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How can I prepare for a vacation with my child with autism?

Chantal Sicile-Kira
Mental Retardation & Developmental Disabilities
Leaving the security of home for a new place can be off putting for children with autism. How you prepare the person on the spectrum depends on his or her age and ability level. Here are some tips:
  • Think of the individual’s daily routine and the items he or she likes or needs and bring them along to make him feel more at home. Bring whatever foods and drinks will keep him happy on the trip, especially if there are dietary restrictions.
  • Buy some small, inexpensive toys or books that he or she can play with during the journey and that if you lose it will not be the end of the world. If he only plays with one favorite item, try to find a duplicate and see if you can “break it in” before the trip.
  • Do not wash any items (including plush toys) before the trip as the individual may feel comfort in the “home” smell of his cherished item.
  • Put up a monthly calendar with the departure date clearly marked, and have the person check off every day until departure. Bring the calendar with you and mark off number of days in one place or on the trip, always having the return date indicated
  • Put together a picture and word “travel book” of what means of transport you are going to be using to, who you are going to see, where you will sleep, and what you will do or see at your destination. Go over this with the person, like you would a storybook as often as you like in preparation for the trip. Use a three-ring binder so you can add extra pages or insert the calendar mentioned above for use on the trip.
  • Put together a picture or word schedule of the actual journey to take with you on your trip.  This can be done with an ipad or iphone app, or add a page with a velco strip to your travel book.  For example, a picture to represent the car ride to the airport, going through security, getting on the airplane, etc. For car trips, pictures representing different stops on the trip and number of miles to be driven can be used.
  • Taking a short trip before attempting long voyages, if possible, is recommended. This will help the person get used to traveling and give you the opportunity to see plan ahead for possible areas of difficulty. Also, if you use the travel book system, it will help the person make a connection between the travel book and any impending travel in the future.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.