“Are We There Yet?”
Traveling with a Child with Autism
By Pamela Levac
Autism Asperger’s Digest,Nov-Dec 2007 issue (www.autismdigest.com)
More and more families are enjoying the comfort and familiarity of travel options arranged specifically for people who live with children or adults with ASD.
One such venue is a cruise run by Autism on the Seas. Director Michael Sobbell decided to offer these cruises as a simple business venture, but he says the overwhelming positive response from parents has been heartwarming.
The cruise ships have an Autism Group Specialist on board and even cater to a child’s special dietary needs. There are opportunities to dine with other families or children with autism. Activities for the whole family, such as bingo, are adapted so everyone can have fun together. Sibling celebrations offer the brothers and sisters of spectrum children a chance to socialize and maybe share some of their highs and lows. There are social gatherings for teens with autism, and even respite time for parents. It’s a supportive environment where families can build new friendships and feel comfortable.
Sometimes it might be necessary to consider traveling without your spectrum child. Peggy has two adopted daughters from China who do not have autism. She would like to travel with them to their birth country unencumbered by the significant adaptations they would need to make for Eric. Peggy fears the long distance, the very unfamiliar sights, sounds and food of China will be too much for Eric to handle. She doesn’t want her girls to be stuck in a hotel room watching TV on a once in a lifetime trip. So, even though it is a difficult decision to divide the family, she and her husband will travel to China with their daughters. As for Eric, he’ll spend time with favorite relatives while they are away, and Peggy plans to take him on a special train trip to Vancouver when they return from China.
Finally, if at all possible, don’t skimp on those fundamental things that will make or break your vacation. It’s worth paying a few extra dollars for a seat in first class or a nicer hotel room with free movies, if this will make your child’s (and therefore your family’s) trip easier and more enjoyable. Anticipating vacations is often half the fun. With spectrum children, a month or two (or three) of anticipation, careful planning and preparation can make all the difference. Bon voyage!
- create a story book about your trip to read to your child beforehand
- choose an appropriate destination (quiet, somewhat familiar)
- call ahead to ask about special services, meals and accommodations
- consider a vacation rental instead of a hotel, so you can prepare your own meals
- if you are driving, map out stops ahead of time, and prepare for delays
- carry with you a “sensory pack” containing plenty of familiar food, toys and other essentials
- brainstorm possible problems and create a contingency plan
- talk to other families who have traveled for real-world ideas and advice
- plan structured activities for every day; don’t abandon using visual schedules just because it’s vacation!
- make sure to include some activities for everyone, including parents and other siblings
- travel at quieter times of the year
- bring a copy of your child’s diagnosis to show personnel if necessary
- be flexible, and try to keep your sense of humor
- Making Peace with Autism: One family’s story of struggle, discovery and unexpected gifts by Susan Senator. Trumpeter Books, December 2006.
- “How to Plan a Vacation with Your Autistic Loved One” by About.com’s autism guide, Lisa Jo Rudy.
Pamela Levac lives in Canada where she writes, paints and mothers her children. She is fascinated by the workings of the brain and has a keen interest in Autism Spectrum Disorders. She welcomes email at email@example.com.