Guest author Sean Morris became a stay-at-home dad after the birth of his son. Though he loved his career in social work, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get to spend more time with his kids. He enjoys sharing his experiences via LearnFit.org and hopes writing for the site will help him provide other parents with tips and advice on juggling life, career, and family.
Planning a family trip can be stressful for any family, and for parents of children on the autism spectrum, there are many other things to take into consideration when it comes to packing and preparations. When it’s time to plan a vacation or a trip to a theme park, there are several things you can do to make things easier on everyone if you know where to look and how to start.
Before you leave
If your child has comfort items, such as a favorite stuffed animal or blanket, either refrain from washing it just before the trip or wash it weeks ahead of time. That way, they can bring something from home that smells familiar.
Hit the dollar store for books, coloring books and crayons, puzzles, and other small activities that your child can bring on the trip. If they get lost or broken during your vacation, it won’t be such a big deal.
If your child is a visual learner, buy some stickers and use them to mark the days on the calendar to show them how much time you have before the trip. It’s also a good idea to show your child photos of your destination, or colorful maps that will help them see how far you have to drive or fly. Talk about the trip with them so they’ll have an idea of what to expect.
Stock up on favorite snacks and drinks for the trip, especially if you’ll be in the car, so your child will have something familiar to eat. This will help incorporate something from the usual daily routine into the trip
Do some research on the park(s) you’ll be attending to find out if they offer special discounts or amenities for children with special needs. Some larger parks allow families to move ahead in line with a special pass so they don’t have to make their child stand for hours in a big crowd. If your child is young enough to use a stroller, make sure the park doesn’t have rules about which days you can bring one. If they’re older, you might consider renting a wheelchair so they’ll have a place to sit and rest.
Plan for what your child will need
No matter how many family members are going on the trip, it’s best to plan as much as possible for your child’s specific needs and communicate them with everyone. If your child is at ease and comfortable, it will make for a much easier trip for the entire family.
If using public restrooms is an issue for your child, consider taking them to places close to home–such as the library or a children’s museum–and asking them to “practice” using the potty there. This will make using the bathroom while on vacation much simpler.
Have an ID made for your child to keep in his or her backpack in case you get separated.
If sleeping away from home might be an issue, consider bringing your child’s pillow and blankets from home and stock up on foods that will help them calm down after a long day of excitement.
Be prepared for frustration
Every parent experiences at least a little frustration while on vacation. It’s inevitable, so don’t feel guilty. Heat, exhaustion, and dealing with crowds can make anyone cranky, and when you have children to worry about and keep safe it’s hard to remember to just have fun. Allow for some extra time each day to get things done and don’t feel bad if you don’t get to everything. Your child will look to you to learn how to react to every situation, so try to stay calm and ask for help from family members if possible.