Overcoming Fears of Traveling with Autism

Overcoming Fears of Traveling with Autism

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.

Here’s me:

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

  1. 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!

 

  1. 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!

 

  1. 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!

 

 

Autism Travel Tips with Wolf+Friends

Autism Travel Tips with Wolf+Friends

 

Autism Travel Tips from Your Autism Guide…featured on “Wolf+Friends”

 

Just recently I had the pleasure of sharing some autism travel tips with PJ Feinstein, founder of the website and app “Wolf+Friends“. This helpful resource connects parents of special needs children with local therapists and well as other parents for a peer-to-peer support system.  Wolf+Friends also features terrific articles that highlight both the challenges and joys of raising those with autism and other diagnoses.

 

Here is the article featured on the Wolf+Friends app. (Simply download the app to continue reading the article.)

 

9 Things to Do Before Your Family Vacation

Angela Zizak, A Certified Autism Travel Professional, Offers Planning Tips For An Easier Trip.

By PJ Feinstein

Travel has always been a passion for Angela Zizak, so much so that the part-time adjunct instructor of sociology recently decided to become a travel planner. Drawing from her experience raising two teenagers with autism, she specializes in creating customized vacations for families with children on the spectrum. 

“When my daughter was six and my son was eight, we stayed at Walt Disney World for a week.  It was the first time we took advantage of an autism accommodation, and it made our trip even more magical,” says Angela. Now a certified autism travel professional, she runs the website Your Autism Guide, encouraging special needs families to step out of their comfort zone and explore exciting destinations.

Angela understands all too well that some travel experiences will be stressful but encourages parents to “think of them as ‘therapeutic growth experiences’’ for your autistic child and the whole family.” Traveling helped her kids to better cope with transitions and new environments, and she and her husband, Tony, learned to become more resilient and playful.

Angela shares 9 tips for parents who aren’t sure how to start planning a vacation with an autistic child or are just nervous about traveling in general.

I would love to help you plan a fun-filled getaway!  Just click on this link for a free travel consultation!

Packing as a “Teachable Moment”

Packing as a “Teachable Moment”

Packing as a “Teachable Moment”

 

I regret I didn’t always see vacation packing as a “teachable moment” for my autistic kids.

 

I was in full charge of packing all of their items they would need for our trips.  I packed their clothes, shoes, toiletries, and other essentials while I let them choose a couple of their favorite items to bring along.

 

Eventually I let them pack their own bags. Only problem…I would sift through their luggage and start throwing out unnecessary items. I raided their dresser drawers to find the more important stuff they didn’t include.  Sometimes the result was frustration, anger and even a meltdown—by everyone—because they didn’t “pack right” the first time and I was taking out their beloved possessions.

 

On one occasion I let my daughter pack her own things without any preliminary checking before the trip.  Upon arrival of our destination I discovered she was missing some very important essentials (like enough underwear and socks). She had also over-packed non-essential items. She packed 15 stuffed animals in one big bag and brought along another bag stuffed with loose-leaf papers. I understood her need for comfort, but no wonder we could barely get everything in our trunk!

 

I was fully aware then that packing is a learning process that takes time to learn.  Looking back, though, I wish I could have done things very differently.

 

Not truly helping them…

 

By packing for them, I didn’t help them.  I enabled them.  I lost out on the opportunity to use packing as a “teachable moment” to help foster self-help skills.

 

I was also sending them very mixed messages: I told them to pack their own things…believing I was empowering them to be self-sufficient.  And then, I turned around to “undo” their efforts by taking things out or adding them in…not empowering at all! 

 

I lost out on a very BIG “teachable moment”.

 

I was not teaching them in a positive, hands-on way HOW to pack.

 

Sometimes I think we as parents lose sight of how our “means” of interacting with our autistic children might actually be more important than the end-goals.  Every little “teachable moment” has the capacity to help our child develop important life skills.

 

Packing for any trip is indeed a very important “teachable moment” for autistic children. It’s not just arriving at the destination that matters…it’s the act of preparing for it that can set up the attitude for the entire vacation.

 

In addition, there is so much potential skills-building in the act of packing, especially those critical executive functioning skills needed for a self-sufficient, happy life.

 

Don’t make the same mistakes I made! 

