It is that time of the year when the schools have closed for the summer and there is two months vacation stretched out in front of you where you have to do a juggling act of organizing a string of activities for your children. It is difficult enough to come up with safe, entertaining and educative activities for typical children without having an autistic child to challenge your creative skills in putting together a structured routine that will interest your child without him succumbing to meltdowns. It is not as bad as it looks or sounds, if you plan well in advance.
Decide on a place of destination
Choose a place that will not upset or anger your child very much. Places that are less noisy or crowded would not unduly irritate your child’s sensory quirks. Don’t choose to go to a beach if your child hates the sight of water or a zoo if he is afraid of animals. Go to a place that agrees with your child’s sensibilities.
Decide on a place to stay
If you are going to be staying in your destination for a few days, you will need to make reservations based on the place you are going. It could be a hotel, a motel, a camp site, a villa, a resort or a rented cottage but there will be a few issues concerning your child that would need to be dealt with before you come to a decision. If your child has issues about food, you would do well to book a suite in a hotel or a house with a kitchen. If your child loves to swim, a hotel with a pool would be best. If he loves watching TV, call ahead to find out if the rooms have TV of a DVD player. Make this vacation as comfortable as possible to your child by taking his preferences into account. Ensure that the hotel room has a quiet corner where your child can be left on his own whenever he needs a private space of his own.
Research well on the right mode of transport
As you know your child best, you would know the kind of transport he would prefer. If you choose to fly, you could call ahead and inform the airline about traveling with a child with autism so that they are prepared to co-operate during the check-ins at the airport. In case of a child with classic autism, you may be provided with transport to take you to your respective gates rather than make your child walk all the way, which he may not like at all and probably risk a meltdown. Delta Airlines has facilities for families traveling with ASD children. You may wish to check it out.
Put together a social story to illustrate your child’s schedule during the vacation
Usually children with autism relate to visuals and respond favorably when they know their schedule in advance. This is done by creating social stories that depict their day’s activities with pictures and drawings so that your child is aware of what to expect and is prepared. Children with autism hate surprises or unexpectedness and tend to react badly to impulsive plans. Talk to your child about the vacation, place and other details and show him pictures to add emphasis to your talk. Each day of your child’s vacation could be shown to him pictorially and graphically.
Make a structured itinerary and stick to it
Children with autism get stressed if they are in the dark about their daily schedule because they need to know what is going on. They prefer a structured and predictable time table of their activities every day so they can cope better. A slight change or modification of the schedule may be done provided your child is informed in advance about the change.
Carry a medical note from your child’s doctor
If your vacation includes trips to theme parks or aquariums or any similar attractions, a doctor’s note stating that your child has a disorder, would grant you a special privileges of avoiding long queues outside the rides. Visit the Customer service office at these places and inform him about the problem and use the special passes given to you to get quick access through special entrances of these rides.
Enjoy your vacation on a positive note and don’t despair the fact that your child has a disorder. With these tips you can enjoy the holiday to the fullest and have loads of adventure that would be memorable and special.
Click on this link to view my article on 'autism friendly places to go on vacation'