Preparing for a holiday – tips for children with autism

We have looked at some practical ways to make it a successful family holiday for a child with autism.

Most people love holiday’s and really look forward to unwinding and taking a break. Holidays and family vacations, however, can be very challenging and overwhelming for children with autism. 

At SDN, we believe that everybody deserves a holiday! And the good news is that the increase in global autism awareness has made travel and accommodation a lot easier than it used to be for a child with autism.

Understanding and preparation can support a successful family holiday.

Understand your child 

Find out exactly what their anxieties and fears are.  Some of these could include:

  • Mode of transport being used
  • Unsure about a new place, new food, or new people
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Change in the routine
  • Sensory overload

Holiday Preparation 

Once you have an understanding about what your child’s specific needs are, you can start to plan your holiday. 

Tips to help the child:

  • Talk to them and ask them about their concerns
  • Prepare them with as much information about the holiday destination as possible through books, brochures, websites and video clips.
  • Discuss what part of their daily routine will remain the same and what things will be different
  • Prepare a visual schedule for the holiday that they can take with them
  • Prepare a travel bag with some of their favourite things, including items that help them to calm down or to feel more secure.
  • Give them information about who the ‘safe’ adults are to approach during travel if they get lost or need help.  g. Security personnel, flight attendant, staff etc
  • Have them wear a medical alert bracelet or carry Autism Alert Card. These are particularly helpful for when a child is lost, they have difficulty communicating or get upset in unfamiliar surroundings

Tips for parents:

  • Be VERY selective with accommodation. Consider noise, lights, amount of people
  • If possible, reconsider staying at a relative’s house - the added amount of people under one roof can be very overwhelming for some children with Autism. This then often leads to more stress and pressure on their parents – which negates the reason for having a holiday in the first place.
  • Use the search term ‘autism-friendly’ when looking for accommodation and modes of transport
  • Discuss your child’s needs beforehand with others who can help.
  • Plan and prepare for everything, as much as you can.
  • Consider food options. Can you bring your own food? What restaurants are nearby that are suitable?
  • Consider all sensory issues that may arise and how you can help minimise or eliminate sensory overload
  • Pack a spare of your child’s favourite security item or calming object, extra batteries and a charger! (if needed)

While the planning and preparation for such a holiday can seem unrelenting, it will ensure that all members of the family have an enjoyable time together.

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