Traveling with Autism: Tips to Get the Most from Vacation
by Julie Provost - September 20th, 2022
Military families often get stationed far from families, so visiting relatives back 'home' can be a challenging journey for military kids. This is especially true if your military child has special needs.
This summer we took a three-week vacation to California to visit our families, go to Disneyland, and just enjoy family time away from home. These kinds of trips are never easy for our family. We have a child with autism, and that can complicate the time away from home and routines.
Here are some things that worked well for us that might work well for you if you will be traveling with a child with special needs too.
Tips for traveling with a child with autism
1. Prepare yourself for the trip
The number one thing you can do when you are traveling with a child on the autism spectrum is to make sure to prepare yourself. Make lists of everything you will do and when you will do it. Make sure to bring what you and your child will need. Plan ahead, and don’t wait until the night before to start the packing process.
If you're a military spouse and need to travel without your service member, decide when you can enlist help from other adults-- family members, fellow milspouses, anyone who can help with a particular stage of the journey, planning, or logistics. Share responsibilities so you don't have to juggle everything yourself.
2. Prepare your child for new experiences
Before you travel with a child with autism, make sure your child understands what is expected. Go over the schedule before you leave--many times if necessary. We started talking about our plan over a month in advance. He wanted to know what we were doing each day, what would be required of him on that day, and basically what to expect.
Use the method that works best for your child, their age, and their needs. The more you can show them pictures, a schedule, or tangible things like a backpack and suitcase, the easier it will be for them to mentally prepare for the trip. I think him knowing what was going to happen was a big help when we actually started our vacation. Setting up a reward system can help too. There will be times they might have to do something they are not used to doing and that can be hard. Figure out what works for your kid and what is important to them.
3. Do what works for your family
It’s okay if it your military family's travel method isn’t how other families do it. One of the biggest things about traveling with kids on the autism spectrum is that your vacation is not going to look like other families. In today’s world, it is easy to compare how we should do things, including vacations. Do what works for your kids and your family. You will need to push your child--that just comes with not being home--but don’t feel like you have to do everything other families do to have a good time. You might need to include more downtime than others do.
4. Autism awareness-- for family and friends
If you are going to see family and friends during your vacation, it would be a good idea to let them know what to expect from your child. That way, there will be fewer surprises. We went to a wedding on our vacation, and luckily most of our family and friends knew about our son. This helped avoid a lot of people coming up to him and making jokes, or being overly friendly. He prefers his space, and that was really respected.
5. Believe in your autistic child!
In the end, your vacation will probably go better than you think it will. On the airplane, I was so nervous about how my son was going to do. And in the end, he did great. I was worried about a few other parts of our trip, and overall it went pretty well. I am glad that I prepared as much as I did. Like every other part of military life, being prepared will help with your success, and ultimately you plan and hope for the best!
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