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9 Vacation Tips for Families with Autism

9 Vacation Tips for Families with Autism
June 28, 2019 Barbara Cravey
Family on vacation on a beach at sunset

With summer vacation comes great weather, family time, and travel plans, but also a break from routine, and when you add in travel stressors and plans changing you can quickly go from having a wonderful trip to a difficult vacation.

ABC Pediatrics wants to help your family and children conquer some of the most common difficulties that come with vacations and instead build happy memories!

Let’s learn together!

Practice at Home

Never underestimate the power of practice. Even difficult situations don’t seem so difficult if they aren’t new. So, instead of going into a situation blind, talk to your child and family about what’s going to happen, timelines, and expectations.

You can even role play the travel, arrival, or some of the fun activities to help make it seem less foreign and scary, and more manageable for the whole family.

Remember, your children take cues from you – so make sure you are calm, happy, and prepared as well!

Always Be Prepared [To Calm & Soothe]

Sometimes things still go wrong, and sometimes people get overwhelmed. One of the best things you can realize even before your vacation begins is that you cannot always prepare for everything.

Instead of trying to be ready for anything and stressing over everything, be prepared to calm and soothe the small hiccups that will inevitably come along. Be ready to help your child in the event of a tantrum, a meltdown, or when they feel overwhelmed, and be prepared to take a step back from vacation plans if your family needs it.

Consider Their Interests

To try and mitigate meltdowns, we recommend planning vacations that align with your child’s interests. Whether that be locomotives or video games, helicopters or zoo animals, you can always find a way to integrate your child’s interests into the family’s vacation itinerary.

Even simply watching your child’s favorite movie as you travel can be a great way to mix their interests with the vacation. Sometimes, keeping it simple works just as well as a multi-state tour of trains and planes or dinosaurs.

Bring Items for Sensory Sensitive Children

If your child has difficulties with certain sensory overloads, then make sure you are prepared with a ‘sensory kit’ like earplugs, dark sunglasses, a weighted blanket, favorite scent, or article of clothing.

Sometimes sensory processing disorders can be worsened when in new situations or when feeling overwhelmed. This means that vacation days might be a smart time to be prepared for sensory overload.

Meal Prep [No Cooking Needed]

No, we don’t mean you need to cook for your whole vacation and pack it with you, but rather, talk to your kids about meal times which can often be stressful for both parents and children.

If you communicate early and often, then some difficulties or ‘unknowns’ can be avoided simply by making it common and no longer scary and new.

Are you going out to dinner often? Are you having meals with others? Talk about the possibilities and how you can make it easier for the kids. Additionally, let your children know what you expect within reason as well.

Increase Safeguards

Though it is not a fun subject to talk about – safety is important for families with ASD, and vacations can often increase wandering, the potential for drowning, and other risky behaviors.

Make sure you are extra careful about watching, holding hands, and discussing wandering. For additional wandering safety checks, read these great tips on how to prevent dangerous behavior every day, not just on vacation.

Keep Your Routines [At Least Some of Them]

We all know that having routines is the backbone of many families with ASD and can be a calming factor as it helps your children know what to expect from their days. But vacations don’t have to mean a break from all routines, try to keep some, even just one or two, in order to maintain that great rhythm you’ve created with your family.

A bedtime routine, mealtime routine, or even morning ‘weekend’ routine (since school is out) can be a great way to have a little old and a little new in your day during your vacation.

Have a Game Plan

Planning, not just routines, is our final important component of a successful vacation with your family. But not just planning fun events but planning downtime as well.

Make sure you have all of your ducks in a row before you ever leave the house. Tickets, seat numbers, hotels, drive times, and even a sketch of what your daily vacation will entail can greatly help your family stay calm, stay happy, and be prepared for the activities and events you want to do.

Educate Yourself, Your Family, & Your Kids

There are so many great resources for families and children online and in our communities. Check out some of ABC Pediatrics resources, Autism Speaks or ABA Programs before your next travel plans or family vacation.

For more local resources, please contact us directly. We can’t wait to hear from you.


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