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Traveling With Autism

It is the time of year when we all begin to think about planning some down time – maybe even a vacation! Most families report that PREPARATION is key to a smooth successful vacation. Do you have a “success tip” to share with other families as they prepare to enjoy some summer fun?

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  1. Emily Michels
    July 11, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    We are leaving on Saturday for our 1st vacation with our son. So I am very anxious to see what suggestions are posted!!!

  2. kellie
    July 11, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    going on a cruise in december.any tips from those of you who may have gone on one.my daughter is 11.

  3. July 11, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    Last month we traveled to Walt Disney World. Our first family vacation and our son’s first time being on a plane. I wrote a blog post about how we prepared –

  4. Nikki
    July 11, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    Traveling to an amusement park? Waiting in lines can be quite a challenge, even impossible! Check with guest relations for ADA passes. On a recent visit to a Six Flags park I discovered they had a pass that eliminates waiting in line. The pass is taken to the ride attendant (through the exit gate) and they will write down a time to come back. The time they give you is equivalent to the length of time you would have waited in line. When it is your time to come back, enter through the exit gate and you will be placed next in line. The pass is good for 4 people, although we had 6 and weren’t ever denied. Also, no proof is needed…so no need to bring an IEP or psych report.

    I have heard from others that Disney parks have a system in place, yet require proof.

    Happy travels!

    • July 11, 2011 at 7:54 pm

      It usually isn’t hard to bring proof with you in case you need it. I have written a lot of these letters for people going to Disneyland. Just get one of your providers to verify the diagnosis on letterhead paper.

  5. Tabitha
    July 11, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    I find it goes somewhat easier if I tell my 2 boys at least a week before we are to go anywhere different or stay some place other then home. So they have time to soak it in and we mark it on the calender. I also tell them everyday before we are due to leave. We still have some trouble but not as much as we use to.

  6. Jody Seward
    July 11, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    Yes everytime we leave to go somewhere that is all you hear from the back seat Are we there yet over and over again…he has a dvd player so that is a big help…but he need to have 5 minute warning when we are getting ready to leave to go somewhere and when we are returning home.
    He loves the wave pool at the water park we spend most of our time there. He is to big for the smaller rides and doesnt want to go on the big roller coasters…but we do make the best of it always Hope you all are enjoying your summer :) Jody

  7. Kelly
    July 11, 2011 at 4:47 pm

    Print out a daily intinerary for your child. If they are not old enough to read paste pictures of the places you are going to go that day. I can’t stress enough the importance of sticking to that schedule. Our son is almost 14 and he still gets upset even if we stop for ice cream or the bathroom and it’s not on the schedule.

  8. July 11, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    I find it is a good thing to tell my aspie son days ahead of time. He travels pretty well. We had gone to Hershey Park last week (4 hours away), the only meltdown we had to deal with was because we left early, because I had stomach issues. I felt really badly for him.

    Unfortunately, he cares little about how others are, but how it all effects him, and his glee. I struggle with having to lean not to take it personally often.

    • July 12, 2011 at 12:46 pm

      I understand about schedules and sticking to them for my aspie stepson. He is 23 and has a chore list to do each day mon-fr. he also has a worker to come out for three hours to keep him focused and help make decisions of how to do something or where to put things, mostly in his room…. I have been his stepmom for 6 years now, and it is tough and challenging. At first his dad left it up to me and his sister who is three years older than my stepson…to figure it all out for him. Now, I see his dad interacting with him more, and making decisions to take the load off of us. He asks me two or three times each morning about what the next day is going to be like for him….what do we do tomorrow? thanks for your comments….I still need to understand more about how to deal with the challenges. May God bless.

    • Tonya
      August 17, 2011 at 10:20 am

      My son is a bit that way. I find that he does care, he just has trouble expressing it. Also, the feelings of disappointment and the fact that the plans changed are so powerful at the time, the empathy gets a little lost!! I tell myself he’ll grow out of it;) We’ll see!:):)

  9. Kiri
    July 11, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    Call ahead to the hotel to check with the staff for any ‘surprises’. Notify them a special needs child will be staying at the hotel. Ask whether or not the pool is heated, does the room have two exit doors, what food is available if breakfast is served, can the disposal/whirlpool/other highly interesting electronic device in the room can be disabled during your visit.

