The simple act of it exposes you to a rainbow of sensory experiences. There will be new sounds, bustling crowds, foreign smells, unfamiliar temperatures, unintelligible languages and a general state of being alone, beyond the familiar, the ordinary and the safe. It is also exactly why we provide extra support for a family traveling with an autistic child.
We know there is no ‘one size fits all for autism’. One of the few commonalities of autism is there is more control when we create a comfortable familiar routine. The reality is there are few things more disruptive to a set routine than unplanned travel, hence the need for thorough planning for any adventure.
One of the keys to any successful travel adventure, for individuals facing a challenge or not, is to plan things out well in advance.
A spur of the moment junket to Bangkok is not going to work out well for an autistic child. Once the idea for a journey develops, don’t keep it a secret. Talk it out beforehand. Let everyone know what the plan is, including the timetable. If possible show pictures or video of where the journey will take you. Doing this enough will make the concept of travel part of the routine, and regular routine is always a great tool!
If time permits (and it’s a good idea to try and find the time) acclimatize your child to the idea of travel by taking small trips. Go for extended car rides, visit new restaurants, and check-out some local attractions – especially those your child has seen before.
Another excellent form of travel training is to spend the night away at a Hotel, B&B etc., just to introduce them to the concept of sleeping somewhere that isn’t their own bed. It can be in a neighboring town, or one just down the block. The experience will help make them familiar and comfortable with new places.
Once the journey actually begins the real benefit of the pre-planning will pay off. The odds are if you are planning a lengthy journey some form of air travel will be involved. Airplanes and airports can be exciting places for travelers, but an autistic child will require extra steps e.g. practice runs at check-in and boarding.
Some airports will offer “autism preparedness”. For instance: ‘The Wings for Autism program’ at the Boston is designed specifically for families with autistic children to help ease the stress of flying. Last week CBSNewYork covered this story and their video is below:
Boredom can become the catalyst that can make a child act out (autistic or otherwise), so having a plan to keep your child occupied during a long haul flight is imperative. I suggest creating a travel buddy pack with your child; visit a toy store, art store etc. and have them choose the activities for their buddy pack. Activities such as drawing paper, coloring books, or even tactile activities including Play Dough or Lego bricks might keep them focused and calm. Pack whatever portable activity they prefer and encourage them to make use of it during the flight, to help divert their attention from the unfamiliar surroundings of the aircraft. We will talk more in a future article what else you should be sure to keep on you at all times. Important items should never be checked.
After you land and make it to your lodgings the practice runs you made earlier to neighborhood hotels will likely pay off, as your child should already be accustomed to sleeping in strange beds. The comfort of knowing their parents are close by should also help add to the feeling of normalcy so important for an autistic child.
This part of the story has gotten the parent and their child to their destination. In subsequent entries we’ll begin to examine some vacations suggestions that offer fantastic services for a child with Autism. Until next time remember that planning and receiving great advice is the key to a successful holiday.