By Samantha Sallade, Ph.D.
Dr. Sallade is a certified school psychologist who is experienced in evaluating children for autism and other neurodevelopmental challenges. She is the Director of Clinical Outreach of As You Are, a virtual clinic dramatically increasing access to early autism diagnostic services through the use of exclusively telehealth appointments.
Another school year has ended, which means summer vacation for many of our kiddos! Many families are eager to get out on the road (or the plane, or the train). For families who have a child with autism, travel can present a few challenges like:
- New environments
- New people
- Changes to established routines and schedules
- New foods and activities
- Lots of sensory stimulation
Not to worry– with a little preparation, patience and flexibility, you and your child can enjoy your upcoming summer trip.
Here are some ways to address potential travel challenges:
Prepare your child
Help your kiddo get ready by sharing what to expect before the trip.
- Use a calendar to mark the day you depart, and have your child cross off each day as it passes. This gives your child a visual marker of when changes will happen.
- Create a social story with pictures and simple labels to help your child visualize what the travel will entail.
- Talk through the social story with your child as much as you can.
Work on your show and tell skills
- As the trip gets closer, you might try playing “travel” with your child. Perhaps your kiddo’s toys or dolls are taking a trip. You and your child can role play, which can help you check for understanding.
- Ask your child to do some show and tell by explaining to you (or to a favorite toy) what will happen during the trip.
Start packing early
It may be helpful to make a list of what you’ll need to bring, including what needs to go in your carry-on luggage (if you’re flying) for easy access. Here are a few items that may need to be on your list:
- Plenty of snacks and small meals
- Gum or other chewy items to help with pressure changes in the ears (if you’re flying)
- Comfort items from home
- Your child’s prescription medicines, including extra doses in case of any delays or cancellations
- Games, toys, or books to help keep your child busy
- Noise-canceling headphones or other sensory-friendly items that can soothe and calm your child
- Chargers for all electronic devices
- Strollers, baby carriers, car seats or booster seats
- Clothes, toiletries, shoes, sunscreen – whatever you’ll need for the trip itself
As much as you prepare, and as diligently as you practice with your child before the trip, there are some things that will not go according to plan on the travel day itself. That’s okay. Take a deep breath, and try to be flexible. You’re doing the best you can in a challenging situation – and remember so is your child.
Dig deep into your toolbox of strategies and know that you can do this. You can get through whatever comes up, whatever goes wrong. And, don’t be afraid to ask someone for help. Cut yourself (and your child) some slack, and try to go with the flow.
Do your research
There is lots of good information online about traveling with a kid who has autism
- Before your trip, try searching “autism-friendly vacation destinations” or “sensory-friendly vacation destinations.”
- Take a look at support services and accommodations available through transportation organizations (like TSA Cares)
- Ask for help. There are professionals known as Certified Autism Travel Professionals (CATP) who have demonstrated that they are both knowledgeable and capable of providing support and travel-related services to an individual on the autism spectrum as well as their family.
- Check out some travel guides for additional resources, like this one from Autism Travel.
Travel is a great way to strengthen bonds among families, learn new skills and make memories that will last a lifetime. Happy travels!
For additional resources, check out some more Notes from the Doc blog articles.