Jeremy and his sister, Rebecca, on a road trip.
It’s that time of the year – bags are packed and families are taking vacations. Some may be staying closer to home, due to the economy. Irregardless, any travel involves change and for most teens on the autism spectrum, change can be stressful. Our family has always enjoyed traveling. When our son, Jeremy, was little his autism made traveling a bit more challenging to say the least. Now that he is older, the family really enjoys the vacations we take together.
When traveling with a teenager with autism, there is only one way to lessen the stress and thus prevent behaviors that can impact everyone around – Prepare, prepare, and prepare! Prepare the person who has autism, and prepare the environment. The following tips can be useful at any age, can be adjusted to the person’s ability level, and can help make travel a more enjoyable experience for all involved.
Preparing the person with autism can best be done by creating a travel book in advance, with photos and a description of where you are going and how you are getting there. Include a calendar, so the teen can visualize when the different changes will occur. Traveling can include a lot of waiting, so now is a good time to teach this life skill if your teen has not learned it yet. One way of doing this that you can adapt to your teen’s ability level is explained here http://www.autismspeaks.org/docs/family_services_docs/chantal.pdf .
Preparing the environment involves contacting ahead of time the places where you are staying and the transportation systems you are using, discussing your teen’s needs and possible behaviors, and asking for what can be helpful in preventing stress. If your family is staying at a hotel, calling ahead to ask for whatever you may require (quiet room, no smoking room) and why you are making these requests, can ensure they reserve the right room for your child’s needs. If you are staying at a friend’s home, explaining ahead of time some behaviors they may see and what they mean can make your hosts feel more at ease as well as give them a better understanding of your child.
If traveling by plane, request wheelchair assistance if you need help, even if your child does not need a wheelchair. This piece of advice comes from a customer service representative at a major airline when I explained that the special needs assistance I had requested a few times to help reach connecting flights had not been provided. She said by asking for wheelchair assistance, it ensures that someone will be there to help you. (For people like my son, who can walk but has difficulty moving quickly or carrying anything other than a back pack for more than a few yards, it has been really useful in ensuring that we make our connecting flights). Your teen may refuse to sit in the wheelchair, but you will have a set of wheels for your hand luggage, an extra set of hands to help you, and you know the plane won’t leave without you.
Other helpful trips for traveling (including to theme parks) can be found here http://www.autismspeaks.org/docs/family_services_docs/amy.pdf .
A little planning can go a long way in making your family trip a real vacation. Adding some of these tips to your “to do” vacation planning list will make life easier once you hit the road. Safe travels!
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