Vacations, everybody loves one. A chance to let down your hair and relax. An opportunity for shared experiences to bond the family closer. A once in a while avenue for you to walk the trails, see the sights and generally live the life. As beautiful as vacations are, it is something that is often dreaded by autistic children and their parents or caregivers. And why exactly is that?
You see, autistic children, thrive on the constant nature of a schedule and travelling more times than not throws a spanner into the middle of the schedule they’ve gotten used to. This could cause the child to behave in an inappropriate way as a response to the stress and chaos all around him.
Parents of autistic children are often unsure of how they are to handle such situations. It is one thing to raise a child with special needs, and it is a whole other thing to broadcast the special needs of your child everywhere you go. So, most parents lock their autistic children up and don’t take them on any trips, because they’re not entirely sure how well (or how badly) their child will cope with such drastic changes.
But this does not necessarily have to be so. With proper preparation and planning, a trip could become a source of joy for you and your autistic child. So, we’ll be looking at some ways to enhance optimum behaviour from your autistic child while travelling long distances.
- Keep as much in it as familiar as possible: Yes, it is true that travel brings major disruption to your child’s schedule. But even in the disruption, you can incorporate some moments of seeming normalcy. What time does your child normally eat breakfast? Keep to that time. What are his favourite cereals? Pack them with you. These moments which he’s comfortable with will give him a safe launch pad to tackle the rest of the strangeness all around him and help to enhance the trio experience for both of you.
- Prepare his mind for what lies ahead: You can tell your child stories about the trip ahead. Get him excited about the fun in store. You could also make use of social media and the internet. Show him pictures of where you are going, research fun facts about the location. Not only does doing all these before the trip helps him to actually anticipate it, but it also helps provide this feeling of stability as the trip no longer appears as strange as it would have otherwise.
- Talk about when you’re going home: In the flurry and bustle of the trip, it might not be uncommon for an autistic child to have the feeling that he’s leaving home, a place he has learnt to be comfortable in, forever. This can significantly contribute to his anxiety during the trip. However, clearly staying when the trip will be over can make it clear that you guys will still go home, freeing him up to enjoy the rest of the trip.
- Get a trip schedule: As I noted earlier, autistic children thrive on schedules. It might be very helpful for your child if you draft out a clear schedule for the trip. Something like, “We’ll do this first, then after that, we’ll go see that, then we’ll do (insert interesting activity”. The schedule should be linked with time, so the autistic child can to some extent predict what will happen next, giving him a small sense of stability in the ever-changing world around him.
- The destination actually matters: Plan beforehand exactly where you’re taking your child to. Look out for airlines, travel agencies and destination that are autism-friendly. These guys would probably be used to handling autistic children, thereby reducing the risk of some very unwanted complications.
- Tag your child properly: Children, even autistic children, have been known (and are still known) to wander away from their parents. It’s the perfect horror scenario, losing your child at a crowded airport terminal. To make it significantly worse, autistic children usually have verbal communication issues and so they might not be able to assist those who are trying to help them find you with any valuable information. You can preempt this from happening (the getting lost, not the wandering away) by tagging your child with a simple tag that can give his name and a way to contact his primary caregiver.
- Take stock afterwards: At the end of the trip, go over it with your child. Find out what worked and what did not work. It will help with future trips.
The truth is that there are certain unsavoury issues which are part and parcel of travelling with an autistic child. But with careful planning, you and your child can get the trip you’ve always wanted, create some bonding memories and have fun while at it.