Travelling with Autistic Children

We were lucky enough to talk with Candy, mum to two autistic children, to get her tips on successful travel with Autism.

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I have a crowd of kids and taking them anywhere is always a mammoth task, add a couple of autistic children to that and you’ve got yourself an almost militarised operation. I’ll start with a bit of background first, I am a mother of seven children two of whom are diagnosed as autistic and a third in the process of being diagnosed, each of them presents autistic in very different ways. Autism is a developmental disability or impairment that lasts a lifetime, these children and adults have difficulty with social interaction, and sometimes problems communicating, they may have repetitive behaviours and sensory processing disorders.

Taking an autistic child on holiday needs a lot of preparation. Even just everyday stuff like going to the shop for bread takes planning to avoid meltdowns and get through the event with most of your sanity intact (and I use the term intact loosely). A simple trip to the supermarket can end in tears, tantrums and the occasional sprint. This is because an autistic child can have a very different way of processing the world around them. The sounds in a shopping centre can push a kid’s buttons. A message broadcast over the PA in a store has seen my son completely loose it and make a run for the car park. To us the sounds in a shopping centre would be background noise, but to an autistic child it is all in the foreground of their processing and all of it is trying to get their attention first. This competes with their ability to communicate because they can’t work out what to focus on first.

Last summer we took the whole crowd on a trip to the coast, luckily for us we have a very large vehicle and can literally take everything including the kitchen sink, aside from the usual stuff that all kids need on holidays – our autistic kids need some extra considerations. So here are a few things that we put together to help us get through.

What to pack?

A sensory distractor or a fiddle kit (which is what we call it). Grab an enviro shopping bag and put a few tactile toys in, like Koosh balls or a small battery operated hand massager. An iPod and headphones if your child is capable of operating it or child sized ear muffs – great for helping them have a little time out from noises around them when it is not possible to go home. If you can, work out what small activity your child loves to do and put that in the kit too. We have teeny tiny My Little Pony play sets in ours. Whatever works will do.

Comfort foods:

Don’t forget to have their favourite food in their kit. Excellent for those moments they decide to get a bit fussy about food bought on the road.

Medicines on the go:

Often, as is our case, Autistic children require some kind of medications. Some of these medications need to be given at very specific times. Make sure you can easily identify which bag has their meds in it and you can get at it, and to make sure that a medication time is not missed set your mobile phone alarm to remind you at the right time (this can be especially helpful when changing time zones). A missed tablet can sometimes ruin a few days in a holiday, not just one.

Favourite Things:

This could be a DVD, blanket or toy, whatever. Make sure they have something from home around them in the car, on the plane and in the bed where you are staying.

What else?

Check out your destination properly before you get there, if you can. I always call ahead and ask them about door locks, bathtubs and fences – just to name a few things. Try to plan your day, even high functioning autistic children can get a bit anxious if they don’t know what is happening next. Also try not to cram too many activities into one day. If your child can, get them to help plan what you are going to do with each day, it will help them feel more in control and comfortable. But if it all goes to pot don’t panic, even the best laid plans can go awry. The best way we’ve found to deal with this is to not let it get you down, and to use a meltdown as an indicator that it is time to stop and have a wind down, go back to where you are staying have a rest and watch a DVD, doing something low key and relaxing is good for everyone in the end. Just remember not to put too much pressure on yourself as you need that holiday too.