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My tips for going on vacation with kids with autism

This blog post is from Amy Schinner. Amy and her husband Steve have 2 kids. Ben is on the spectrum, and a freshman at the University of Cincinnati, and their daughter Meg is a senior in high school. Amy is a walk chair at the Autism Speaks Cincinnati Walk and recently wrote a book titled, "Mouse Ears for Everyone: A Guide to Disney World for Guests with Special Needs."

My Tips for Vacationing with Kids on the Autism Spectrum

  1. Preparing is the most important part of the trip! In our home we use the term “front-loading” We make sure Ben knows as much as possible about what will happen on the vacation. One easy way to front-load is to view You tube videos of where you are going. National Parks, beaches, museums and every ride at Disney has a you tube video or website that gives a good feel of the place. TIP- view the videos first, sometimes there is offensive language if a video is produced by a kid and not the company itself.
  2. Vacation Boot Camp! Many vacations require walking, eating out and being in public. I suggest walking around the neighborhood (in the shoes you will take on vacation), going out to eat sometimes, maybe even going on outings like the mall, museums or anyplace that isn’t typically on the schedule. This helps prep a little more for the immersion into a new schedule during vacation.
  3. Remember that the moment you leave the house you are on vacation- getting there and either flying or a road trip are part of the adventure! Be prepared with headphones, fully charged iPads, back up chargers, surprises like a new coloring book, video or music, and create a relaxing time. This will help set a fun atmosphere for the vacation! Above all else- remember, this is a vacation for your family. Do what feels right for you. Nobody can do it all, the objective is to relax and enjoy each other as a family!!

Below is a Q &A with Amy about her experience traveling with her family...

Can you discuss your son's autism diagnosis?  Before we entered the diagnosis process we were pretty sure we knew what the results would be. So when Ben was diagnosed I went into action. We moved to a different school district, researched and began therapies and became very active in his school.  I kept busy getting everything he needed and largely avoided the emotional break for too long.

Are taking vacations difficult for your family? I know that for many with children on the spectrum they can be. Vacations require compromise and flexibility- but so does everything with Ben. We can’t always do things at a pace everyone else does, and doing a lot of planning so we can front load Ben is important. It also helps when we share why we are slower in the security line- or why he isn’t reacting to the security officer. Once we explain, people typically get it and give us space.

Why does your family like to travel to Disney World? Admittedly part of the reason we love to go to Disney World is I have always been a big fan- but even if I hadn’t been, Ben just light up when we are there. My daughter, Meg, and Ben are able to laugh together at the Monsters Inc Comedy Club, we can all ride the attractions and enjoy the shows together, and Ben just relaxes because he is surrounded by characters and music that he loves at home and on vacation.

Why did you decide to write a guidebook for special needs families? I really wrote it because I was surprised to learn nobody else had. There are a lot of elements to a Disney vacation that can be made easier if you know the policies, where the best place for a sensory break is, and which attractions might cause a melt down. Just like my action mode when Ben was diagnosed, I went to work making that information available.

What is one thing you want people to know about your son and his autism? Ben is an amazing kid. Don’t underestimate what your kid can do. I remember at the first parents night when he was in pre school, the teacher told us the kids poured their own drinks (water) at snack time. There was an audible gasp from the parents. It hadn’t occurred to any of us that our kids could do this- I try not to forget that lesson.

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.