Looking after a child with autism can be a struggle at times. Since the autism spectrum is so diverse, what works for one child may not work for another. You really need to understand what triggers your child so that you can make accommodations for them.
I am not a parent, however, both of my brothers have autism. My father left us and I helped my mother raise them. One thing that really upsets me is when I hear families say that they avoid travelling with their child because they are afraid of how their child might react. I want to share with you some tips to get you out and about with your child, after the pandemic is over, of course.
I am by no means an expert, but I have worked as a flight attendant and a cruise ship staff member, and I have travelled to over 70 countries with my brothers. You shouldn’t be afraid to take your autistic child overseas. Use the knowledge you have of your child’s sensory needs and plan your trip accordingly—for example, if your child is particularly sensitive to noise, then of course you wouldn’t bring them to a concert hall.
Prepare for your journey
To start off, the first step of any trip is the transportation. I cannot stress how important it is to be prepared for the journey. Pack your child’s favorite food, favorite books, some headphones, and a blanket.
My younger brother, Scott, loves to read. I always pack his favourite books, and when we get to a destination, I get him a brand-new book with pictures about the place we are visiting. This allows him to feel like he is involved in the adventure without overwhelming him. If a location gets too loud—and some of the major tourist hot spots definitely will—I give him his headphones and a book about the place we are in. This makes him very happy. Scott also requires a wheelchair, so I always do my research on a destination prior to arriving to ensure it is wheelchair accessible. Just imagine how you would feel if your family couldn’t visit a place because you couldn’t get around. It isn’t a nice feeling for anyone.
Allow your child to choose their clothing
The next thing I will tell you is to let your child wear what they want to. This will save you a lot of heartache. For years, my mother and I would find it so hard to get Scott to wear what we thought was socially acceptable. Let me tell you, it doesn’t matter what other people think. You know your child, you love your child, and you should allow them to express themselves in the way they want to. Sometimes Scott wants to wear a full suit and fedora to the zoo, and other times he wants to wear a frog onesie. As long as your child is dressed and covered, it will save you a lot of stress to just allow them to wear what they want. You travel to have fun and enjoy yourself, so don’t let minor issues make your trip stressful.
Click here to find out more
Consider activities and a comfort animal
I have spoken to many children who have autism and something all of them have communicated to me is that they feel different. They know they are different. It can be very damaging to your child’s self-esteem when he or she feels like they don’t belong. Let them try as many activities as you can; you will find out whether or not they enjoy it by trying it out. However, just assuming they won’t enjoy it will make them feel left out. Feeling understood and accepted for exactly who they are is essential to your child’s happiness.
You may also find it helpful to apply for a special needs assistance dog. Many dogs are trained to support people with anxiety. A comfort animal can make a world of difference when you travel. I have inside knowledge from working on airlines and passenger cruise ships that if you require an assistance dog, there is an allocated area for your family.
Pack comfort items
My family and I have travelled so much with Scott, we know exactly what comforts him during travel. We make him as comfortable as possible, picking places that are accessible for his wheelchair, packing his books, teddy and sometimes taking Ruby, his chihuahua, with him. Write a list of all the things that comfort your child and pack as many of them as you can. Involve your child in as many activities as possible, including the planning process. Do not stress—if you stress, then your child will stress.
Travelling with your autistic child isn’t something that should be regarded as taboo. It should be a fun way to bring your entire family together. If you would like to reach out to me for any advice or tips, please don’t hesitate to contact me and I can share as much knowledge with you as possible.
Thank you for reading and I hope that I have inspired you to take that big inclusive family trip and not stress about it. Enjoy every moment; I wish you happy and safe travels for you and your whole family.
This article was featured in Issue 118 – Reframing Education in the New Normal