 

 

If I had to “do it all over again”, I would teach my kids not only how to prepare for a good travel experience but important skills learned in the process of packing.

 

Here are 5 tips to make packing a “teachable moment”:

 

1. Have your autistic child create his/her own packing list…with your guidance.

 

Once your destination and date of visit has been decided, figure out—with your child—what you need to take. Use apps, destination websites, and videos for help. Have him/her write down, type out, point to, or verbally record two (2) lists of items for (1) larger suitcase; and (2) a personal travel bag.  Help your child figure out what is necessary based on certain conditions:

  • Are you going to the beach or a theme park? Will you visit the desert or mountains?
  • What will the weather be like? Will you be visiting during the summer or winter months?
  • What are activities you plan to do there?
  • How long will you be gone from home? How will you be traveling?
  • What sensory, comfort, or interest-based items would your child like to bring along in a personal bag while traveling to the destination?

 

RECOMMEND: Download important planning apps like The Weather Channel, Waze, and those associated with your destination (like those for the cruise lines and Disney parks). Try to encourage your child do as much of his/her own research and planning as possible.

 

LEARNED SKILLS: Research and problem-solving; dressing appropriately for weather and seasons; self-advocacy and social-communication of personal needs and wants. 

 

2. Create a finalized “picture list” of the items in each bag…if necessary.

 

Have your child (or you, if necessary) take pictures of the items on the lists. Using a Word document, put those pictures in one column and then include space to check off the items packed in another column.  Consider laminating this picture list for future travel; use a dry-erase marker for checking off packed items.

 

RECOMMEND: Provide help only if necessary; use this process as a “teachable moment”.

 

LEARNED SKILLS: Technical skills with camera and computer (if he/she can’t use these then have your child observe the process); translating written/audio to a visual element to self-advocate; organizational skills and self-confidence.

3. Have your autistic child to pack his/her own bags…with supervision.

 

Using the packing list your child created, have him or her start gathering the necessary items together. Pack one larger suitcase for clothes (stored in the trunk or cargo hold) and the other for personal use while traveling in the car or plane (preferably a book-bag). They must be light enough for your child to carry; otherwise, just have him/her carry at least a personal travel bag. Do a final check with your child: make sure that what they are putting in those bags are “reasonable items” for travel.

 

RECOMMEND: Use a sturdy book-bag comfortable on the shoulders and a lightweight rolling suitcase to pull behind. Start packing at least a few days before the trip, in case anything you need or want is missing.

 

LEARNED SKILLS: Accountability and responsibility for taking care of personal items during travel and on vacation; organization; understand the process of making realistic choices for travel.

 

4. Have your child transport his/her own bags while traveling…with some reminders.

 

Being responsible for your own possessions at all times is actually not an easy skill for kids to learn.  Many adults can barely do it! Some autistic kids have a harder time keeping track of everything than others. My older son often loses things, so we have him “practice” carrying around a bag with non-expensive/non-critical items.  You may need to gently remind your child (maybe quite often) not to forget his/her bags during transport. That includes carrying a day-bag into a theme park.

 

RECOMMEND: Consider putting a tracker device (like Tile) on your child’s personal bag and suitcase, if necessary. If they want to take their own money and phone everywhere, consider having them wear a fanny-pack or something similar that won’t easily be lost.

 

LEARNED SKILLS: Executive functioning and self-help skills; care-taking and responsibility for personal belongings; pride of ownership.

 

5. Have your autistic child re-pack his/her own bags during and after the trip.

 

It’s not enough just to pack your bag before you leave for your trip.  Encourage your child to be accountable for his/her own possessions during the entire trip.  For example:

  • Designate a special place in your resort room to put their own things (i.e. their own drawer, own hanger in the closet, etc.)
  • Help them pack a day bag when you do outings (i.e. swim/beach items; sensory kit; music, books or games, phone, etc.).
  • Take the “pictures lists” with you while you travel. Use this as a visual checklist for all items when leaving your destination. This will be especially important if you have planned several hotel-stays during your trip.

 

RECOMMEND: Consider creating a “picture list” of items for different planned activities.

 

LEARNED SKILLS: Organization; self-help skills; care-taking and responsibility for personal belongings; independence and self-confidence.

