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Traveling with Children on The Spectrum – Planning Tips & Vacation Ideas

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Planning a family vacation when children are involved can be stressful and time-consuming, but if one of your children is on the autism spectrum, the process becomes all the more complicated. Whether we are talking about choosing a destination that is suitable for special needs children or the actual planning for the trip, special needs family vacations are tricky for two reasons: first of all, not all resorts and child-friendly locations welcome children with autism, so you will need to do a bit of research to find a spot where the entire family can have fun and feel safe. Secondly, vacations are a break from routine and kids on the spectrum don’t usually love breaks from routine, so you have to make sure they are comfortable with the idea. But just because planning the vacation is more difficult doesn’t mean you should spend every summer holiday at home. On the contrary, both you and your child can have a great time on this adventure. Here are some tips to guide you through this process:


Vacation ideas for children on the autism spectrum

The biggest problem with most family-friendly destinations is that they can be incredibly hectic, crowded and noisy. Children on the spectrum can feel threatened and confused in such environments and factors such as loud noises, flashing lights, too many things to do or other kids insisting to play with them can make them very uncomfortable. The key to choosing the right destination for kids with autism is understanding what makes your child feel safe. For some, it’s playing outside in the sun. For others, it’s rock climbing. You probably already know by now what activities ease your child’s sensory issues, so take him to a place that is within that safe comfort zone. Don’t bombard your child with a million things to do and, most importantly, don’t put them in situations they’ve never been before.

It’s also a good idea to avoid destinations that involve scheduled sightseeing, such as museums, because they can cause a lot of stress. Instead, look for options with flexible schedules, where kids can do things in their own time and interact with others only if they want to.

If you want to have a hassle-free vacation, you can consider a resort that caters exactly to the needs of families with children on the spectrum. These have all the facilities you need to keep your child safe, as well as a variety of vacation activities such as skiing, horseback riding and swimming and the staff is trained to deal with children with autism in a warm and friendly way. Disneyland, for example, which may sound like the world’s most crowded and chaotic destination, actually has special services for families with special needs, such as separate tours and accommodation.

Preparing for the family vacation


If you plan on going to a resort for kids with special needs, then you should make sure you make preparations ahead of time and inform the staff there if your child needs certain arrangements for sleeping or meals.

Traveling to your destination by plane can be quite problematic, so if this is your only way of getting there, you can talk to the airline about your needs. Some companies do flight rehearsals, so you can prepare your child for the experience if he’s never been on a plane before.

Road trips are easier, because your child is already used to being in the car and you can “rehearse” this experience until they are comfortable sitting in the car for longer. Other things you should plan include:

  • Make sure you include more than just the basics. Children on the spectrum tend to be very attached to their toys and familiar objects, such as sensory blankets and pillows and you should never leave them at home. If on a regular vacation it’s acceptable to keep things streamlined and pack just the essential, a vacation with a special needs child requires you to do the exact opposite. Include in your luggage all the objects that your child uses on a daily basis, plus MP3 players or tablets to keep them busy. That’s a lot more than what fits in an average car truck, so double up on storage space with rooftop cargo carriers if necessary.
  • The back seat should feel comfortable and familiar to the child. Spending a few hours in a crammed space can cause stress or a feeling of claustrophobia, so try to make the back seat as welcoming as possible by decorating it with pillows, blankets and toys.
  • Don’t power through the road trip. Maybe you could reach your destination in three hours of driving without breaks, but this will make your child very uneasy and he could have a meltdown. Take a break whenever you sense a negative change of mood to lighten up the atmosphere.

On your trip


Once you arrive to your destination, take a few safety measures for your child:

  • Talk to the hotel staff and tell them that your child has special needs. They may be able to give you a more isolated room – in case your child tends to make a lot of noise – or simply pay more attention in case something happens.
  • Your child should have a form of identification, such as an item of jewelry or an ID tag with their name and the address of the hotel – this is a security measure in case they get lost.
  • Always allow your child to ease into vacation activities in their own time. Give them a chance to explore before they get involved and don’t force them to try new things if they are not ready yet.

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