1.) Prepare, prepare, prepare
This statement extends much further than choosing restaurants and finding ASD-appropriate activities. While I don't ever aim for too much travel build up as it can cause anxiety, I do prepare Monkey for the trip ahead.
By naturally weaving the subject into conversation over the week or two prior, it allows the child to feel 'prepared' for the trip ahead. Knowledge is power and giving this vital information keeps him feeling in control.
What does this mean in practical terms? Think contingency plans!
- setting the SkyPlus to fill up its hard drive within 24 hours of departure (Top Tip: Ban children from Spongebob series links)
- researching kid-friendly experiences in our destination - normally climbing centres, kids restaurants and play centres
- identifying any anxieties early on - Non-English speaking countries have been his biggest so far. By giving him this time, however, I managed to find language apps, dictionaries and the reassurances necessary to allay this fear.
Give me a 10kg hand luggage allowance and I will use it every time. Filled with Monkey's favourites, it keeps him contently occupied - no matter how long the journey! Typically, this bag will include:
- 2 to 3 parent-friendly magazines about science, history or current events (often Monkey shares these)
- 2 to 3 kids' magazines - normally Spongebob comics - chosen by Monkey the day before the trip
- An iPod Touch loaded with videos - I buy at least one series on iTunes before trips involving more than 3 hours of travelling.
- Nintendo DS with his current favourite game.
- Drawing pad and pens (Young children? Try play-dough. It might be messy, but it's very tactile and calming).
- Action figures (his choice!)
- Selection of drinks and snacks - his choice.
- Change of clothes
This is a rule we should all live by, so never forget it! Time is a luxury that is easy to overlook when you're planning a vacation. Whether your boss is allowing you five days or twenty, it's never quite enough. This mentality has been the cause of many a breakdown. So how do I make time?
- Arrive at the airport/train station with plenty of time to spare.
- Driving holiday? Allow for traffic jams and make sure there's enough for the kids to do if you get into a long queue.
- Work plenty of breaks into your daily schedule which allow your child to get away from the crowds and newness of it all. This is easier said than done and it may mean foresaking some of your travel wishes. But it means you have a travelling companion who is calmer and feeling more in control.
As your child's safe person, you need to demonstrate that you're in control of the situation. By showing fear you can spark this within your child - leading quite quickly to a meltdown. I'm a terrible actress, so I've developed a mantra over the years which is: no matter what, we'll get through this. And I back this up with worst case scenarios where we have managed to cope. While I do my best to remain calm (ish) in every situation, I do my best to inspire his confidence in my abilities to pull us through those worst case scenarios which can quickly overpower his thoughts.
Four tips not enough for you? Check out Time magazines 6 tips for Travel with an Autistic Child or the Guardian's advice on Travelling with an autistic child now.
Flying in the US? This article from Autism Key about Travel Help for Autism Families is really interesting.