 

Packing for a “lifetime”

 

It’s hard—especially for us moms—to take a step back and let our kids figure things out for themselves. Often, we intervene for the wrong reasons: to stay on schedule, to avoid a meltdown, because it makes us feel good to help…

 

But they don’t learn when we do everything for them.  This is not leading them toward self-empowerment.

 

Instead of doing things FOR them, we can GUIDE them using a structured framework.   If we really want to empower our autistic kids to become self-reliant, self-sufficient, and self-advocates, we as parents need to “do less” and “guide more”.

 

Despite the challenges of autism, travel can actually be a therapeutic growth experience. By using the process of packing as a “teachable moment”, your child will reap the benefits of gaining valuable life skills long after your trip is over.

 

From travel tips to destination ideas, I would love to help you plan a memorable getaway!  Just click on this link for a free travel consultation!

 

Involving Autistic Kids in Travel Planning

Involving Autistic Kids in Travel Planning

Why Plan with Your Special Needs Child

There are several reasons why it’s best to consider involving autistic kids in travel planning, especially if one or more in the family have special needs.

In this article I’ll outline the biggest things you should and should not do when you get ready for a trip in light of the challenges that autism often brings.

Surprise!

Have you seen those videos in which very excited parents prepare to reveal a huge surprise to their family and friends?

Actually, I am NOT talking about those gender reveal parties.

I’m talking about those videos showing parents springing the news on their unsuspecting kids that they are about to go to Walt Disney World.  And not in a few months… RIGHT NOW!

They wake their kids out of a dead-sleep, telling them to hurry up and get dressed. But they don’t tell them why just yet.

By the tone and flurry of activity you would think that a national emergency has been declared and they are forced to evacuate immediately. Some kids look dazed and scared.

When their parents finally let them in on the secret, some are very excited while others continue to look very perplexed.

It’s cute to watch their reactions, but…

If only those kids had autism…I thought.  What kind of reaction would those parents get then?

I imagine that my autistic kids would be thrilled to go to Disney. But if they were given no warning about what’s happening, things would NOT go down well.

If my parents did that to me as a kid, even if I was excited about the idea, my anxiety would probably go through the roof.

If your think your autistic loved one would NOT exhibit that “joyfully thrilled” reaction so many parents anticipate seeing on their kids’ faces when they reveal their “surprise-vacation”, then this article is for YOU!

 

Special Travel Planning Challenges with Autism

Grand vacation surprises the night before are often not a good idea for many on the spectrum.  When it comes to planning a vacation, families with autism would do better to involve everyone in the process from start to finish.

Here are some things to keep in mind when you start dreaming of your next vacation. Involving autistic kids in travel planning is crucial to this process.

Sudden major events, even happy ones like vacations, can trigger big feelings.

Sudden transitions involve too much information and sensory input in a very short span of time.  For many this can trigger feelings like anxiety or anger …which trigger behaviors that may be harmful to self and others.

  • DON’T neglect thinking about the potential issues that could come from throwing a surprise.

 

  • DO tell your child where you have been dreaming of visiting for vacation. Ask him or her where he or she would like to go.

 

An autistic child invested in the planning process will feel more in-control in this new environment.

Many on the spectrum like to know what the expectations are of the places they visit.

My kids watched Disney park planning films over and over.  My son poured over the park maps to find certain attractions.  We played Disney games, watched Disney films and sang Disney songs.  My kids were INVESTED in the process.  By the time we arrived, my kids could relax and enjoy themselves because they had “been there before”.

  • DON’T leave them out of the initial planning.

 

  • DO watch planning videos, study park maps, and get psyched-up together! Make it fun!

 

You can truly discover what your child can or can’t handle.

Looking back, I wish that I had showed my younger daughter point-of-view videos of the rides at Walt Disney World. We might have avoided some bad experiences at certain attractions, like the Haunted Mansion.

In the “stretching room” she begged to be picked up, and then proceeded to climb my husband like a cat. She had a meltdown in the middle of a very crowded room.

  • DON’T just guess what you think your autistic child can handle, too. Don’t just hope that things will be okay.

 

  • DO allow your child time to explore places through videos and to express their desire to avoid certain things before you go.

 

You may neglect some important accommodation considerations without your autistic child’s involvement.

Getting them involved can trigger awareness of the kinds of accommodations that are necessary.