  10. July 11, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    For those Parents with a child affected by autism Travel is often a scary idea. My little Brother Is turning 9 and he and my Mother have many colorful stories to tell of 8 to 10 hour car rides to Florida to see family. Things we have found to help.
    1. Calming low music (instrumental only no vocals slow tempo)
    2. Veggie tales videos (or dvds if you have a portable player we have the vhs built into the car)
    3. If the child/children can have suckers the large solid suckers do well to entertain (a bag of dum-dums works great also)
    These help in the car.

    http://www.ecrater.com/p/11331433/mini-gsm-gprs-gps-tracker-for This tracker might be a good idea if you have a runner (child that tends to leave you and not stop when you ask)

    Most of the time however if you are somewhere unfamiliar to you child it can be overwhelming and the best option you have is numbers. The more people that are with your group that know the child and his/her needs the more prepared you as the parent will be to keep your child with you and safe. Travel WITH your spouse and any other typically developing children you may have that can assist you in monitoring your child.

    If your child has allergies to Gluten or Milk (both of which are common in children with autism) “eating out” is VERY difficult and risky. Ask for the ingredients in whatever your child may want before you order. A reaction to anything while traveling is not ideal. If there are more severe allergies pack food for your child instead of trying to find something they can eat in cities you are not familiar with.

    Nap time is your friend. Packing and unpacking while your child is sleeping is the easiest way to make sure you dont leave things in your hotel room. Try to make sure that the check-in and check-out times for your hotel are clear and that you are ready to leave an hour before you have to be out. There WILL be set backs.

    If your child has any fears of strangers try to schedule a cool down time for your child to unwind and relax in between events. Often a rest period (even if they dont sleep) does alot of good for the behavioral aspect and tension your child with autism may be feeling. Return to the hotel halfway through the day and allow your child to play with familiar toys and to interact with you outside of the distractions of being away from home. This helps SO MUCH.

    Hope these help! Love to all my little buddies! My prayers go out to those traveling.

    God bless.

  11. July 11, 2011 at 7:42 pm

    Just got back from 2 of our 3 vacations, our biggest issue was that at the public beach she didn’t understand that everyones toys were not hers. We used a schedule for the zoo, and were extremely prepared with distractables so to speak for trips out of the home. Stickers, coloring books, games, anything and everything that may help. We had a well stocked amount of snacks for long car rides to help distract in the car. So, think of all the tools you use at home and practice before you leave, use social stories, games, anything to introduce the activities before going so there is no real suprises. Best tip is try to think how they feel, it really helps you think how to help them. Happy Travels

  12. July 11, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    I agree with Kelly’s comment about a daily schedule. If something comes up that changes the schedule, make a correction on the visual schedule. Add a reward system in for goals or just for checking off each thing on the schedule. Also bring a survival kit with you of supplies. If you need ideas check out my blog post about survival kits for going to family reunions http://j.mp/iRugLg.

  13. Bridgette
    July 11, 2011 at 8:24 pm

    We always tell our 17 year old the plan. He like to know what to expect, but we always preface it with “this is what we plan to do, but we might make some changes. If we do, we’ll let you know.” That pretty much prevents meltdowns. We try to stick to a regular meal schedule so he doesn’t get off track with different eating times. That is always a big deal for him. He really enjoys looking at the atlas while we are driving as well as the GPS.

  14. Kimberly H.
    July 11, 2011 at 9:12 pm

    We are going on a cruise this Sept w/our PDD-NOS son. I have been showing him Youtube videos of things on the ship. The muster drill the most important. I also contacted Autism on the Seas. They are working with me to prepare the cruise staff in the kids clubs. We are sailing Disney and they have always been wonderful. We have taken several Disney World trips. As someone said above get a GAC(Guest Assistance Card) at guest services when you enter the first park. Then the ride or attraction people will get you to a quiet safe area while you wait.
    My son loved flying so no problems there. But I had showed him videos of everything to prepare him.

    When we take road trips I make sure he has his DS to play with. It keeps him occupied for hours.

