Although family vacations offer the perfect time to explore, connect, and make lasting memories, for families with children with special needs, a seemingly simple outing can prove to be a real challenge. With 1 in 59 children in the U.S. affected by autism, the prevalence of autism awareness and autism-friendly spaces is on the rise. Read on for for tips to make your next adventure enjoyable for the whole family.
Plan according to preference.
You know your child best. While some children have more energy and would benefit from a trip to an amusement park, others prefer a more quiet and relaxing atmosphere, and may fare better with a trip to the beach. Think of the activities you normally do with your family. If you often go to the botanical garden and enjoy quiet coloring time, then opt for a more slow paced vacation.
Recreate a familiar setting when you leave home.
Bring along her favorite blanket, her pillow, and bedtime book. Since children with autism thrive with structure and routine, it may help to recreate your child’s bedtime practice. Bringing in elements from a safe and familiar place relieves some of the inevitable uncertainty that’s expected on outings and vacations.
Plan light and take things slow.
Don’t jam pack a day. Think of your schedule back home and try to emulate the pace of your everyday life. This means one or two major activities a day. And if you can’t make it to those two activities, an indoor or more quiet gathering is great too. Hotels that feel less cramped and give you room to lay out and enjoy are always a plus.
Always leave room for improv.
Sometimes things just don’t work out. Although you have a couple activities planned for the day, if your child isn’t feeling up for it, carry an attitude of resilience. Assess, adapt, and move on. The less you stress, the less your child will stress.
Consider everyone’s needs.
It’s important to find a space that offers options for everyone in the family. This way, if you have to give one child’s choice preference over another, there are still other fun activities to explore. If a teenager is more of an introvert and needs downtime, her preferences are accounted for too. When everyone’s needs are addressed, no one feels excluded.
Rehearse before you immerse.
Familiarity will also serve your child well. Just like he knows the inner workings of his home and school life, give him a sense of what to expect on vacation. Nowadays, most rides on theme parks and other attractions have videos–some even in first person, to really give you a sense of what it’s like to be there.
Wings for Autism gives kids an exciting experience and a chance to “rehearse” going to the airport. Specially designed for children with autism and children with intellectual/developmental disabilities, they allow for kids to go through the motions of traveling on a plane–from the airport line, to TSA, to boarding.
Awareness breeds ability. Don’t discount what is actually possible with a little bit of patience and practice.