June 21, 2022


Pro Tips

Pro Tips: Planning for Vacation

Pro Tips provided by Johanna Shaflucas M.S. Ed., BCBA, Clinical Coordinator of Behavioral Support; Gretchen Abdulla, Supervising Clinician-Behavior Support; and the Behavior Support team.

Warmer weather typically means vacation time for many families. Planning a vacation can be stressful, especially when parents have to consider the needs of a child with autism. Below are some tips to help make taking a trip with a child with autism smoother:

1. Preparing your child for vacation.

There’s a lot of planning that goes into a vacation, but preparing a child with autism for a change in their daily routine can be a daunting task. In the weeks leading up to the vacation, start showing your child a visual schedule of when you’ll be traveling, how you’ll travel, and pictures of where you’re staying. Use social stories to prepare your child for the activities they’ll do on vacation and what their surroundings will look like.

2. How to handle transportation.

If you are flying to your destination, your local airport may offer trial boarding for children with autism. This helps familiarize children with autism with the airport surroundings, security, and the boarding process prior to a trip. If you need additional services the day of travel, contact the airline a few days in advance to let them know what assistance you may require and any concerns you have.

If your family is driving, be sure to pack a special bag for the car with some of your child’s favorite items and snacks. Plan out stops so they can take a break if it’s a longer car ride. For other modes of transportation, research their accommodations for children with autism to see how they can best meet your family’s needs.

3. Stick to a child’s normal bedtime routine.

It’s important to stick to the same bedtime routine even while on vacation. Children with autism often benefit from routine, so doing the same actions you do back home will help them wind down for the night and acclimate to their new surroundings. Having your child go to sleep at their normal bedtime will also prevent them from getting out of routine when you return home.

4. Find quiet areas and pack the necessities.

Once you arrive at your destination, identify areas that might serve as a quiet space if your child becomes overwhelmed. Many hotels and resorts offer accommodations, activities or quiet areas for children with autism. Call guest services before your trip to inquire about special accommodations and to let them know about your child’s needs.

Make sure to bring your child’s preferred toys and treats for travel and during your stay. If you’re going somewhere with a lot of noise, such as the beach or a theme park, bring noise reduction headphones in case your child needs them. Consider having a script in mind if your child becomes overwhelmed and engages in certain behaviors so you can let staff and others know your child has autism and this is how they respond.