Here are five top tips from National Autism Network to help make summer vacations more fun for everyone.
Many of these tips are sensible as well for family travel with no special needs child. It’s good advice when traveling with a very young child or with an older Grammie or Pops.
Call ahead to the hotel or resort where you are staying and check for any special accommodations they make for children with special needs, such as booking you on a low floor if your child doesn’t like elevators, or a room equipped with wheelchair-accessible doors and bathrooms. These rooms are close to the elevator, which is handy for any traveler who has trouble walking.
If you are attending an amusement park or theme park, such as Walt Disney World, make your first stop the guest services booth, to get a special needs pass for your child.
You may be asked for proof of ailment, so be sure to pack a physician’s note detailing your child’s disorder.
The website WDWHints offers tips on visiting Walt Disney World with a special needs child, but the tips here apply to most theme parks.
Of course, be sure to pack items your child may need, like headphones to drown out large crowd noise, or special snacks to accommodate any specific diet needs, or are simply favorite snacks.
For additional information and inspiration check Curb Free with Cory Lee, a website by a wheelchair-bound traveler whose advice is from personal experience.
- Full disclosure: Cory is a fellow member of the Society of American Travelers (SATW), who I have traveled with.
It may help your child with autism, and your family as a whole, to build in mid-day breaks to wind down from the morning activities and to gear up for the night’s adventures.
Your child may get overwhelmed spending too much time with crowds and loud noises regardless of the coping strategies you implement.
Remember, this is not just your vacation, it belongs to everybody. Provide everybody in the family with a variety of different types of destinations and activities to make them happy.
As a widowed single mother traveling with my daughter and son, to keep the peace, I always gave “equal time” and “equal choice” for visiting attractions and choosing restaurants – First Ladies inaugural gowns for her and Revolutionary War uniforms for him, at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., pizza for him one night and sushi for her another.
If your family is searching for adventure on the high seas, look into Autism on the Seas, which assists the cruise industry in providing cruise vacations for individuals and families’ with special needs.
Several airlines offer airplane simulations that allow your special needs child to experience aspect of flight without ever leaving the ground.
The TSA has specific information for passengers with special needs, with specifics such as for passengers who don’t like being touched, and exemptions for liquid medications.
Click here for the TSA information for passengers with Autism or intellectual disabilities.
Be sure to get the special TSA disability notification card that authorizes alternative screening methods which can be done in private. This card is for any traveler of any age and any disability, and it’s FREE.
There is a specific page of travel advice, along with pages of information on nutrition, advice for grandparents, and much more.
And remember, many of these travel tips work, too, for travel with very young children without special needs, and older folk like grandparents.
This article was published originally in 2013 and has been updated for 2019.