Travelling with children with ASD
Author :Monique Gunther, for ‘Spot A Childcare’
So you’ve decided to take a holiday. This can be an exciting time, and with children, sometimes a stressful time. Travelling with a child with ASD can add even more excitement! The key, I believe to an enjoyable trip is preparation.
I have traveled overseas 3 times with my son with ASD. There’s a number of things have learnt, but the most important ones are food, distractions, routines and pre-planning. Thinking of these four factors has made our travel considerably easier each time.
Carry enough food for your child
On our first adventure overseas I only packed enough food for the plane. Wanting to avoid customs declaration lines I convinced myself that my son would be fine with the food where we were staying. Wrong! Main meals were ok (he eats the same meal for lunch and dinner every day), but snacks proved to be a bit of a problem. And like we all know, any child that is hungry can be hard to deal with. Children with ASD often have a limited diet, so it can be difficult to find something quickly that they will eat. Learning from this I now take snacks with us, for example, raisins, muesli bars, perhaps even cans of baked beans or spaghetti. Yes, it, it can mean waiting longer at customs, but the wait is worth it. Now when we arrive at the accommodation we have some familiar food available no matter what time it is. My son is able to have morning and afternoon teas and we are able to pack snacks if we hire a car or go on a tour. This ensures there is at least some familiar food available to him, because yes, he will go hungry rather than try food he doesn’t like the smell, look, or texture of!
Keep you child occupied
Another travel tip I have learnt is the art of distraction. As we all know, travel can incur a lot of waiting. This can be waiting for a bus, waiting to check into accommodation or waiting to check in at the airport. For us, the most challenging place is the airport. This begins with checking in, not only are the lines long, it is also noisy, and surrounded by unusual sights and smells. I have now learnt to carry some toys and a book for son that I give him at this time. It is difficult enough for me to queue for long periods of time, so it’s unreasonable of me to expect him to without beginning to feel anxious. I also ensure he has a packet of raisins or a piece of fruit to munch on while waiting and his mp3 player. He sits on top of the bags on the trolley and plays with his cars or reads a book. Keeping my son busy ensures two things; firstly, he remains in the queue and doesn’t try to wonder off, and secondly he ignores the smells, lights etc. I always keep another book or toy in my carry on bag, so that when we arrive and begin queuing again he has something new to keep him entertained.
Maintaining your child's routie
Another factor I take into consideration when travelling is maintaining regular routines. Many children with ASD find comfort in having regular routines. I have found that if I stick to some of our daily routines while on holiday my son and therefore I, have a more enjoyable holiday. I try to keep to his normal mealtimes and bedtimes where possible. To make help him feel comfortable in accommodation I take a few familiar items from home. I take his own shampoo and soap, so we don’t have any issues with unfamiliar scents. When he was younger it used to be his ‘blankie’, a small blanket he used to take to bed. Now he is happy with just a book that we read every night, without fail! He completes his normal nightly routine and finishes it with a familiar story. This seems to keep him fairly calm and settled.
Plan ahead by preparing your child
Finally, I am a firm believer in planning any trip we take. I gather any books, pamphlets and websites on the destination. From these my son can learn a little about what to expect in terms of attractions, food, transport, culture etc.
It could be a wise idea to create a few social stories about specific experiences such as flying in a plane, clearing customs or going on a bus ride.
Read these over and over together, at least a few weeks before the trip. You might be able to find some videos online, which will give your child an idea of what to expect.
A few hours considering these factors and a few more kilograms in your luggage will make your holiday smoother and more enjoyable. You will spend less time dealing with situations and meltdowns and more time enjoying the holiday with your family.