As a grandmother of a child with autism, I thought I knew a lot about traveling with children on the Spectrum. But it wasn’t until I completed my certification training to become a Certified Autism Travel Planner through IBCCES, that I saw for the first time what my grandson experienced during his everyday activities. It was truly inspiring and eye-opening. That said, I’d like to now share with you tips to make your family vacation plans much less stressful and help you make those beautiful and special vacation memories a reality!
Some general travel tips:
– Make and stick to (as much as possible) a schedule for your travel plans. This way the child knows what to expect and will find comfort in being on a routine. Go over the schedule ahead of time so everyone is on the same page.
– Make time out for sensory friendly activity. Inquire with the airlines or the airport about a sensory friendly place that the child can go to calm down should the need arise.
– Make a go bag with sensory friendly activities with items such as an IPAD or IPhone, noise-cancelling earmuffs, headphones with music, sunglasses, hat, chewing gum, weighted blanket, lap pad, fidget toys, silly putty, worry stone, bottled water and healthy snacks.
– Have an exit strategy. Sometimes, no matter how well you plan, things just become too overwhelming for your child. Establish a signal, something simple so as not to cause a scene and let the staff know about it in the event that they can assist if you need help.
– Your resort should have 24 hour closed captioned security cameras to insure the safety of your child.
As for airport travel, the TSA will allow a person with autism to be screened without separation from their group. You should ask for a consultation with a TSA official before hand to advise of any concerns you may have and to let them know of any medications, sensitivities or required accommodations. The TSA also offers Wings of Autism, which allows a practice run of the required security screening process so the person with Autism will know what to expect. This practice run includes security screening, obtaining your boarding pass, boarding the plane, deplaning, leaving the airport. You can also request “silent boarding”at the gate, giving you priority boarding and the ability to get the family settled before everyone else boards, avoiding any sensory overload.
Taking a cruise can be exciting and yet overwhelming for people with sensory processing issues. Consider taking a shorter cruise first to ease everyone into cruising, and be sure to discuss with your travel agent about proper sensory activities and excursions, as well as any dietary restrictions or sensitivities. This way a safe menu can be worked out, as well as them approving food brought from home. Request express boarding to avoid long wait lines. Also, speak to the maitre’ d regarding being placed in a quieter area of the restaurant. Pack a go bag similar to the previous one suggested but add water shoes, sunblock, Dramamine or bracelets and sunglasses. And for your peace of mind, request (in advance) a phone to carry while on board so you can have contact with the dining room and the Kid’s Club at all times. You should keep your confirmation of your advance request to show when embarking the ship.
There are many resorts and cruiselines with staff specifically trained to make your child with autism feel comfortable, safe and happy while on vacation All Beaches (family inclusive resorts owned by Sandals) resorts are Certified Autism Centers and their Kid’s Clubs are autism friendly. You may also request a Beaches’ Buddy for your child for the entire trip or just for a few hours. Karisma Nickelodeon Resort in Punta Cana is also Autism friendly with specially trained staff. They offer (with advance notice of arrival time) having your child’s favorite Nick character waiting in the lobby to welcome them, as well as a private meet and greet with a Nick character for your child with autism free of charge. They have a beautiful sensory-friendly aqua park and can accommodate any dietary needs.
Please contact our office to discuss any questions or concerns you may have and to allow us to help you get to that fabulous family vacation with as little stress as possible. Or you can contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.