  15. July 11, 2011 at 9:25 pm

    For our vacation to an Amusement park, for our 9 year old Aspie son, we chose a very slow day, brought a back up adult to take care of my other 2 kids in case of meltdown, we had a plan if he got overwhelmed. He was to quickly tell me he was feeling overwhelmed, we would immediately remove ourselves from line/ride and sit on chair/grass quietly until it passed.

    If he had a major meltdown, (Kicking, screaming, crying) I did tell him we will have to leave the park for safety of all guests. That seem to hit home for him.

    I knew when to call it quits, I watched closely more than I ever do, for signs of being overwhelmed. The stay was just a few short hours, but boy did we feel like it was a success! Each time it does get better!

    Good luck

  16. Darlene
    July 11, 2011 at 9:33 pm

    In recent years, our most successful trips have been with rented RVs. We gave our aspie kid the cabin quarters above the cab, where he could have his own private space. We rented a generator so we could have TV/movie/computer entertainment during our travels. He could use the bathroom when needed. The best part was I could buy all his food and stock the RV with his “required” items/food/needs. It provided a consistent, predictable environment, where ever we went. We also made sure we have wi-fi at the RV parks, as this is a requirement for my computer whiz son. And any time he needed a retreat, we had the RV parked at what ever place we went on our trips.

    As always, planning and letting him know what to expect ahead of time and day to day helped as well. We traveled on off times, such as between tracks from school, to avoid crowded conditions.

    • Jenny
      July 19, 2011 at 8:55 pm

      I think RVing will be our only mode of travel with our 5 year old autistic, nonverbal, nonpotty trained daughter. She’s our 3rd and we have felt like our older 2 children have sacrificed and missed out on A LOT. We thought traveling would get easier as she got older, but the opposited happened. We have huge car seat issues as well. We are looking into purchasing a small used RV for traveling. We can cook her GAP and SCD meals and have everything stocked and ready to go. We’ve tried EVERYTHING for air and car travel that is listed in parenting ideas. Even if we run a million programs, it never works. RV is it for us. Thanks for posting. Just thought I would add my support.

  17. Don
    July 11, 2011 at 9:34 pm

    We have been to Disneyland twice in the last 5 years with our Autistic son. The folks at Disney are great and very helpful! Disney has what is called a Guest Assistance Card. Go to their Customer Service Office (the Fire Station on Main St.) and ask for it. No proof is required and it is good for the guest and up to 5 additional family members. It doesn’t get you to the front of the line, but is like a Fast Pass that you can use any time. As for tips… We dressed our son in bright colored shirts so we could see him easier (he tends to wander). On about the third day, he’s usually pretty tired from all the activity, so we let him have a day to “decompress” which usually means an afternoon at the hotel pool. After that he’s good to go for another 2-3 days. And (as I’m sure you know) be flexible and have a good time!

  18. Noreen
    July 11, 2011 at 10:44 pm

    The notebook with DVD’s of his favorite movies, some games plus a couple of newer ones. A new VTECH book and a favorite toy seem to occupy him. My latest thing is since we book 4 or 5 tickets I always book a seat on the plane in front of us. That way if my son is getting antsy and kicking the seat in front (which he does on occasion) then at least we’ll know it (someone in my family will be sitting there and know he’s doing it). This keeps from getting other people upset. He likes to sit near the window. We also pack snacks and some books that would keep him busy. My main concern is him wondering off at night or figuring out how to get out of the apartment/hotel room and doing it on the sly. I always book lower floors for safety reasons (fires/falls) at hotels. We pack a preferred item that he sleeps with to give a familiar feel and tell him our travel plans for the day. We are teaching him how to look for someone who works at a store/employee badge so that if he gets lost, how to tell them he is. We have to be extra careful in Theme Parks where we’ve lost him (just temporarily…not long enough to panic) for a minute or two because the environment excites him. New environments are especially tricky because my son sometimes gets so excited, he wants to run (elope). The more verbal he is getting, the easier it is for us.

