Fort Myers ABA Therapist Travel Tips for Families of Kids With Autism
Travel is an enriching experience for kids and families. Family vacations, special holiday trips, and unique adventures – it’s the stuff cherished, lifelong memories are made of. That said, traveling with kids is likely to be an inevitable challenge. If your child has autism, it may require even more planning & preparation – but it’s worth it! Here, we offer travel tips and tricks from a Fort Myers ABA therapist.
Prepare Your Child
As adults, it’s easy to take for granted our kids’ trust in handling all the arrangements and making sure they’re safe and as comfortable as possible during the trip. But consider that for kids on the autism spectrum, you’re not only dealing with the normal challenges of travel, but disruptive changes in routine, unpredictability, dense crowds, new noises, sights, and smells.
As a Fort Myers ABA therapist can explain, preparing your child can go a long way in helping to ease anxiety and make for a smoother trip. Some aspects of travel that adults sometimes take for granted that can be scary/intimidating/unfamiliar to kids include things like: Airport security, loudspeaker announcements, large crowds full of strangers, unfamiliar restrooms (with extra loud hand driers), cramped seats, changes in air pressure, etc.
Teaching stories with visuals and simple, clear explanations can be a good resource to help prepare them. Taking an Airplane is a teaching story prepared by Jet Blue and Autism Speaks.
You might also consider practicing the use of public restrooms (visual prompts and supports may help). Be prepared for emergencies and accidents.
If you’re visiting somewhere your child has never been, help them to understand what they should expect. Show them pictures of the place. If you’re going to be meeting up with friends or family you haven’t seen in a while, show them pictures of who will be there. You may also show them pictures or videos of activities you may be engaging in while you’re there.
Write out a list of trip rules, and make sure to reward your child if they follow through with positive behavior.
Bring Familiar Items
Staying in an unfamiliar hotel or house can be overwhelming to kids on the autism spectrum. Boost their comfort with things like their own bedding, blankets, stuffed animal, or toy. Bring your own soaps, shampoos, toothpastes, etc. to limit the unfamiliar scents and textures they’re encountering.
You can ward off some discomfort with headphones, sunglasses, soft-textured clothes, etc.
Make sure you have a stash of your child’s favorite activities (coloring books, movies, games, toys, etc.) that will help keep your child occupied through long drives or flights. Having favorite snacks is smart too. If they’re able to chew gum or eat hard candy, these are great on planes for taking off and landing to help adjust to pressure changes.
Contact the Airline in Advance
Depending on how much lead time you give them, airlines will sometimes allow an airport walk-through with your child – including a step-by-step demonstration/explanation of check-in, security checkpoints, and boarding. If you can’t do a practice run, at least alert security so they understand there may be some unexpected big reactions. You can also reach out to TSA Cares. Per TSA, you will not be separated from your child during the screening process, and you may offer suggestions for how to best accomplish a screening in a way that minimizes confusion and risk of outbursts.
Ask for Accommodations
Plan ahead by contacting the hotel, museum, theme park, cruise line, or any other attractions you plan to visit and ask if they have accommodations for kids with autism. Lots of family-friendly places will have special passes that will allow you to skip longer lines and access quiet spaces to reduce the chances for meltdowns.
Plan Some Down Time
Planning ahead for a little quiet time, sensory breaks, etc. can do wonders for your child. This is especially important if you’ve longer travel days or long stretches of activities planned back-to-back.
Have a Safety Plan
Our ABA therapists know one of the biggest concerns parents of children with autism have during travel is their child’s safety. Eloping or wandering off is probably the greatest worry – especially in a place that’s unfamiliar to all of you.
Start by making an identification card that has your child’s name and diagnosis as well as your cell phone number. Make sure they have this with them at all times (pin it to their shirt, make it a sticker, bracelet, or necklace, etc.). Maybe have your child practice wearing this ahead of time so they’re comfortable with it.
Consider using a GPS tracker. Take a photo of your child each day before you head out (so you can show venue staff and/or law enforcement exactly what they looked like and were wearing). If possible, practice “tag team parenting,” where one parent is designated as the “on call” parent to be with/watch the child closely during that time. If you’re staying somewhere unfamiliar, consider getting a door stop alarm; you can get one for $15 and it triggers an alarm if the door opens. If your child is independent enough to carry/use a smartphone, you can set it up to be able to track them with it.
If you have additional questions about how to ensure your next trip is a success, your child’s Fort Myers ABA therapist at FOCUS can help!
FOCUS Therapy offers pediatric speech therapy, occupational therapy, ABA therapy, feeding therapy, and physical therapy to kids with developmental delays & disabilities in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.
More Blog Entries:
Study: Less than 1/2 Kids With Autism Undergo Early Intervention Therapy, July 30, 2022, FOCUS Therapy Fort Myers ABA Therapist Blog