Taking your child or children on holiday can be a stressful experience, especially so for children with autism. The change to their routine can be disconcerting for a child with an autistic spectrum disorder, however, there are many ways in which you can prepare yourself and your child for a holiday. A holiday should be a chance to relax and leave your stresses and pressures behind, and you may feel this is impossible when you have a child with autism, but there is hope.
Preparation is key
This is probably the most important phase of the process because it allows you to cover as many bases as possible. It may help to list the specific needs of your child, such as hypersensitivity to noise, before you begin. This can help ensure your choices are suitable each step of the way and reduce the anxieties a child with autism may have. It is always the parent who knows their child best, and it is the child's specific needs that should be supported throughout the process.
Some common questions you as a parent may have when considering a holiday are:
- Where is best to go?
- Are staff trained to cope with a child with autism?
- Will we be judged by fellow holidaymakers?
- Can we relax?
- Does our travel insurance cover us?
- Will my child like the food?
- Will the environment be too noisy?
These are just a few of the questions you may have, and every one is a necessary and important step in the process. You will need to invest the time into researching destinations, and then contact them to gain assurances they cater to your child’s needs. This may include checking the room specifications are suitable, for example confirming they have air conditioning if your child is prone to overheating.
If you're flying, it is possible to contact the airline or airport so they can organise various provisions to further ensure your child's needs are met, such as a tailored in-flight meal or a quiet area to relax. And again, with travel insurance and passports, do the research and make sure you're covered and your child has the appropriate passport.
There will be a great deal of time, effort and potentially cost to organise a holiday that the whole family can enjoy, but by investing each of these you can create happy family memories making it all worthwhile.
Preparing your child
There are methods that can be useful in making sure your child is as ready as they can be for the change in routine a holiday provides.
Countdown - create a countdown until the day you leave so you can make the process fun and interactive for the child whilst simultaneously ensuring they know what is coming.
Timeline - to create a sense of routine for your child it may be helpful to create a schedule of what you plan to do, when and where.
Visual aids - provide visual aids, such as photos of the destination, the airport and the accommodation so your child is aware of what's coming.
Social stories - by constructing some of the situations your child may find themselves in whilst on holiday in a social story your child will be better prepared for new situations in new surroundings.
No matter the extent of your planning there is always the chance that something will go awry, when something unexpected comes along and upsets your child. If so, there are ways to cope. Take a look at the following list:
10 things to say to your child when they’re anxious or worried
- Some days your worries feel too big to handle. I understand that, I can help you.
- You are so kind and sensitive sometimes you worry more than other kids, but that’s okay.
- When you prefer not to worry or feel anxious, I can hold your feelings for you.
- Anxiety is a warning that something doesn’t feel right, let’s discover what that is.
- Anxiety can actually be your brain on hyperdrive, it mistakes normal stuff for danger.
- Do you think your anger is really fear in disguise? Let’s be a detective and figure this one out.
- If you feel worried, let’s talk about what to expect so you can feel calm and have fun.
- Did you know that when you feel worried, sport and exercise can help? Moving calms your brain.
- You can trust that I will do as I say, so put your worries away.
- Talking about what you are thinking can improve how you are feeling.
By applying these comments to the situation you can help to soothe a child with autism and help you to manage any challenging behaviours they may present due to the new situations they may face going on holiday. For further information, please see our blog Managing behaviour in autism: A parent's guide, by Allison Hope-West, Priory Group Director of Autism.
For more details on Priory Education and Children's Services, please call 0118 970 8068 or click here to make an enquiry.