Learn about Getaways with Trains Your Autism Family Will Love
In this article you will learn about the different events and trips with trains your autism family will love. If trains are big fascination in your household, discover how you can satisfy that passion with a trip to a railway!
The Magic of Trains
There is something magical about trains. They represent history, grandeur, power and nostalgia. They are an endless source of fascination for young and old alike.
Whenever a model-train set is present, complete with a beautifully built scenic backdrop, you’ll see crowds with their eyes fixated on every little detail.
Most children seem fascinated by Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends. Created as a book series but popularized by videos, Thomas is a worldwide recognizable character.
When I brought the videos home from the library, my son was absolutely in awe. Slowly, through birthday and Christmas gifts, we built our Thomas the Tank Engine character collection—Gordon, Percy and Edmund were our favorites.
But soon it became a motivational reward for good work and good behavior. After all, I simply couldn’t buy a train every time we walked into Barnes & Noble bookstores.
Waiting to acquire and welcome another friend of Thomas into our home was a good lesson in delayed gratification.
Trains & Autism
Many people speculate a correlation between a train fascination/obsession and autism. I don’t know of any conclusive studies on that. But both of my autistic kids loved the show and the toys.
- Perhaps it the constancy and dependability of trains running on a track or lining them up in a straight line?
- Was it was the feeling of control over motion or the spinning of the wheels?
- Or maybe it was the simplistic emotions of the characters in the movies, or the fact that they express themselves without actually moving their mouths?
- Was it teaching them to connect a character’s actions to consequences in a more understandable way?
- Did playing with the trains provide a sense of stability and comfort in their lives?
I would say YES to all of these, at least for my kids.
To avoid over-analyzing the reasons, I would simply state that my kids made a strong connection to these characters.
Translating what they saw in the videos to actual play with the same characters as real toys made a big impact on their development.
While my son was very particular about me playing with Thomas, I was allowed to play with Percy. (He let me set up the tracks, which I was more than happy to do.) He was pretty adamant about playing with trains HIS particular way, preferring to reenact the movie scenes rather than interact with me.
But gradually it moved from a side-by-side model of play to more two-way cooperative play. Eventually being forced to share his trains with his sister, he learned how to share and negotiate.
From Toys to the “Real Thing”
Then, the movie The Polar Express came out in theaters. Boy, did my kids enjoy that film!
A year or two later did I find out that a railroad depot somewhere in my state offered a Polar Express train excursion, complete with hot cocoa and a visit by Santa and Mrs. Claus.
I drove two and a half hours with my son to ride this for his birthday. He was pretty thrilled, to say the least. Over the years we did other train excursions.
I think by the time the “Day Out with Thomas” event became pretty popular, my son had become a pre-teen and moved on to Legos and Disney. I do wish we could have experienced that when my kids were younger.
Riding Thomas the Tank Engine
OPTION 1: Day Out with Thomas
If you child loves the Thomas the Tank Engine series, then actually getting to ride him would be a dream come true!
The event is promoted as “Day Out with Thomas” and requires advanced ticket purchases. They are held from Spring to Fall and in only one or two locations across several states.
If you have to travel far, consider making it a short vacation. Check out the “Event Information” page to see what fun activities they offer besides the train-ride.
Bring your camera! (This is generally a short train ride—around 30 min.)
OPTION 2: Thomas-Land at Edaville Family Theme Park.
If riding Thomas at your local railway station is not enough, consider planning a trip to the Edaville Family Theme Park in South Carver, Massachusetts.
They have an entire land devoted to Thomas & Friends, filled with fun rides and attractions!
They even host sensory friendly awareness weekends to promote education and safety for families with autism.
OPTION 3: Visit the Thomas & Friends website
You can keep the fun alive at home when you visit the website!
The Thomas & Friends website has an incredibly array of information, including fun activities for kids, resources for parents (including using Thomas as a teaching tool), and the various Thomas-oriented events around the country.
Riding the Polar Express
If riding a Christmas train seems more enticing, then the Polar Express is what you’re looking for!
In my home state of Indiana, families like to travel to French Lick for this hugely popular seasonal event. The local historic hotels offer vacation packages for young families who attend this event.
I remember seeing many children enter the West Baden Hotel wearing pajamas and carrying a stuffed toy because they just got off the Polar Express.
The train travels a certain distance, then stops to pick up Santa and Mrs. Claus who visit with each child. Hot cocoa is passed out and each child is provided a small “gift”. (This ride generally runs 60-75 minutes long.)
I HIGHLY RECOMMEND RESEARCHING THE EVENT DATES AND BUY TICKETS IN ADVANCE!
Even though over the years more excursions are made available at each railway site, these tickets are often snatched up quick!
Don’t rely on getting tickets a day or two before you plan to go.
Other Railway Events
There are many other seasonal events that will bring delight for train enthusiasts!
The men and boys in my family took part in a Wild West Hold-Up sponsored by the French Lick Scenic Railway, brought to life by reenactors in cowboy attire on horseback and others in period clothes. Even my teen son really enjoyed the experience.
(*NOTE: the “robbers” do not actually take your wallets, personal items, or hostages!)
They also host the Easter Bunny Express and the Dinosaur Adventure Train.
To find out more about other events like these, contact the railways in your state.
French Lick Scenic Railway: https://frenchlickscenicrailway.org/
Whitewater Valley Railroad: https://whitewatervalleyrr.org/
Final Tips When Visiting a Railway
Even though your child may like trains, behavior may still be unpredictable in a new environment. It would be wise to prepare your child.
Create a social story about the journey. Watch videos of kids riding the Thomas train to generate excitement. Bring along snacks and comforting sensory items. Alert railway attendees and the conductor if necessary that you child has autism and may need extra accommodations.
It would also be a good idea to know how long the time ride will be in advance. If your child can only handle short rides, then Thomas would be a better fit than the Polar Express.
Plan to do decompressing activities after the ride (swim at a hotel, play at a playground, etc.) if the amount of people at the event seems overwhelming.
Rail Journeys to Explore the World
I miss those days of watching my kids play with trains. But train excursions don’t have to end when childhood is over.
When you visit large cities, take the subway. (Find out why many kids on the spectrum love this mode of transportation here!)
Or better yet, consider taking a train vacation across country. You can travel by rail from the nearest major city to the western national parks. The Grand Canyon offers sightseeing excursions by rail.
There are even amazing rail vacations in Europe!
See the world traveling on trains!
If there certain types of train experiences your family will love, I’d love to help you plan a amazing vacation package!
Just click on this link for a free travel consultation!