Maybe after viewing videos of certain resorts and studying their maps you get a better sense of knowing what accommodations to ask for (for example, close to pool, away from stairs, lower level, type of bed, etc.). From park maps you can locate the quiet spots for a sensory break.

If you know your autistic child will not want to ride an attraction but everyone else does, then you can use the Rider Switch option at the Disney parks.

  • DON’T forget about creating an “accommodations plan” based on the different needs of your autistic child. This includes sensory toys and finding safe spaces on the map.

 

  • DO ask for help or special requests when you get there. It never hurts to ask with kindness. Most places love to go the “extra mile” to help their guests!

Read more about planning a Disney vacation with someone with autism.

You can bond over the vacation planning experience!

This is my favorite part of the whole planning process…the anticipation felt by everyone in the family! It’s exciting to choose the destination, the resort, the parks, the attractions, the dining experiences, as well as any little extras that you didn’t think about but someone else did.

When everyone’s ideas are considered, then everyone feels valued and important.

  • DON’T downplay or ignore the contributions of anyone. If the budget doesn’t allow someone’s idea to happen, perhaps encourage them to come up with a different idea.

 

  • DO have fun with this process!  Make it a “family night” to brainstorm ideas and vote on the best things to do.

 

Customize for your family

Some families might have to consider how much their autistic loved one perseverates on the upcoming vacation.  For some it can be a rewarding task to countdown the days on a calendar. But for others it can be unhealthy obsession that interferes with daily life.

If it’s better that your loved one on the spectrum knows about a vacation a week or two in advance instead of months, then by all means do that.  Still, you can involve him or her in studying the place you will visit and dreaming up some fun things to do while on vacation.

I hope that these reasons make sense for you.  It doesn’t mean that you should never have a fun “vacation reveal” party if your autistic loved one enjoys that kind of surprise.

Involving autistic kids in travel planning can be done plenty of time in advance—and not the night before travel—is best.  This will make them feel their input is cherished.

Happy Travels!

Click this article to discover another insight into the need to involve a family member with autism in helping to plan a vacation.

I would love to help you plan an unforgettable vacation!  Just click on this link for a free travel consultation!

Flying with Special Needs

Flying with Special Needs

Getting ready to fly with special needs? On a “Wing and a Prayer”

It may be scary to think about the challenges of flying with special needs.

When my daughter was 8-years-old, my cousin asked her to be a flower girl in her wedding.  My daughter was thrilled about this role when I showed her pictures and videos of little girls walking down church aisles in fancy dress.

The only problem: we had to fly from Indiana to Florida for the wedding.

My daughter had never flown before and I was a bit nervous.  She has autism, and her language skills were still in an early stage of development.  Explaining through verbal reasoning was not the best way for her to understand what goes on around her.

Still, I bought airline tickets and hoped for the best possible scenarios during our travels.

Well, “wishing and hoping” is not the best way to plan for flying with an autistic child for the first time.

Meltdown on the Airline

While the flight out to Florida went fairly smoothly, the flight back was a nightmare.  First, bad weather delayed our outbound flight to our layover stop.  After boarding the second plane to go home, we sat waiting for nearly 45 minutes. Then they made us get off to plane after discovering mechanical issues.

My daughter was going ballistic.  When others around us were confused and getting upset, so did she…exponentially! That fact that I was a hot mess—frustrated, tired and hungry—only made things worse.

We finally got back on the plane but still waited again. My daughter was in the middle between me and another woman having a meltdown, crying and writhing around.

I apologized several times and explained that she had autism to her, but fortunately she was incredibly understanding, saying that she had someone in the family with autism.

Finally, the plane took off and she settled down some.

I vowed that as a family we would only travel by car whenever we decided to vacation.  Flying was out of the question.

 

Flying with Special Needs: Learn from My Mistakes

 “If only I knew then what I know now…”

I had flown a few times before in my life, but I was not experienced enough to anticipate all possible scenarios of what “could go wrong”.  I knew my child, but I suppose I was in denial of the need for the right preparation.

  • Did I create her a social story video of flying in an airplane or being at the airport?  No.
  • Did I read stories about flying to her?  No.  
  • Did I take her to the airport for a little “show-and-tell” outing?  No.
  • Did I prepare for the potential delays and sensory impact of such a different setting?  No.
  • Did I tell the airlines about her needs?  No.

