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‘Tis the season for holiday busy-ness and family gatherings! Just the thought of everything that is waiting on that holiday “to-do” list can be overwhelming for anyone. Adding travel to the holiday itinerary creates a whole new “to-do” list to tackle before, during, and after travel.
‘Tis the Season
For families who have children on the autism spectrum, there is a list of considerations that pertain specifically to the child in the family with autism. It takes planning and strategizing to make traveling run smoothly with a child who has autism. It also takes patience, flexibility, and creative thinking to make traveling with a child who has autism a pleasant experience for the child, and for the whole family.
Children with autism are notoriously reliant on routines. Any change in routine can be quite disruptive to a child with autism and trigger feelings of insecurity, anxiety, and panic. Surprising your child with an impromptu weekend to Disneyland might sound amazing to some children, but it could provoke fear and a meltdown in a child with autism. Children with autism need time to process ideas before jumping at the opportunities.
Planning ahead for a disruption in the daily routine is the most compassionate thing that you can do for a child with autism. Rather than, “hey kids…get up! We’re jumping on a plane to California to go to Disneyland!” you might consider sitting the family down and presenting the idea weeks in advance. Creating a written itinerary for the family is also a nice idea for preparing everyone and even starting conversations about some of the other ideas that family members may want to add or delete before travel.
After presenting the plans to the family, there are a few more things to do to prepare a child with autism for all of the various sights, sounds, smells, and crowds that will inevitably come with traveling away from home during the holidays.
- Look at a calendar together and count how many days before your trip.
- Talk about where you are going: how far, weather, landmarks, food etc.
- Talk about who you will be visiting: grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins etc.
- Show your child pictures of the locations and the people you will visit with.
- Talk about how you will get there: plane, train, or automobile.
Explain What to Expect
If your child has never been on a plane, this is the perfect opportunity to start preparing him/her for the experience. Watch videos together, go to the library and check out books about riding on an airplane for the first time, and if there is an airport close by consider taking a little field trip to watch the planes take off and land.
The goal is to remove any doubt or surprise to the experience. Some children with autism may even ask complicated questions about how airplanes fly and it can easily become a new interest for them.
In addition to preparing your child for what to expect, it is equally important to talk about how long the ride will be and what sorts of activities you can have on hand to keep busy on the trip. Talk about that with your child and ask if he/she would like to go to the store to pick out things for his/her “trip bag”. Fill a “trip bag” with markers, coloring books, activity books, snacks, games, game consoles, or tablets and fidgets to soothe him/her.
If you have a child with autism who has hypersensitivity to noise, the airport can be a challenging place. Invest in some noise cancellation headphones to reduce the level of noise that your child has to endure. This can help to keep a child with autism calm and comfortable.
Make a list of things that help to distract and soothe your child with autism and include those things on your list for traveling.
Keep Your Child Safe and Calm
The most important thing aside from preparing a child with autism for travel is to keep him/her safe and well during the trip.
Be sure your child has some identifying information on his/her body before traveling. Pin a laminated card on the back of your child’s shirt or inside of a jacket, hang a lanyard around his/her neck with names and phone numbers to contact in case you are separated and take a picture at the beginning of each day during travel to have an accurate image to present to security or others in the event that you are separated at a public place. By taking a picture in the morning before heading out to holiday events you have documentation of what your child is wearing which is also helpful in locating a wandering child.
Hopefully your child with autism will not be separated from you, but it would only be a benefit to discuss what to do with your child so that he/she knows who to approach and what to do if he/she is able.
The End Goal
To get the most out of your holiday travel plans there will have to be a great focus on your child’s mood and level of comfort with various environments. Be ready to play tag team with your spouse so that you can enjoy a little “off duty” time for yourself and with the other children in the family.
If you are visiting with family, perhaps there is a family member that wouldn’t mind watching over your child with autism so that you and your spouse can have a little time together without children. Or maybe you’d like to spend a little time with your other children without feeling like you are on “high alert”.
Whatever a pleasant holiday experience is for you and your family, you can make it happen with good planning, patience, and flexibility in schedules and timing.
Try not to sweat the small stuff, take everything in stride. Make sure your child is comfortable and calm, and the rest will fall into place. Most of all, don’t be afraid to ask for help from other family members and take a little break once in a while.
Enjoy the holidays!
If you and your family reside in New Jersey, Circle Care Services is an ABA service provider that serves children with autism and their families. We are ready to help your child to develop his/her social and behavior skills so that your child can enjoy all of the wonderful things that you and your family have planned for this holiday season and all of the holidays to come.
Give us a call now!
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