The holidays can already be a stressful time for many families with children on the autism spectrum due to disruptions in routine and when you add travel into the mix, whether it being going to visit the grandparents 30 minutes away or flying overseas, it can add a lot of unique challenges and stress for these families. We hope that we can provide you with a few tips here that will allow you to approach the holidays with a little more confidence and a little less stress.
- Choosing your location
Many families are unaware that many hotels, resorts and attractions have accommodations and options that they can offer to make your trip much easier. These can range from identifying rooms in a quieter area, to offering sensory rooms and activities.
Find out if the location is a Certified Autism Center™, there is a growing list of attractions, hotels and resorts that have gone through a certification process where their staff receive autism specific training and often have many added benefits for anyone with special needs. For example, SeaWorld in Orlando has added quiet rooms to escape the crowds, identified quiet areas around the park, added sensory guides to all their rides where parents can identify how each ride might impact their child’s senses, and created a ride accessibility program. These adaptations and benefits can make all the difference in helping your vacation go smoothly.
- Know What to Ask For
After you’ve identified where to go, make sure and contact that location to identify what resources they may have available. Most attractions will have an accessibility guide and you can find many of those linked on AutismTravel.com as well, this is a great resource to help you quickly see what they offer. However, often locations are willing to accommodate additional requests based on dietary restrictions, give you tips on alternate check-in methods, or insider information on lower traffic times of the day that may not be listed in the accessibility guide. Contacting guest services at the location is always a good idea, below are some questions we’ve compiled that you might want to ask.
- What accommodations do you have for individuals with autism?
- What accommodations can be made for dietary restrictions?
- Is there a streamlined check-in process to avoid crowded check-in/ticketing areas?
- Do you have an accessibility pass for rides or attractions? What are the steps to register?
- Are there certain times of the day that are less crowded?
- Are there sensory guides or sensory maps available?
- Is there a pre-travel questionnaire that helps identify ride requirements?
- Is there any difference in the schedule/attraction/rides due to the holidays?
- Are there quieter areas or rooms available? Is there a sensory room or quiet room available?
- Do they rent or provide noise cancelling headphones, sensory “toys” or any other items that you can check off your packing list?
Be sure to let them know the specific needs of your child so that they can help you identify accommodations specific to their need.
- Flying? Contact TSA
Airports and airport security specifically can be a nightmare around the holidays. However, with some preparation it can make the whole experience much more manageable. TSA Passenger Support specialists are available to anyone with disabilities, medical conditions or other special circumstances. Call 72+ hours before your trip at 855-787-2227.
You can also use a disability notification card that helps TSA agents know what to expect so that they can better serve individuals with autism.
Here is a guide to help you know what to expect before you get to the airport.
- Routine and Schedules
Deviating from a routine can be challenging and stressful for an individual with autism. Although travel requires you to make some changes to your routine there are things that you can try and keep as normal as possible. If your child is used to certain foods or activities at certain times of the day schedule that into your trip to create that sense of familiarity and routine.
When visiting a theme park, museum or other attraction it also helps to schedule out your activities throughout the day to so that you can accommodate the normal routine and try new sensory experiences in the morning when your child is rested and more receptive to new activities. If you’re visiting a Certified Autism Center™, make sure to utilize their sensory guides (if available) to help identify how each ride or exhibit might impact your child and plan your day accordingly. Having a schedule will also help your child know what is coming next so that they can relieve some of the anxiety of being in a completely new place.
You may also be able to view the location and exhibits online before visiting. For example OdySea Aquarium, a Certified Autism Center™ in Arizona, has a what to expect video that walks you through the visit to the aquarium and will give you child a good idea of what to expect. Check the locations website and app to see what other ways you might prepare your child for the experiences ahead.
- Get Help if Needed
Planning a trip is a large undertaking for any family and sometimes it can make things so much easier to get a professional’s help. There are travel agents who have been certified in autism and understand the specific needs of your family. You can find a list of qualified travel agents here.
- Have Fun!
Traveling with a child with autism takes effort and planning, but it doesn’t have to be impossible and there are a lot of resources out there for you to take advantage of. Don’t expect perfection, with any trip there will always be unexpected situations that come up, give yourself grace and understanding during those times. Try and remember to stop and enjoy the moment, you’ve put a lot of hard work into planning and these are memories you will cherish forever!