I did not adequately prepare her for our flight. Actually, not at all.  If only I had done my homework, we might have had a better experience.  Well, I’m doing it now…for you.

 

5 Steps to Preparing Your Special Needs Loved Ones for Flying

My first mistake was not seeking out help.  Often, we don’t get help because we don’t know it’s available in the first place.

But now with greater awareness of organizations to help individuals and families with autism and other special needs, we can simply ask if assistance is available before “going it alone”. (Click through the links for more information.)

 

1. Know your rights as a passenger!

This is your first stop for getting help.  Due to passage of the Air Carrier Access Act, airlines may not discriminate based on disabilities.  The Department of Transportation has set rules defining passenger right and the obligation of airlines for flights within the United States (Title 14 CFR Part 382), including those with developmental disabilities.

One of those rules includes not limiting the number of persons with disabilities on a flight.  Another right is that airlines are required to provide assistance with boarding, deplaning, and making connections as well as within the cabin.

Armed with this knowledge, you can ask for help confidently.

 

2. Ask for “special assistance” from the airline when booking the flight.

Be sure to request special assistance when you buy airline tickets.

When you go online to book a flight, most airline carriers will give you an option to select special needs assistance.  American Airlines has a page with information to contact them directly via phone or online. They can contact you before your flight to confirm the type of assistance you need for your flight.

Southwest has an option to select for special assistance for passengers with “cognitive and developmental disabilities” when you select your flight (see photo).

There is a special code within the travel industry that is used to alert airlines of special needs: the DPNA code stands for “passenger with developmental or intellectual disability needing assistance”. If you are using a travel agent to book a flight, be sure to let him or her know to use that code.  For information about the DPNA code from a personal experience, watch this Facebook video by a family with autism.

If you book a flight yourself through a travel booking website like Expedia and it doesn’t give you the option to select “special assistance”, then be sure to contact the airline directly and ask for assistance for your specific flight. If you google the airline and “special assistance” you will most likely find the information you are looking for. Be clear about exactly what you need.

In some cases, this may be the need to pre-board before everyone else and/or to sit together as a family or group. Alert the gate boarding staff to the needs of your family or group.

Finally, consider booking direct flights instead of one with layovers, especially during seasons with a high chance of delays and cancellations.

Also schedule a flight time during the time of day when the airport may not be so crowded.  This may be hard to avoid (especially at busy airports like Atlanta or Chicago), but usually early morning flights may see long lines at the security checkpoint.

Call your airport to find out when it’s less crowded and then schedule your flight times around that if necessary.

 

3. Conduct a “practice-run” at the airport or at home.

Given that families with autism have had too many negative experiences at airports, some decided to take matters into their own hands.

With the help of advocacy organizations like the ARC and the Autism Society, these families have developed programs to practice being at the airport and boarding the plane.  These programs tend to run only a couple of times a year, with most scheduled in April during Autism Awareness Month.

If you think of ever flying with your autistic child—even if not in the immediate future—then it would be a good idea to sign up. Check with your local autism organization and airport for information on these programs.

Here are a few that are popular in the Midwest:

If participating is not an option, then consider making a social story about the entire process at your local airport.  The links above have some videos to view; the Autism Society has a link to a downloadable social story.

As a “field trip”, visit the airport yourself with those who will be flying with you.  You may not be able to get through security without a plane ticket, but you can take pictures of the process of parking, baggage check, amenities, security, important signs, seating areas, etc.

With these you can create your own social story that can be read again and again to build comfort and confidence with the process.

 

4. Inform TSA Cares of your need for accommodation through airport security.

Know the TSA regulations for security.

 

By calling TSA Cares at least 72 hours in advance of your flight, you can get someone to assist during the check-in to security process.  You will forward your itinerary to coordinate assistance by a Passenger Support Specialist so you, your family, or your group to get through the screening process with greater ease.

Carry a TSA notification card and/or provide medical documentation to communicate in a simple, non-verbal way each person’s needs to TSA officers.

Also know that just because someone has a disability does not mean that person is exempt from a pat-down.

I HIGHLY recommend thoroughly reading the TSA website about the procedures, watching videos about the screening process (including this social story and pat-down video), and even create your own social story “book” about the sensory issues as the process can be very over-stimulating in a visual, auditory and tactile way.  Consider practicing the process at home along with the social story.

