Nervous to Travel?
Do you worry about traveling with your child who has autism?
Maybe you’re thinking, My child can barely handle being in a local public space, let alone somewhere far away.
Don’t worry…you’re definitely not alone. I was in the same place when my kids were young. I was hesitant to take the leap into a major, week-long vacation.
What if my kids have a terrible time? What if we spend all of this time and money but our trip ends up a disaster? What if….? What if…?
I realized that this kind of irrational, excessive worry lead me feeling locked up in a self-made prison of fear. If you ruminate on the “what ifs” and never take the leap into the wider world, you’ll never experience true joy.
But it doesn’t have to be that way! You can learn to overcome those fears about traveling with special needs.
Did you know…?
A “worry experiment” was conducted to see if what people were afraid of actually came true.
What 85% of test subjects worried about actually never came true! And with the remaining 15% whose worries came true, they realized they misperceived or exaggerated their problems. They viewed those “bad events” as a good life lesson in becoming better problem-solvers and less worriers.
When I catch myself worrying too much, I often reflect upon the self-fulfilling prophesy phenomenon:
Did I make something come true just because I was afraid of it to begin with? Did my kids sense my apprehensions and then react to my behavior with their own fears?
For some families, though, the sense of fear is founded on something that has happened over and over again.
Like running away from home. Like being attracted to water but unable to swim. Like harming oneself and others in the family during a meltdown.
THAT is their REALITY.
Overcoming Fears of Traveling with Autism: Important Tips
You probably know the “Serenity Prayer.” It is often used in AA for recovering addicts. But in case you don’t know it or need a reminder, here is my interpretation:
Grant me the serenity of mind to accept what can’t be changed; the courage to change what can be changed, and wisdom to know the difference.
This little bit of truth has gotten me through some pretty “rough seas” in my life, especially when coming to terms with both of my children’s diagnosis of autism. Maybe you feel the same.
It’s good to be reminded of that in every facet of life…even when taking major vacations or little getaways.
Learn what CAN be changed
- Is there something YOU can change before planning a trip? Maybe it’s an adjustment of expectations of what a vacation means to you. Or your expectations of your child. Or maybe you can assess the things you need to do to prepare your child for the trip. Or…maybe it’s identifying the root of your fears and understanding how they can managed. Simply adopting a “let’s have fun no matter what” attitude goes a long way!
- Are there things that YOUR CHILD can change before a trip? Is there something you can work on a home to prepare your child for a trip? Recruit the help of people who know and care about your child. Rely on their expertise to draft social stories for the trip, for example. And remember, if you plan a trip a year or more in advance, just know that your child WILL mature in a way you may not quite see yet!
- What can YOUR VACATION DESTINATION do for your family? Are there certain days that are better to visit than others? If the accommodations needed for your child don’t appear on listed on the website, give them a call. Maybe they can provide those things simply because you ASKED! And don’t forget you can rely on a travel agent (like yours truly) to give you advice about certain destinations.
Learn what CAN’T be changed
Autism therapies are designed to alleviate meltdowns or sensory overload or language difficulties. They help the child, the parents, teachers and others who interact with your child in various ways.
But can they actually “cure” autism?
Personally, I don’t believe that is possible to ever change the genetic predisposition of a person with autism. But, I’m not getting into THAT debate…
I bring that up to say that it’s important to recognize that despite good effort, some issues related to your loved one’s autism may not change.
At least at the present moment.
Some therapies may not produce desired results. Some environments may not be conducive to making your child feel safe or you feel at ease. Forcing massive change on your child in order to go on that dream vacation may just not be prudent.
Certain vacation destinations will be more accommodating than others. Some hotels and theme parks are more “autism friendly” than others. Camping is an experience that may require some brief experimentation before an “all-in” investment in equipment.
If your destination does not provide what you need, bring it from home. For example, try out eloping technology at home first to see how it works with your child before using it on vacation.
It helps to know not only how “adaptable” your child is to different environments but also how flexible certain destinations are to the needs of your child.
Wisdom to know the difference
How do you know exactly what you can change and what you cannot?
I recommend talking to other parents with autistic kids.
Pick their brains: Where did they travel? How was the experience? What did they do to plan for their trip? What accommodations did they create at home versus need at the destination?
Their experiences may spark inspiration. Their advice will give you direction and encouragement. While their experiences are their experiences, you can still glean some nugget of insight to help make better decisions.
You can always start a conversation with me! Now that my kids are nearly adults I have become a little wiser along the way. I can never pay back those who helped me through this journey when I started. But I can “pay it forward” to others!
Think “happy thoughts” to overcome your fears
I was just stubborn enough to make sure we traveled as a family despite the fears. I adopted the “do or die” attitude whenever we went somewhere…to the children’s museum, to the outdoor historical park, the movies, to the local playground, to the amusement rides at the county fair, etc.
While my kids were young we weaned them into travel experiences. We took mini-vacations or local staycations so they got used to different routines and environments. They developed the skill of “adaptability”. Slowly we overcame our fears of traveling considering their special needs.
But after a while, I learned to just “let go” and “jump all in”. I was SO ready to behold the castle at Walt Disney World! After a year of watching park planning videos, so were my kids. They were just as excited as I was. And the trip ended up blowing my worries out of the water!
Overcoming Fears of Traveling with Autism through “life lessons”
Will you be part of that 85% that worries over nothing? Or are you that 15% in which what you worry about happens, but the experience made you or your child a better person?
Failure will happen. But you, your child and family will come out braver and stronger than before. If those “big, bad worries” happen on your trip…well, consider it a valuable life lesson.
The more you travel the more you’ll reach those “mountain top” experiences of achievement (maybe even accomplish those skills your child been working on for months in therapy).
I have NEVER regretted the time traveling with my autistic kids, not even when they had meltdowns and I was at my wits-end.
I recommend viewing any trip outside the home as an adventure to explore the world and learn new and fascinating things. Life is a journey filled with experiential learning.
Consider making your vacation decisions and planning in light of the wisdom of the “serenity prayer”.
And…a joyful, positive attitude goes a long way!
If you need someone to rely on for special needs travel guidance, please consider me. I would love to help you! Just click on this link for a free travel consultation!