  19. sgreene
    July 11, 2011 at 11:48 pm

    My daughter recently traveled to Jax from Philly to see her dad. To prepare her for the trip, everyday for the past week, i would show her pictures of planes and pictures of her dad and grandparents. I would explain to her that she would be going on a trip to see her grandparents and she was going to fly on a play. That seemed to work very well. At the airport, the waiting go her anxious however, she was great on the flight. I put large head phones on her so the humming from the engines wouldnt bother. I have noticed that preperation and pictures work well. By the way, my daughter is four.

    Hope that helps.

  20. July 12, 2011 at 9:23 am

    My oldest cousin, Callum (born 1991) has autism (sometimes called either Kanner’s or classical autism) as well as another condition which is more serious called cerebal palsy which means he can’t walk because part of his brain which controls his legs is damaged so he’s severely disabled which means he’s got a lot of serious problems.

  21. Val
    July 12, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    How do fellow travellers deal with hotel room doors which can easily be opened from the inside…..I often don’t sleep very well in these situations ….

    Have something for your son to do while he has to wait at airport/car rentals whatever …handheld games, ipad, paper & crayons, books whatever he likes etc, Also depending on his age and toileting ability decide up front who will be able to take him to the restroom ..if he’s young he could go in the ladies with you. Think through who will watch him and any other small children if you have …sometimes we get so busy watching the autistic child younger kids don’t get the attention they need in the travel situation.

  22. July 13, 2011 at 9:12 pm

    Summer vacations…..well this is a hard one. So hard that I wrote a post about it. I think the post explains why sometimes we just have to do a vacation without Dawson. We do short family vacations but anymore than three days is really hard for our little guy. So here is the post “A Vacation Without Dawson”


  23. Michelle
    July 15, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    With our son, we have found that the biggest issue is bed time. He can handle the other changes but has a terrible time falling asleep when he isn’t at home. We have finally come to the realization that we just need to let him fall asleep when he falls asleep. (He is 33 months old.) We let him play and read books with us until he finally just zonks out on the floor. We then carry him to bed or we camp out on the floor next to him. Before, we would try to make him lay down with us, begging, threatening, bribing… nothing worked. It would always end up with him (and me) crying and he would be so upset that it would take him even longer to fall asleep. Since we’ve started letting him decide when he’s ready to sleep, it has made travelling and visiting family much easier. (His normal bed time is 8:30pm and we have found he usually zonks about 10:30 or so when we are travelling.) When we get back home, he is always thrilled to be back in his own bed so he goes right back into his regular routine.

  24. Pam
    July 15, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    I’ve found letting my son know well in advance what is going to happen and how long we “anticipate” it to take. The GPS is wonderful for tracking “how much further” and looking for places to stop along the way. But the biggest thing I’ve learned is to listen to what he is NOT saying. Watch his body language. Be ready to alert plans if he begins to show fatigue or anxiety. Being flexible is the greatest gift I can give him to have a success vacation.

  25. Michelle
    July 15, 2011 at 3:09 pm

    We are going to Great Wolf Lodge in a couple of weeks, I think it will be the perfect vacation for all of us. They have a huge water park for all ages, lots of food options, games rooms and a spa. The beauty of staying there is that when my asd daughter has had enough one of us can take her up to the room and the other can stay will our other kids, we don’t all have to leave because she wants to. We will be taking our own food and our daughters laptop and movies to keep her happy. Fingers crossed, I think it will be great!

    • Kimberly H.
      July 15, 2011 at 6:31 pm

      You will love Great Wolf Lodge. We went several years ago with the kids. They all loved it. It worked great with the room right there, and being able to fix our own meals.

  26. July 15, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    Here is a very helpful social story if you are going to be traveling on an airplane with your child. you can have them draw pictures if you like and cut and paste the words. Also the more times you go over it with your child the better, I would suggest starting 7 days or so before the trip itself.

  27. Heather O'Brien
    July 15, 2011 at 10:09 pm

    My son not only has PDD-NOS he has a sensory processing disorder. When he was little we had to bring a wagon with pillows and a big blanket with us. He would get under the blanket, on the pillows, wearing his MP3 player that has sound cancelling headphones on. He would cocoon himself in there whenever he felt overstimulated. He would go in and out of it throughout the day. This way we could take him places with many people but still be with the family. Now that he is older we still bring his headphones with his music but he doesnt need his wagon anymore.

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