If you think you’ll be flying more than once a year, consider purchasing the TSA Pre√ ($85 for 5 years) to expedite the process (no need to remove shoes, liquids, belts, jackets, etc.).

5. Packing Sensory Items for the Flight

Fidgets are great sensory tools for plane travel.

Airports and airlines are sensory-overloaded environments that have the potential to trigger meltdowns.  Start with knowing what type of triggers to which your autistic loved one is most susceptible.

If someone is hypersensitive to noise bring noise-cancelling headphones.  Some may block out sound entirely while others block background noise but allow someone to hear close conversation.

If someone is hypersensitive to visual stimuli, then wear a baseball hat that blocks out the wider panorama.

If someone is very sensitive to touch, indicate so on the TSA Notification card. If someone is hyposensitive then bring a compression shirt or other similar item.

Bring items that can be helpful distractions or soothing activities, such as coloring books; pre-downloaded music, games or movies on an iPad or iPhone; fidgets and other sensory toys; weighted lap-pads; neck pillows; chewy necklaces; soft brushes, etc. All of these items can fit into a “Sensory Bag” as a carry-on.

Don’t forget to bring an empty water bottle and healthy snacks.

 

Ready to Fly!

It’s the day of arrival at the airport.  As one of the most sensory stimulating places to visit, you’ll find stressed-out people rushing around.

Those with autism are very sensitive to the feelings of others around them. If you as a parent are stressed, then your autistic child may be very stressed!

Being calm and relaxed yourself is very important. Ask your airline staff if the airport has a sensory or calming room to use while you wait.  And make sure everyone in your party is well fed.

Another important tip is to … (wait for it) … HAVE FUN! Take walks around the terminal before boarding as a way to release energy. Play silly games like “I Spy”.  Read a story or watch a funny movie together while you wait.

Having the right preparation and a fun, positive attitude will ensure a more successful flight for everyone!

 

For help searching for and booking flights, feel free to get in touch! I would love to help you the perfect vacation!  Just click on this link for a free travel consultation!

Why Autism Families Need Vacations

Why Autism Families Need Vacations

 

Why Autism Families NEED Vacations Like Everyone Else

It’s actually not hard to explain why autism families need vacations, considering the challenges that they go through on a daily basis.  Vacations provide respite to relieve stress and encourage greater family bonds through fun.

I’ll be honest. My heart BROKE when I read this one particular statistic about autism families:

When surveyed by an autism affiliated travel organization, 87% of autism families stated they did NOT take vacations within the last THREE YEARS.* 

Why?!

 

Why Autism Families DON’T Take Vacations

For some people vacation is not a priority. They never took one as a child and don’t see the necessity now.  For others, vacation is only a dream because they cannot financially afford it.

And then there are those families who want one and can afford it but who just don’t go.

Perhaps they believe that vacations would only add to their stress, not take it away. They believe they could not handle the possibilities of even more meltdowns.

They tell themselves…“someday”.

Maybe many autism families are not aware of the greater number of accommodations that are now in place at popular vacation destinations.

Or they don’t realize that their autistic loved one may be totally capable of handling the change of scenery with the right preparation.

By not taking vacations—even smaller staycations on a semi-frequent basis—autism families lose out.

They miss out on opportunities to positively change the family dynamics, especially when they experience high levels of daily stress in the home.

 

Top 5 Reasons Why Autism Families NEED Vacations

If you are part of an autism family that is hesitant about taking vacations, take a moment to reflect upon these reasons why you MUST take a vacation.

1. Vacations create precious memories.

A unique setting away from home will almost guarantee that you will remember your time there.  Was there something you saw that was awe-inspiring?  What was the look on your loved one’s faces when they witnessed it as well?  Were there moments of laughter?

We love looking at our facial expressions in photos after we rode thrilling attractions at Walt Disney World…cracks us up!  Sure, there will be trying times in a new environment.

But there is nothing like reminiscing over moments of pure joy you’ve captured through videos and photos to make it through tough days at home.

Take lots of pictures of your trips. Have conversations at home about what happened during your travels. Use these as a springboard to plan another exciting vacation.

If making memories at home is few and far between, it’s time to take a vacation!

2. Vacations mean greater family bonding.

Ever heard of the phrase, “a family that plays together stays together”?  I heartily believe in this.

