The holidays are here! We're sure you have lots of fun activities planned! Sometimes traveling with your child with autism can be challenging, here are 10 tips for a smooth holiday.
Tip 1. Ensure your child knows what to expect
It is often helpful for the child to have a visual representation of the holiday itself. It may need to be suited to your child’s level of comprehension. For example, if your child is unable to read, you can use a symbol to represent the holiday on a calendar. If your child is able to read, you can simply make a note of the holiday on the calendar with as much detail as your child requires. This is important especially if your child is resistant to change or unable to tolerate disruptions in their routine. Have your child check off each day leading up to departure, during the holiday as well if necessary, and ensure the return date is clearly indicated. To manage expectations during the holiday itself, a daily itinerary may come in handy so that your child is aware of the daily happenings. This may prevent any unnecessary frustration due to unexpected events.
Tip 2. Reinforcement
Reinforcement or rewards are important to incorporate to ensure the holiday runs smoothly, as some children may need to be rewarded for staying calm in stressful situations. Some of these situations may include sudden changes in plans, denial of requests, new environments, or environments that may be difficult for your child to handle. There are two main ways your child can earn reinforcement during a trip-
a) When your child remains calm following an unforeseen change or a denied request
b) You can let your child know beforehand that an environment may be challenging, and if your child remains calm, he/she can be rewarded for good behavior.
Some examples of quick and easy reinforcement that you can bring along are your child's’ preferred food items, a little bag of preferred toys, or an iPad or similar devices.
Tip 3. Communication
If your child is non-verbal or has limited speech, you may have a communication aide such as PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) or an app such as Proloquo2Go. These would be essential for your child to communicate throughout your trip. DO NOT FORGET IT! :)
Tip 4. Preparing for a different climate
A few weeks before your holiday, try to get your child used to wear heavy winter clothing and accessories (gloves/earmuffs/scarves/thick socks) as well as bulkier shoes if your child is not already used to these items. You can practice at home for short durations of time and reward your child after. Also, you should teach your child to communicate when he/she is too cold or uncomfortable. This would apply to both cold and warmer weather.
Tip 5. On the plane
For your benefit and the benefit of other passengers, it would be worthwhile to set some guidelines for good airplane behavior. Take some time to teach your child a few key skills such as being quiet, staying in-seat when required to as well as asking to go to the toilet. You can prepare a visual aid to work as a constant reminder for your child to maintain good behavior.
Tip 6. Mealtimes
If your child is a picky eater or is on a special diet, it would be wise to plan meals and decide on restaurants ahead of time. Keep snacks on hand just in case mealtimes get delayed or if there is nothing suitable on the menu for your child to eat.
Tip 7. Activities
You may want to prepare some activities to keep your child engaged when he/she is otherwise unoccupied. You may also need these activities to distract your child in a challenging situation. Depending on your child's’ preferences and interests, you can prepare materials such as books, puzzles, small toys, or gadgets such as an iPad or an iPod.
Tip 8. Sensory issues
Some situations may be overwhelming for your child. These may include loud noises, bright lights, certain movements or even textures. Some precautions can be taken to avoid meltdowns or a bad experience. For example, bringing along headphones for your child to use when needed. Here, reinforcement can also be useful for when your child remains calm despite being overwhelmed.
Tip 9. Meltdowns
In the event of a meltdown, try not to panic. If possible, remove your child from the situation to a private or less busy area (if the meltdown occurs in public) and be mindful of harmful items in the environment. Try to distract your child as much as you can so he/she can focus on something else. Rewarding good behavior is always helpful. It’s always best to ensure your child is calm and ready before resuming activities.
Tip 10. Fun
When planning your holiday, do take into account your child's’ interests and preferences. We understand how families enjoy activities like shopping, visits to historical or tourist sites, or even just relaxing, but it is important to factor in some things that your child enjoys as well. After all, we do want them to have a fun and memorable vacation! If your child likes animals, your trip should include visits to zoos, aquariums or farms. If your child is a huge Disney fan, plan trips to Disney theme parks or Disney merchandise stores. Some children are interested in different types of transport, so even taking them on train, tram, bus, boat or ferry rides may be fun!
We hope these tips have been helpful. Have a good mid-year break. Happy holidays, from all of us at Autism Link!