Summer Camp Tips

By Kerry Magro, award-winning national speaker, author, and advocate

To pick the best summer camp options for your loved one on the autism spectrum, try to gather as much information as possible ahead of time. Here are some questions and considerations when choosing a summer camp.

Autism-Certified Destinations You Should Visit For Spring Break

By Kerry Magro, award-winning national speaker, author, and advocate

family on beach autism travelYou wouldn’t believe how many posts I see when spring is just around the corner about families having difficulties with an individual with autism when it comes to public outings! What I often tell families when I’m at a talk is what a dear friend and fellow autism advocate Mandy Farmer once told to me: “We cannot live in fear of the next meltdown, otherwise our children would never experience the world.”  

This used to be a common struggle for me growing up on the spectrum, as transitions were especially difficult for me. Other times, sensory issues would make it difficult for me especially in the warmer months to go to beaches because of the texture of sand on my toes or going to parks with the feeling of grass on my feet. Today, thanks to many years of Occupational Therapy, I love to travel and do it often in my work as a professional speaker!

I’m happy to share that our community is beginning to understand more about our kids needs so maybe they can fall in love with travel themselves! With that, I wanted to share a few destinations that have been designated as Certified Autism Centers (CAC) – destinations that you should consider visiting for Spring Break:

 

  • Beaches Resorts Did you know that Beaches Resorts is a group of all-inclusive family resorts? Along with the staff receiving nationally certified autism training by IBCCES, they even have Julia from Sesame Street (who has autism) for children to interact with. Speaking of Sesame Street…
  • Sesame Place (Philadelphia, PA) – A destination that is sure to leave a smile on everyone in your family’s face! Sesame Place is currently the nation’s only theme park based entirely on Sesame Street! Their 2018 Opening Day will kickoff on April 28!
  • Grand Palladium Bavaro Suites Resort & Spa (Dominican Republic) – This international resort will impress you with the amount of activities for children on the spectrum can enjoy! This getaway is perfect for younger kids as their Punta Cana Resort complex has facilities for children from 1-12 full of activities to enjoy!
  • Georgia Aquarium (Atlanta, GA) – Love animals? I know many in our community do! Georgia Aquarium is a leading 501c3 non-profit organization that is fun for the whole family! I’ve visited in the past and have to say am impressed by their work, not only having their staff trained but also having awareness events focused on autism (Ex: Light It Up Blue in April for World Autism Month)

 

I’m curious to hear from you: What’s one of your favorite destination spots to visit that goes above and beyond for those with autism? Let me know by shooting me a message anytime on Facebook here. Happy travels!

Travel Anxiety Attacks

by: Nicole Thibault, CATP – Magical Storybook Travels

child with autism travel anxiety

It’s probably a given that if your child has an Autism diagnosis, he or she most likely struggles with anxiety as well. They kinda go hand-in-hand.

Anxiety while traveling is a real struggle for families with children on the Spectrum. You’re away from home, outside the child’s comfort zone, going to places with different sensory experiences, trying new foods and more. All of these factors can be overwhelming for someone with Autism and anxiety.

For my son with Autism, I do a lot of vacation prep before we go on any trip. We “social story” parts of the trip, review the details of our itinerary, and look for photos and videos of our experiences to watch before we travel, so that there are very few “unknowns” that can send my son into an anxiety panic attack.

But travel can be unpredictable. You can always plan for every detail, every emergency that may come up.

For example, on a recent trip from Key West, Florida, to the Dry Tortugas/Fort Jefferson National Park, our shuttle boat hit rough seas. The boat was hitting the waves, rising high into the air, and then dropping suddenly with each swell.

We knew we might experience some “turbulence” on the water, so we all took preventative motion sickness medicine, but no one was expecting such rough seas. It wasn’t long before many on the boat were green in the face and groaning with motion sickness.

(My other son with Sensory Processing Disorder LOVED the waves, and would throw his hands up in the air, and shout “Wheeee!” and giggle with every wave, just like on a roller coaster.)

Many people around us began vomiting into motion sickness bags. We were instructed by the Crew not to go into the restroom, but to stay seated, even if sick, due to the motion of the boat. So we witnessed many people getting sick around us.

My son with Autism wasn’t sick himself, but he saw everyone around us doubled over and vomiting, and he began to have an anxiety attack. He was worried that he too would vomit; he started to cry, hyperventilate, and repeat, “I don’t ever want to go on a boat again!”

So what to do to calm down a child in the midst of an anxiety attack while on vacation?