Everyone needs a break from the daily grind that keeps family members apart, especially when life gets too serious from school, work, or other obligations.

Playing together brings families closer and reminds them what is really important in life: enjoying each other’s company.

My son and I really bond over riding our favorite attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios: Hollywood Tower of Terror.  He acts like a dramatic storyteller giving me the backdrop narrative as we walk through the queue to be seated.  His excitement is so infectious that I can’t help but share in it. Then we rush back to the rest of the family to tell them all about what happened on the ride.

Joyful interaction leads to greater bonding, and vacations are the secret recipe for joy!

3. Vacations are therapy.

I strongly believe that vacation is another form of therapy that is necessary for the social, mental, emotional and even physical health of everyone in the family.

When people are placed in new environments it can be a challenge, just like a new therapy.

But many parents have reported amazing strides from their autistic children while on vacations, even at places like Disney.  Some spoke new words. Some showed greater resilience to a new schedule and sensory input.

When a child is truly enthralled to be in a place that is tremendously fun and has characters he or she loves, often he or she will show greater motivation and effort to communicate that excitement and to transition better.

My daughter showed a increased willingness to step out of her comfort zone during our past trip to Walt Disney World by going on attractions she would have never dared step foot in before—she went on Space Mountain 3 times with her brother, long after my husband and I pooped out.

We are always amazed at the amount of positive behavioral changes that come with each new visit.  Personal growth that would have taken several therapy sessions to achieve happened within one single vacation!

4. Vacations inspire creativity.

A relaxed mind, body and spirit means being more receptive to creative ideas.  Exciting destinations and natural environments stimulate “out-of-the-box” thinking that can inspire people to consider new directions in their personal lives.

And that inspiration continues long after you get home from vacation.

For my autistic teens, being at Walt Disney World inspired them to develop public speaking skills playing Walt Disney World tour guides in speech therapy and to create Disney-like symphonies in music therapy.

My son writes fan fiction inspired by the Disney stories, and my daughter draws cartoon characters inspired by the characters.

Those vacations motivated me to become a travel planner as I obsessed about the history and amenities of the parks.

Every time we go our excitement for the park experience grows and fulfills our need for creative inspiration.

5. Because life is short!

Do you ever look back on the past wishing you made a different choice?

Many people often regret that they didn’t take time out to do what they really wanted to do, and taking more vacations is one of them.

Vacations give people a better perspective on their lives, something that is hard to do at home. The respite from vacation allows them to do several things:

  • contemplate what really matters
  • take stock of what they need to do to further their purpose and fulfill their dreams
  • analyze if something they are doing in their daily lives is really worth the effort.

Knowing that her time on earth was short, my sister took a “bucket-list” vacation to the Fiji Islands.  She took as many opportunities to see the world within the year before she died. I know she left very happy and fulfilled.

As some have said, “we only have today”. So, go out and explore the world today with your family.

Don’t short-change yourself…“seize the day”!

 

More Autism Accommodations than Ever Before

There is much greater awareness of the needs of autism are in the public consciousness. And more vacation destinations are stepping up to assist more effectively.

Cruises now cater to families with different sensory needs.  Theme parks include information and accommodations to help those on the spectrum.  And many destinations are become certified autism centers.

There are simply fewer reasons NOT to take a vacation in light of the fact that more destinations are becoming autism-friendly.

I understand that you may be afraid to take that leap into a strange environment with a child who craves routine and structure.  Here are some tips to help you face those vacation fears!

If you are looking for even MORE reasons to take a vacation, check out this article “What Taking a Vacation Does to Your Body and Brain”.

 

Experience a Well-Rounded Life through Travel

Will you “seize” the opportunity to make memories?

Do you want to forge greater bonds with your family?

Would you like to experience the potential therapeutic benefits through exploration of a new destination?

Do you and your family desire to be creatively inspired?

Are you super ready let go of the stress that is keeping you and your family from feeling connected?

If yes to any or all, then start planning that vacation…TODAY! 

 

I would love to be a part of your vacation planning!  Just click on this link for a free travel consultation!

*Source: ibcces.org

 

Certified Autism Centers versus Autism Friendly

“Certified Autism Centers” Versus “Autism Friendly”

“Certified Autism Centers” Versus “Autism Friendly” Vacation Destinations

It’s hard to know the difference between destinations that are certified autism centers versus autism friendly.

