We have a client with autism who adores going to Florida. He talks about it all year, asking every Friday if he can go on Saturday. Not only is it adorable, it’s remarkable, because going to new places used to be incredibly hard for him (as it is for most people on the spectrum). We worked with his parents, showing them what to do to help make his experience less stressful so he – and they – could have fun on vacation. With spring break approaching, we thought you might like the same guidance. Here’s how you can help prevent tantrums when traveling with a child with autism.
1. Prep your child: Prime Alice for your family adventure about two weeks before you depart. (If she’s a really anxious girl, start priming just a few days in advance so she has less time to worry but enough time to grasp what’s to come.) Develop a mini presentation – slideshows can be fun – with pictures of all the places and things she’ll experience, including planes, hotels, attractions and restaurants. Be excited as you review the images together daily, emphasizing the experiences Alice will love. Knowing what’s ahead helps take the edge off anxiety.
2. Tell travel stories: Taking a train or plane to your destination? Being aboard a new and large vehicle can be overly exciting for some kids and unnerving for others. To help soothe stress, write social stories about what it’s like to ride a train or plane, what Alex can expect (sounds, line ups, announcements, etc) and how he should behave throughout. Read the story together every day and just before you go to the station. Make sure you have it handy on board, too, to show Alex if he gets antsy. If you’re jetting off, also watch Model Me Airplane several times as your prep your precious for travel.
TIP: If possible, take your kiddo on a tour of the train station or airport before you travel to help him acclimatize to the sights and sounds.
3. Stick to a visual schedule: When you’re traveling with a child with autism, create a visual schedule for each day of your holiday and stick to it. Alice will be less likely to meltdown when she can see what’s next on the agenda. If you’re vacationing with a tablet, download Choiceworks – it’s an app that allows you to design various schedules with visual and audio cues –because many kids find it motivating. Going tech-free? Create a schedule with cutout pictures and handwritten words. As well, follow the tips for tantrum-free transitions to help Alice move more calmly between activities.
4. Bring eat-out entertainment: A lot of kids lose their patience at restaurants. Hungry bellies hate the long waits for food! To promote peace when you dine out, order Alex’s food first, and, as soon as you sit down, give him colouring supplies, figurines, books or a game-playing device so he stays engaged while you wait for and eat your grub. Older kids might also enjoy playing I Spy or Hangman with you.
5. Prioritize sleep: Tired tykes are prone to tantrums. As such, make sure your sweetie gets the Zzz’s she needs by sticking to Alice’s at-home sleep schedule. Be consistent with sleep times (naps included) and follow her regular bedtime routine to help her feel relaxed in the new environment. Vacations are far more enjoyable when everyone is well-rested!
6. Serve snacks: Low blood sugar makes everyone grouchy. To help keep Alex’s temperament and energy steady on your adventures, make sure he eats healthy and satiating food regularly. The Dietitians of Canada recommend serving snacks between meals that include at least two food groups. For example, provide Alex with whole-grain crackers and cheese, apple slices and peanut butter or veggies and hummus.
Bon voyage! Have a happy, calm and safe vacation!
Image by Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net