A family vacation should be relaxing and fun. It should be an opportunity for family members to connect and enjoy each others company. All too often, a family with a child with autism finds taking a family vacation too stressful. More and more, family vacations are vacations for everyone except the child with autism.
I am the mother of two children. My daughter is five and a half. My son is ten. My son is also nonverbal with a diagnosis of severe autism. This does not stop us from taking vacations together. I have found that, with well thought out planning, we have a terrific time together on family vacations.
The first thing parents need to do when planning a vacation is determining the destination. For all families, this means concentrating on family friendly, children friendly destinations. It is the same for a family with a child diagnosed with autism. You need to determine what your child’s interests are and what kind of places bring your child the most joy. If you have more than one child, choose the interests that they share. Once you have determined one or two common interests, you are ready to select a destination.
Your next step is to determine how far you wish to travel to your vacation destination and whether or not you will drive or take a plane. I recommend driving. Once you are on a plane, you can not get off until the plane lands and is ready to disembark. Children that are confined for a long period of time in a closed in environment, get bored, irritable, and may become unmanageable, depending on their age. A child with autism is most likely to feel all those things and more. Depending on your child, you could be looking at a full blown meltdown.
You want a vacation that is low in stress. There is no such thing as a completely stress free vacation for any family. If you expect one, you will be disappointed. The key is to accept this fact and to minimize the opportunities for stress. Driving to your vacation destination allows the parent control over their environment that riding on a plane does not. You can stop at any time and allow your child to get out and stretch his/her legs. There are a lot of rest areas on Highways that have picnic areas. These are perfect for giving your child an opportunity to run off excess energy and for everyone to eat and grab a drink.
Now that you know how far you want to go for your vacation, whether to drive or take a plane, and what kind of vacation destination will interest your child, you are ready to pick a destination. The internet is a great resource to start with. You can search on your area of interest. If you are looking at a vacation that includes a theme park, contact the theme park guest relations and ask them their specific policies for children with Autism. Theme Parks may not post on their site their specific policies, but do have one in place to accommodate a family with a child diagnosed with Autism. One of the common accommodations is to allow Front of the Line Passes for our families. In order to get one, they usually require a letter of diagnosis from your child’s doctor.
Below is a list of Autism friendly vacation destinations. For more specific information about each, please refer to my Autism Friendly Vacation Destinations post on my blog.
1. Sesame Place, located near Philadelphia in Langhorne, PA, only 90 minutes south of Manhattan.
2. Challenge Aspen in Snowmass, Colorado
3. Disney World
4. Busch Gardens
5. Sea World
6. Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari in Santa Claus, Indiana .
7. Vacation Home Rentals
8. Smugglers’ Notch Resort in northern Vermont.
9. Surfer’s Healing Based in San Diego, 2009 camps will be held in California (several locations); Virginia Beach, VA; Wrightsville Beach, NC; Belmar, NJ; Montauk, NY.
10. Autism on the Seas
11. Leaps…n…Boundz – ” ‘Community Adventure Weekends’
12. “Finger Lakes Wellness Center and Health Spa (in conjunction with Hickory Hill Family Camping Resort)
13. Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota, FL.
Another important consideration when planning your vacation should be where you are planning to stay. You can stay at a hotel or rent a vacation home or condo. I prefer renting a suite at a hotel that has a kitchenette and separate bedroom for the adults. It costs a little more, but it allows me to fix meals for my picky eater and a separate bedroom allows me a place to go when I need time for myself.
Now you can plan a great vacation for your family. I would like to finish this article with a few final suggestions to help you.