When my kids were little I never even heard of the term “autism friendly”.

Whenever we traveled to visit a children’s museum, a zoo, a county fair, or an amusement park, we handled a sensory meltdown in the best way we could.  Being the one to take them places, I just dealt with it on my own.

Before we really got the chance to make the most of our time at these fun places, out of exhaustion and frustration we often just simply…LEFT.

So, when I found out about certain theme and water parks being “certified autism centers” I was extremely curious.

 

Why is Being a “Certified Autism Center” Such a Big Deal?

In July 2018, Sesame Place in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, became the first theme park to become a designated “Certified Autism Center”…and it was all over the news.

For a parent whose children have autism, it felt like a HUGE deal!  With the certification planted front and center on its website and at the parks, families with autism felt an enormous amount of support and understanding.

In a sense, it was a morale booster for the collective population of autistic individuals and their families. Finally, the world was recognizing that their needs were valued.

 

What Being a “Certified Autism Center” Means

To earn this certification, a company partners with the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Educations Standards (www.ibcces.org).  This allows parks like Sesame Place to be recognized as adhering to a particular standard in which they provide educated assistance to those with autism.

Other facts about this credential:

  • At least 80% of the staff must complete training to understand what it’s like to have autism, including the differences in sensory awareness, fine and gross motor skills, and social and emotional awareness.

 

  • An on-site review is conducted on a regular basis to ensure greater accommodations in its layout and attractions as well as staff sensitivities to autism needs.

 

  • Detailed sensory guides must be created to let parents know what attractions the child with autism can handle (which can be downloaded and previewed before visiting the park).

 

  • The park offers sensory break rooms and equipment (such as noise-cancelling headphones).

 

  • The end goal is to provide a positive vacation experience to all families, including those with autism.

Sesame Street came out with the first autistic character, Julia, and has been a diversity advocate since the beginning.  It doesn’t surprise me that Sesame Place became the first theme park to earn this important certificate.

Aquatica Orlando became the first waterpark to be designated a “Certified Autism Center”. Just like Sesame Place, you will find resources on its website to plan your visit with your autism family.

For the full list of places that have received the “Certified Autism Center” credential, visit Autism Travel.

 

What Being “Autism Friendly” Means

There are actually many places to visit that are “autism friendly”. They may not have the “autism certified center” designation (YET), but most have a fair amount of accommodations to help autism families.

This also means that their accommodations are not standardized.  Each park has developed their own system to assist people on the spectrum. They may greatly vary in the types of accommodations they offer, so “autism friendly” means different things.

You have to visit each park website—and sometimes really dig to find the information—or call with questions.

Disney Parks

The Disney Parks, like many theme or amusement parks, offer accommodations for waiting in long queues, called the “Disability Access Service”.

In Disneyland, you get the return time for attractions at certain kiosks throughout the park (had to do a  hard “search” for this link!).

In Walt Disney World, you get the return time at the actual attraction itself (link is found under the “Help” tab).

Even though they are both Disney parks, they each have different processes. To my knowledge, cast members direct autism families to their first aid station if they need a “break room” but do not offer a special sensory room.

Dollywood

Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, has created a social story about its park through the website.  They built a “calming room” for those in need a sensory break.  You’ll find items like weighted blankets and a teepee.

They also include rider requirements and accessibility guideline documents to help you prepare for the trip.  Many families have been delighted to find that this park has gone the extra mile to accommodate.

 

Is One Credential Better Than Another?

Parks that are “certified autism centers” are more prepared when it comes to accommodating someone with autism.  They have gone through in-depth training.

In addition, they are more likely to accommodate in not just a systematic, park approach but also in a more sensitive, personal way.

It’s unclear how much autism training “autism friendly” parks employees receive.  I suspect those who help families like ours are more familiar with autism and more sensitive. But this scenario may not always be so consistently.

You can have a good time no matter where you go with the right preparation and a little research.  And THAT is my mission of Your Autism Guide.

Over time, I want to provide you with the right resources to best prepare your family to have a truly enjoyable vacation!

 

I would love to help you figure out the best vacation destination based on your child’s and whole family’s needs.  Just click on this link for a free travel consultation!