How to vacation so it’s relaxing
by Jen Nardo
Vacationing with a child who has autism brings up many questions: Should we drive somewhere? Should we fly? Should we stay at home and play in the backyard? My family has done all three—and so can yours! Here are some ideas I’ve gleaned from vacationing with my son, Jake, who is on the autism spectrum:
Choose your destination.
Is there a beach? If yes, then start packing. Does your child love Disney characters? How about rides? Walt Disney World and Hersheypark both have special passes for visitors with a family member with a disability. But each is also different (as outlined on their websites).
Note: Passes make getting on rides easier for our kids, which in turn makes life easier on us.
Decide on how to travel.
Car rides seem easiest. My family has driven to the Outer Banks of North Carolina with Jake—an eight-hour trip! And he did better than I did. We always travel with his portable DVD player, we try to eat at the same time so we can anticipate when he’ll be hungry, and we bring surprises for along the way. The surprises can be DVDs, sticker books, lollipops, or other special food treats.
Air travel is more difficult, but it can be done. I recommend using social stories to help your child “see” what the airport is like. You could even take a practice visit, going as far as the security line. When you are actually going through security, don’t be afraid to ask for help from a TSA (Transportation Security Ad-ministration) agent. If the line isn’t moving and your child needs to move on, the TSA agent can take you to the front, ahead of other travelers.
We call the airline and ask for bulkhead seating. These seats have a wall in front of them (instead of more seats) so your child can’t kick anyone. You won’t have under-seat storage, but it’s a small price to pay.
Note: If the airline personnel tell you the seats are for travelers with disabilities, remind them that autism is a disability according to the federal government.
Jake carries his backpack onto the plane, filled with his DVDs and player, gum, books, food, and water bought in the airport plus his security blankets. The backpack on his lap also serves as a pillow of sorts when he leans forward.
Luckily, I’ve found, most people are very understanding and some have been helpful during my family’s traveling experiences. I have heard about other parents who make goody bags for the people seated around them and the flight attendants as well as for their children with autism. The bags contain a small card explaining autism plus some candy and, maybe, some earplugs.
When planning your vacation, it’s important to remember that your child will react to situations on vacation just like he does at home.
Will there be fireworks? Then, bring a headset or earplugs.
Does your child love pools yet tend to stand in one spot or flap a lot at the water? So what! Let him enjoy things the way he enjoys them, and don’t get too hung up on what other people are thinking.
We parents need to let the stress level drop and have fun, too. Take turns with your spouse to enjoy some alone time or with your other child(ren).
Is babysitting available? We’ve used sitters at Disney World, and it was like grandma came over to play. My husband and I had a nice dinner alone, too.
Don’t be afraid; a vacation can be relaxing—and it will be fun!
Sun contributor Jen Nardo is a parent mentor and long-time Autism Delaware™ volunteer as well as a dedicated member of Autism Delaware’s newsletter committee.
This text was edited for consistency of language and message and appears in the April–June 2017 issue of the Autism Delaware quarterly newsletter, The Sun.