Holidaying With An Autistic Child
With summer fast approaching, many families may be thinking about booking a holiday. Planning and executing a family holiday successfully can be stressful at the best of times and for families that have an autistic child there will be even more considerations to be made. It is not uncommon for children to be affected by the change in routine and environment that a holiday can bring but for those with autism, who have a strong dependency on 'sameness', these changes can cause major anxiety and distress. With the rates of autism in children steadily growing year by year, managing this is a very real challenge for thousands of parents who simply want to enjoy the normality of a relaxing family break. Although the unfamiliar can be daunting to an autistic child, with plenty of support and preparation things can run smoothly and happily. Here are just a few things to consider when planning your well deserved family holiday this year.
Where to go
As the parent or carer of an autistic child, you will best know their needs, their triggers and their personal limits. Take all of this into account when thinking about the nature or your break. For example if your child is sensitive to noise then look at quieter resorts or request a room that is far away from the bar and central hub of the hotel. The sensory overload of eating out in hotel restaurants can become challenging for children so consider a self catering package. Writer, Rupert Isaacson, even suggests considering predominately outdoor breaks such as camping in the woods where there will be a distinct lack of loud music, bright lights and strangers. If you still want a more traditional holiday then speak to a tour provider who may be able to advise holiday venues specifically designed to meet the needs of autistic children and their families. At these resorts staff are well equipped to deal with autistic children in a non-judgemental atmosphere that still has plenty of enjoyable facilities for the rest of the family.
When a child with autism is thrown into the unknown they can quickly become anxious but some prior knowledge about the upcoming experience may make them feel safer and more in control when it comes around. This could be something as simple as showing them brochures, clippings or even a customised scrapbook of your destination which will act as a visual aid that they can keep referring back to in the weeks leading up to your trip. Flying can be a daunting experience so think about visiting the airport a few times before you fly. Many airlines actually offer aircraft tours for people who have a fear of flying and this could be a great way to give your child a practice run on the airplane before the real thing.
Although a holiday will undoubtedly throw your usual routine out of sync, there are ways that you can establish a 'holiday routine' that may provide your child with the expectations and stability they need. Keep meal times and bedtimes fixed where possible and try and lay out your plans for the day in advance so they know what's coming – for example 'on Monday we will go to the beach, on Tuesday we will go on a boat' and so on. Try and stick to these plans as much as possible – it might mean a lack of spontaneity but it will give your child peace of mind and consequently reduces the risk of distress and challenging behavior. Before booking, consider your travelling/flying times and opt for the ones that will cause the least disruption to your child's eating and sleeping patterns.
Packing and paperwork
When it comes to planning to packing for a holiday with children you should give yourself plenty of time. Make lists, keep organised and pack plenty of distractions for the plane including headphones to drown out some of the noise during take off and landing and any comforters that might be soothing during testing times. It goes without saying but amongst the hustle and bustle, don't forget the essential paperwork such as passports, tickets, insurance documents and any reservation material. The last thing you want is to incur any unexpected delays which may distress your child.
When so much time, money and preparation has gone into planning a holiday of course you want to have a good time. But sometimes the desperate desire for everyone to enjoy themselves just adds more pressure to the situation. Understand and expect that, at times, your child may be challenging – despite your efforts it will still be a huge upheaval for them. Don't expect perfection, instead focus on teaching your child the joy that can sometimes be found in the unfamiliar and congratulate yourself on not allowing this condition to take away your right to have a family holiday.
- Helen Young