  1. Use words of comfort. “You’re safe, I’m right here.” Find language that lets your child know that even if the environment is uncertain at the moment, you are there and not going anywhere.
  2. Ask for feedback. If your child is verbal, he or she might be able to tell you their feelings, or even give you suggestions on how to make the situation less scary for them. Let them guide you, if they’re able.
  3. Give assurances. Let your child know that whatever anxiety-producing situation you may be in at the moment is not permanent and that you’re working towards being somewhere less stressful shortly.
  4. Deep compression hugs. Deep tissue touch can be a calming force for kids with Autism and anxiety. Use a strong-held and long-lasting hug to improve your child’s ability to cope with anxiety and also give them sensory input to assist with focus and calm.

Are Autism Parents “Cautious Travelers?”

by: Nicole Thibault, CATP – Magical Storybook Travels

In 2017, the Family Travel Association (FTA) released a study called, “Learning More About Today’s Modern Traveling Family.” In this study, the Family Travel Association identified three kinds of family travelers: The Hassle-Free Traveler, the Intrepid Traveler, and the Cautious Traveler.

The FTA says that the “Cautious Travelers” have been identified as wanting to visit new places and like to travel to experience different cultures. But they do worry about safety, and since they find it hard to identify appropriate activities for their children, they are the most likely to visit theme parks. These parents feel that travel strengthens family bonds, but may be too nervous to leave their comfort zones.

Can you guess which travel group Autism Parents fall into? I’m betting that 99% of Autism Moms and Dads are Cautious Travelers!

As a Mom of an amazing son with Autism, I am a self-identified Cautious Traveler. Since my son was diagnosed at the age of two, I’ve had to be able to think at least seven steps ahead of my son when traveling. Will the destination have loud noises so that we need to bring our noise-cancelling headphones? Will the restaurants have one of the five foods that my son eats? Will there be long lines for attractions? Will the crowds be overwhelming? Will the planned vacation activities push my son so far beyond his comfort zone that he gets stressed and refuses to participate? How can I best prepare for stress, anxiety, or a dreaded public meltdown?

So how do Autism Parents overcome their Cautiousness? Here are a few tips for working up to traveling with your kids, with or without Autism:

  1. Start small. First start with trips to the grocery store. Then day trips. An overnight to a local hotel. A two day road trip to somewhere close by. A three day stay at at a theme park. A week long trip that includes an airplane ride and new experiences.
  2. Do your research. If your child only eats five foods, be sure to check out the restaurant’s menus before you travel to make sure they serve one of the five foods your child will eat. Does the destination have activities or attractions that are of high interest to your child?
  3. Understand your child’s boundaries. Be realistic with your travel expectations. It’s probably not realistic to expect your child with Autism to go from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. without a sensory break, so be sure to plan your day with several breaks for lunch and quiet time. If your child has an aversion to loud noises, perhaps skip the fireworks show at the end of the day.
  4. Always be willing to push your child slightly beyond their comfort zone. Temple Grandin calls this the “loving push.” When it comes to travel, sometimes you have no idea what your child will and will not like to do, so be open to trying new things. It may not work out and may fail miserably, and if it does, at least you had your child try something new and you now know you can cross that activity off the list.
  5. Have a back-up plan. When we do travel activities that my son may struggle with, we always have a back-up plan, in case he’s not willing to go beyond his comfort zone. For example, a few years ago, we planned an activity that had our family crossing a suspension bridge. I spoke with the Tour Guides ahead of time and explained that my son has Autism and anxiety. I wasn’t sure if, when the moment came, he would be able to cross that bridge. The Tour Guide and I came up with a back-up plan, that if he froze and couldn’t cross, there would be a golf cart waiting for him, ready to take him to the end point, and we could continue on from there. Ultimately, he surprised us all and crossed with no problem, but the back-up plan was in place, just in case.
  6. Use a Certified Autism Travel Professional. While you know your child best, research can be daunting! Why not use a Certified Autism Travel Professional to help you plan? They can recommend destinations and activities that will best suit your family and your child’s needs.

More holiday travel tips

Submitted by Taveesha Guyton

The holiday season is upon us, and this usually means travel plans.  If you are a parent traveling with children, this can be stressful. If you are a parent traveling with a child with special needs such as Autism, a family’s stress level can be magnified.  Here are a few tips to help families traveling with children who have special needs:

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Travel Tips from TSA

Shared with permission from Susan Buckland, TSA

I am writing to share some important tips to help you better prepare for security screening at our Nation’s airport screening checkpoints for the 2017 holiday traveling season. Wait times and long lines are expected to increase as more people travel during the holidays. With this in mind, the following tips may help you better prepare for screening:

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