018, 12:23 am

Everyone's suggestions sound like good ideas for taking any children on a vacation.

I've been diagnosed as being on the spectrum but, I remember my younger brother and sisters being more of a problem than I was. You have to remember that time is perceived as passing much slower when you are young. A one hour trip can feel like a four hour trip to a youngster. Likewise, a four hour trip feels like -- well you get the point.

And, children need to blow off steam after being let out of confinement. They have new muscle and growing nerves that demand exercise.

As a child, watching scenery pass by was almost hypnotic. I often entered a trance-like state if I wasn't disturbed. Now that I drive, I make sure the radio is on.

My mother used to give us the prescribed dose of dramamine for children before traveling. Then, after the prescribed time between dosages, the troublemakers got a second dose. That and the residual effect of the first dose will put any kid under. My parents still talk about some sights I don't remember at all.