Image shows children on a beach with text: You asked.. vacations with Autistic family members. Autistic parents respond FB/RespectfullyConnected

You Asked: Travel & holidays with Autistic family members?

We asked the Respectfully Connected community to submit questions for our authors, this is the second in our series of eight responses. (All of the ‘You Asked’ series of posts can be found here)

This question was answered only by our Autistic parents and there’s a great variety of responses even amongst five of us. We look forward to hearing how your neurodiverse families support children on vacation too…

Q2. How can I support my child when we go on holidays so that the trip is enjoyable for everyone?

Briannon: We love holidays! We are all Autistic and we have a holiday routine that works for us. We book houses or self-contained apartments, so we have lots of privacy and don’t have to see or hear other people. We do lots of preparation beforehand (me included). I research everything I can about our accommodation and destination. My children look at photos of where we are staying, bedrooms, kitchen etc. and the things we will see at our destination. Small details matter.

Our children have the same bag that they bring every time, and we bring their current favourite things, as well as comforting familiar items from home. We aim for as few transitions as possible each day – so we go to one place for as long as possible, we stay centrally so we can walk places and don’t have to get in and out of cars or public transport. We do very little and we do the same things on repeat days to set up routines within our holiday. We have lots and lots of downtime. A big travel day (such as an International flight) needs at least two days downtime afterwards. As soon as we arrive, we unpack familiar items. We carry our kids on our backs (even our 5yo) for safety, comfort and privacy from others.We fiercely advocate for our children’s rights for accommodations with airlines when flying (we call beforehand to establish our needs and then reinforce this along the way).

Our family usually bring another adult when we travel more than a couple of hours because of our children’s age and our family’s support needs.

Cas: This question is quite tricky to answer because different children have very different needs. Because of this, you need to be able to figure out what works best for your child.Some children prefer not to stay away from the familiarity of their own home for extended periods of time, so shorter trips closer to home might be preferable to longer trips further away. In that way, you are also able to go home earlier if that is what your child needs.Your child might need to take a few of their favourite things from home in order to feel comfortable in unfamiliar surroundings, so be prepared to make extra packing room available for that.

Some children might prefer to know exactly what will be happening on your holiday while others would prefer less detail. But, knowing your child’s preferences should be what you use to guide your decision making.

Meg: The most helpful thing for Charles is to be able to have an idea what to expect, so I will talk to him about where we’re going, how we’ll get there, where we’ll be staying, and so on. I am similar in that I like to be able to visualize what I’m going to be doing and how I’ll go about it while traveling, so this mental preparation is good for both of us.

I bring as many familiar things from home as I can, including stim toys, weighted blanket, favorite books, his most comfortable clothes, favorite snacks, and so on. And of course, having the iPad on hand is always helpful!

I think it’s important to schedule in down time so that we may spend a day or two during our vacation doing nothing much at all. Don’t think of this as “wasting” a day, but rather, recharging your child’s batteries for the next outing or activity. I always prepare Charles for each thing we are doing that day, and I ask him if he’d like to try it. If he says no, I trust that he really means it. I can sit out with him while another adult (my husband or a relative/friend) takes my other child along if he wants to do the activity.

Leia: We choose not to go on holidays as it would not be enjoyable for any of us. We are all autistic and don’t like to disrupt our routines or comfort zones.

Naomi: Our family hasn’t been on an overseas holiday, but when we do go on holidays we definitely have ways of doing things to make things easier and more enjoyable for everyone. We have time limits on how much travel we do in one day, because being confined for too long sucks. We try to plan activities that are flexible, and have plenty of quiet days as well. Sometimes that means that some of us go out, and some of us stay home (wherever home is at that point). If we’re going somewhere new, we do some research to find local parks and other places that we can go to play or bounce out some energy. I pack familiar things, as well as favourite things. And we try to make sure we can accommodate for everyone’s sensory needs. I often have my headphones in my bag, for instance. We’ll avoid crowded places where we can, or places that provide too much sensory stimulation, especially if we can’t provide down time shortly afterwards. We also balance holiday time with recovering-from-holiday time, giving us a chance to settle back in at home.

* All of the ‘You Asked’ series of posts can be found here *

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