While many travel plans may have been put on hold as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the success of vaccination schemes and safety procedures means that we could very soon be traveling freely again. This means that it’s finally time to start planning your family vacation (or staycation, if you want to stay a little closer to home).
However, while many view vacations as something exciting and relaxing, children with autism or related disorders may view them with a degree of apprehension. This is because vacations often signify a break in their daily routine – which for many is a cause of discomfort. Nevertheless, this does not mean that they don’t enjoy traveling and won’t have a good time on vacation; it just means you need to find a way to make it as fun and exciting as possible for them.
With that in mind, here are some ways to help prepare your child for a fun family vacation.
Involve them in the planning process as much as possible.
As mentioned previously, children with autism and related disorders often thrive when they can stick to a certain routine or schedule. As you will be interrupting that schedule, you must help them prepare for this change so that it does not come as a surprise. Thankfully, there are various ways in which you can do this:
- Start talking about the vacation as soon as possible, giving them a confirmed date as to when you will be traveling and for how long.
- Ask them for their input on potential holiday destinations, showing them plenty of pictures and videos, so they know what to expect.
- Once booked, show them the website for your hotel or Airbnb. This means they can begin to familiarize themselves with the new environment ahead of time.
- If your child attends therapy, you could ask their therapist to discuss the upcoming vacation with them.
Put together an itinerary.
Though you may want to spend most of your vacation relaxing, an itinerary is a great way to help your child make the most out of their vacation. It takes away the element of ‘surprise,’ which can help them feel more comfortable and relaxed. When putting together an itinerary, consider the following:
- Try to ensure that your itinerary in some way resembles your usual routine. For example, you could aim to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the same time each day.
- Find (and plan out) some activities that you know your child will enjoy. For example, you can find activities that align with their hobbies or special interests.
- Ensure each family member is happy by allowing them to select some activities to participate in – whether this means museum visits or other local attractions.
- When traveling from one place to another, let your child know how long each journey will take.
- Put together your itinerary as soon as possible. This gives your child the chance to familiarize themselves with the schedule.
Focus on making them comfortable.
When heading out on vacation, ensure you do whatever it takes to keep your child feeling relaxed and comfortable. Thankfully, there are various ways in which you can do this, such as:
- Allowing them to ‘veto’ certain activities if they don’t feel like they want to participate.
- Asking them plenty of questions and listening to what they have to say.
- Bringing some home comforts along with you in their suitcase so that they can turn to something familiar if they need it. For example, if they prefer to eat a specific kind of cereal for breakfast – you might want to bring a box with you.