Vacationing with a child with autism is possible

We all need a break. Vacations can either give us that well-deserved down time or they can be stressful and disastrous. Here are some tips from Shelly McLaughlin of Pathfinders for Autism to consider when planning your getaway:

1. Sensory issues don’t take a vacation. The smells that bother your child, the noises that scare him, the textures that annoy him are all coming with him on vacation. Make a list of the sensory issues that impact your child the most and cross-reference them with the vacation’s description. You simply may have to forgo the beach if your child can’t tolerate the feeling of sand.

2. Think location, location, location. Can your child handle crowds and noise? What about the aromas of a city known for its cuisine? Can your child walk for long distances? Consider the environment of your vacation spot in the same manner you evaluate your home and school settings.

3. When to travel. You may want to consider non-peak times for lower rates and smaller crowds. Timing and weather may play a greater role for some kids. If your child is afraid of thunderstorms, a late summer/early fall trip to Florida could be terrifying. If your child becomes agitated by heat and sweat, travel north or wait for a cooler month.

4. Your home away from home. Look for the same safety standards you need in your own home: locks on doors and windows, cabinets with sharp objects, etc. Pools and fences may be of special concern if your child tends to wander or run away.

5. Take a sitter or other caregiver. Find a responsible teenager who would love the chance to visit a vacation spot while getting paid.

6. Travel services for special needs. Check out for vacation packages that cater to people with disabilities.

7. Create a daily planner. We don’t exactly have “go with the flow” kind of kids. You may be able to pre-empt some meltdowns simply by making the day predictable. Encourage your child to make some suggestions for activities and include them on a visual schedule. Make sure you include “free time.”

8. Consider your mode of transportation. If you’re flying, keep in mind that the very back of the plane is noisy. If your child has a difficult time sitting still, talk to the flight attendants ahead of time to let them know that your child may do better if allowed to walk the aisle whenever the fasten seatbelt sign is off. Also, prepare your child for the security process at the airport. Check out an online Air Travel Guide for Children with Autism at

9. Investigate services and amenities. Look online or call ahead of time for special offers, services and accommodations available for people with disabilities. Some places, like Disney, require a doctor’s note to access the special services.

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