Planning, preparation and patience are key to creating happy Summer holidays for families when taking the needs of someone on the autistic spectrum into consideration. So along with the sun cream and sandals make sure you pack a few of these handy travel tips.
Most people on the spectrum find change challenging and surprises can be stressful so start your holiday wish list by including your family member on the spectrum at the planning stage. Do your destination research and consider travel, sensory needs and the options for safe and quiet escape times. A good place to start could be the directory of UK and overseas holiday venues which state they are suitable for people with autism and is listed by the National Autistic Society – but the charity does not make specific recommendations.
See this link and type ‘holidays’ into the search bar http://www.autism.org.uk/directory.aspx for a list of more than 200 venues offering autism friendly short breaks and holidays.
Destination booked, then turn your thoughts to helping to prepare your family member on the spectrum for what to expect from the trip. Here are a few of the top tips as suggested by the NAS and many other autism organisations:
- Autism experts agree that most people on the spectrum are visual thinkers, so include plenty of photographs, browse the website and search for holiday brochures.
- Countdown to the holiday by displaying the travel dates on a calendar or your usual visual timetable – remember to show that you are also coming back!
- Check out where the young person is going to sleep and consider taking their own bedding or pillow to help them to settle at night.
- Plan your schedule and set realistic goals for the level of activity and socialising your young person is likely to cope with – remembering to find safe quiet spaces and allow for some solitary time for them to recharge their social batteries.
- Think of ways to engage the interest of your young person in researching the location, travel arrangements, language or how they might be able to enjoy their own special interest. (Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg was recently reported to be enjoying collecting rare Pokemon Go characters during a trip to the USA. Now there’s a thought!).
- Travelling can be very stressful so leave plenty of time for making any special arrangements that might help reduce anxiety and increase comfort levels. For instance, consider visiting an airport or train station if possible ahead of the actual trip to take a look around, or take a virtual tour via websites.
- Many major stations and airports now offer additional support for those with hidden disabilities such as autism. Manchester, Gatwick and Heathrow all operate assistance schemes which can be accessed 48 hours before travel. Autism alert cards and the use of a sunflower lanyard as a discrete means of alerting trained staff that the wearer may need help with a hidden disability are all recent and much welcome steps towards making travel more autism friendly. For a look at what Heathrow has to offer see firstname.lastname@example.org .
- Consider sensory needs for both travel and during your trip. Many people with autism may find it useful to use ear defenders or noise inhibiting ear phones, wear sunglasses or a hat, wear their most familiar and comfortable clothes and have access to books or mobile devices to divert attention away from potentially unpleasant sensations.
- Take copies of documents that evidence a person’s diagnosis and needs with you to make use of special access and other facilities at tourist attractions and venues to help prevent meltdowns in crowded spaces and long queues.
- Consider the needs of the whole family group and decide in advance which parent or carer will be the one to spend time with individuals in the group, or deal with situations, such as leaving a restaurant early, so that everyone gets a break during the trip.
- Consider carrying an Autism Alert card in the UK and abroad to help give a fast and brief explanation of autism when needed.
Finally, if the time is not right just now for that big trip or family holiday then think about how to make the most of special Summer days together at home. Extra time to enjoy special interests away from the daily pressures of school and work – now that’s a holiday! Enjoy.