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Travelling with your child with Autism

Travelling with your child with Autism
Planning and advanced preparations
by Swapna Thampi

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Travelling with children always need adequate planning. However, when one of your children has autism it adds an extra dimension. The reality of your child having autism does not mean you avoid travelling with him or her. What you need is more systematic planning and advanced preparation.

Many families who have a child with autism avoid vacation because they are concerned about how the child will handle the change and disruption, or are overwhelmed at the thought of managing certain behaviors their child might exhibit in public. Leaving the security of home and going to a new place can be always stressful for a child with autism.

Choosing the right place often takes time. The interest of your child with autism, inputs from your spouse and your other children are essential before finalizing the vacation destination. Ultimately the full family is looking forward to have a great vacation. Try to avoid the trip during peak seasons. Places like amusement parks, theme parks may be ideal for most kids, but if your child with ASD gets upset at the sight of rides or is sound sensitive you need to select another location. On the other hand, if you select a quiet place too, your child may get upset with the calmness of the place which he or she is not used to. Selecting the destination needs to be conducive to the needs of your child with autism.

Once your vacation destination is finalized, preparing a child for the vacation is the most important aspect and which depends on his age and ability level and taking short trips is required before attempting long voyages.

Airports and train stations are areas that involve lots of waiting. Teach your child the concept of "waiting". One can start introducing the concept of ‘wait’ at home, school start with situations while giving his favorite drink or food. Use flash cards or picture that will represent "waiting" to your child. Making the child waiting for few seconds to start with, and work on up from there. Once your child has learned to wait for a certain amount of time, add more time in small increments. When travelling, carry the waiting sign, or flash card.

Put up a calendar with the date of travel clearly marked, and make the child put a tick or a mark every day until departure. Carry the calendar with you and mark off number of days in one place or on the trip, mark the return date too on the calendar. If your child follows a picture/ written schedule take the schedule chart with proper flash cards and carry it take with you on your trip. If your child is high functioning prepare a travel album or a travel book. Make cards with Velcro and attach pictures or words in order of the travel sequence.

The need for sameness can make a person with ASD look very rigid to the outside world. Many children with ASD have extreme rituals surrounding the types of food they will eat and it’s presentation. This can create difficulties during trips. Parents need to find out the availability of his/her choice food items in hotels where they plan to stay. Carrying his favorite snacks and drinks and familiar objects often reduce the problems related with this behavior.

Involve the individual with autism in packing his/her bags which will help them to understand about the trip, carrying his familiar objects, favorite toys, comfortable outfits, blankets etc reduce the levels of stress in new environments.

Going to another country with your child with autism needs additional preparation. Parents need to gather maximum information about your destination from the internet, do research about the climate of your destination at the time of your visit, availability of his or her choice food items, hotel facilities which suit your child’s unique needs. One should have detailed discussions with the travel agent and inform him/her about your child and his requirements. You should collect the contact number and address details of parent support group in that country and should contact them prior your visit is highly essential. Check out websites for vacation spots such to see what services are provided for travellers with disabilities. Call in advance and make arrangements so everyone will be ready for your child’s needs.Thus with detailed planning families of individuals with ASD too can enjoy vacations.

Swapna Thampi

The author writes regularly for CTH and may be contacted at contact@crossthehurdles.com