Surprises are in store. It’s the promise of vacation, going somewhere new, resetting your routine. But when you’re living with autism those surprises aren’t necessary nice or welcome. In order to reduce your surprises and transform some of them into delightful, follow our travel tips below:
- Schedule – Put any travel or day trips on your family calendar. Make sure it’s visible throughout the day in a place where your child can reference it. Make it visual (use pictures for emerging readers coupled with words). In some way – through shape or color – make all references to the trip stand out on your calendar. Refer to the trip pointing to the schedule every day leading up to your departure date.
- Video – Find a video of where you will be going and/or staying. If possible, splice in pictures and/or videos of your child. Watch these videos and answer any questions your child may have. Be sure to tell your child that you, your whole family, will be there.
- Social story – Whip up a simple social story about travel or find a children’s book about a family who travels on a similar vacation as you. We read the Bernstein Bears Go to the Sea Shore a lot to prepare for our trip to the ocean. Be sure to include how you will get there – plane, car, train – and how you will be returning.
- Information – Get and share as much information as you can about where you are going and things to see along the way. Trivia and history can be a great motivator for children with autism. Link where you are and where you’re headed to a fun fact, i.e. “Wait until you see the Corn Palace in 20 miles. Why is there a Corn Palace?” Plus it will keep them distracted from all the unknowns whizzing by. Maps are a great tool, as well as local historical society brochures.
- Routine – Build special travel-only routines into your trip. When we are on a road trip and have to stop for gas, everyone gets one treat from the gas station. In the airport waiting for a flight to board? Everyone gets McDonalds. Also bring along as many of your regular routines as you can. Even when we’re in a hotel, we read books before lights out and have our pre-bed snack. Bring along familiar and comforting food, so you’re child can be assured that at least one meal a day is something they know and like.
- Distract – Don’t be afraid to let your child be distracted. Their anxiety is up so indulging more of their favorite activities – i.e. gadgets, games, treats – will give them a much needed break. Again maps and brochures are great distractions.
- Regulate – Giving your child a chance to get the input they need to regulate themselves is essential on any trip. They are already anxious, so building in frequent stops for gross motor input, taking along a weighted blanket and/or fidgets will help your child stay regulated.
On our last vacation, I was surprised to find my child trying new things without much prompting. This is not easy for him, and I enjoyed watching him be flexible more than I did the actual trip. Preparing your child for new things and having a lot of familiar built-in around them can make a few little surprises along the way something they enjoy as much as you do.