Published On: April 17, 2024

submitted by Karrie Veteto, Director, Autism & Behavior Services, Easterseals Crossroads

If you are a parent or caregiver, you already know that a vacation with your kids is often better labeled as a “trip.” Yes, of course you can still visit amazing places, create lifelong memories and enjoy new experiences with your family; but there is always a fair amount of work involved in the planning process.

words vacation and travel with your child on the autism spectrum and image of girl in play car

Does everyone have what they need for the trip? Do the kids have things to do in the car/ on the airplane? Do we have enough snacks? Then there are the bigger logistics such as
• How much will it cost?
• Will the kids have fun?
• What restaurants are nearby?
• What extra experiences should we include?

If you are a parent of a child on the autism spectrum, then you know that there is even more to think through. Individuals with autism often have difficulty with changes in routine. Transitioning between activities can be a challenge. New environments can be overwhelming and anxiety-provoking. Thoughtful planning can really help to make your trip more enjoyable not only for your child on the autism spectrum but also for you and the rest of your family. Here are some tips to consider when planning a family trip or vacation:

Choosing a Destination/Plan

  • You know what your child likes and doesn’t like. Trying to capitalize on including your child’s interests and preferences is a good place to start. Respect your child’s limits. If your child struggles in busy/ chaotic environments, then maybe a calmer beach house or lake house option is a better plan. Or if your family wants to explore a touristy hotspot (think Disney), how can you balance this within your trip to still be able to offer some calmness?
  • Will you need additional support in case your child on the spectrum needs breaks when the rest of the family wants to be on the go? Consider bringing a grandparent or family friend if you think this might make the vacation more do-able.

Planning for Changes in Routine and Schedule

  • Try to give your child advance notice about changes in routine/ schedule. You could use a visual on the calendar or verbal reminders. You might even highlight an aspect of the event in which your child has the most interest. For example, you could say “We are going to the beach on Friday, and you can play in the sand.”
  • Don’t plan too many things. You know what your child can handle well. It’s okay to plan for down time. If suggested plans are likely to be too much, then plan accordingly.

Visiting New or Less Familiar Places

  • Consider bringing additional items from home. Does your child have preferred items to sleep with? Can you create some space in your vacation home that is just for your child? Maybe a small tent or corner area that can be just for them.
  • Don’t forget about bringing along preferred food items if they are a picky eater. Look up potential restaurants in advance to see if there are food options your child will eat. If a busy restaurant atmosphere seems too much, consider getting takeout to take back to your vacation home.
  • When out and about, consider providing your child with a visual to indicate how long you plan to be there. This may be a timer or a visual schedule. If they can tell time, list an estimated departure time, but do plan to stick to it. We all can often tolerate stressful or less desired activities a little more easily when we know that eventually we get to leave and go home.

You know your child best. Make a plan that best suits the needs of your child on the spectrum as well as the rest of the family. Every family is different, and while your trip or vacation might look different, it might be exactly what your family needs to relax, connect and enjoy family time.

Learn more about autism and behavior services.