Traveling with kids on the autism spectrum isn’t easy! You never know what will happen or how they will react.I have this adventurous spirit though–and one of my favorite things is to visit national parks and national monuments.
Here are my 10 Tips for Traveling with a Child with Autism:
1. Bring their favorite toys
I always seem to pack “too much” because I never know what toy or distraction I will need to keep him happy on the 12-hour drive to visit family. I also packed lots of puzzles, his handheld DVD player, Ipad, books on tape (yes we still have cassette tapes), word search books, sticker puzzles, letter cubes that he loves, squish balls, spinning tops, etc. Whew!
2. Stick to their Normal Schedule as Much as Possible
One of the reasons I tend to bring so many things on trips is because I try my very best to keep Nathan on a normal schedule to keep him happy. Because when Nathan is happy, it is easier to have everyone else be happy too.
For example a couple of things we do in the mornings during the summer is: exercise, read an audio book, and do a puzzle. So, you had better believe that I bring audio books with me (he follows along in the actual book), and I also bring a couple of 300 and 500 piece puzzles. I pull those out depending upon how much time we have.
Simply bringing these familiar items and keeping to a schedule with Nathan has helped us be able to travel to visit family and have a happier trip.
3. Bring Things to Help them Sleep Well
I am not alone when I testify that kiddos on the autism spectrum have a hard time sleeping through the night. I was baffled and exhausted by this when my kiddos were younger until I found that an over-the-counter supplement called Melatonin could help him fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep longer. So, of course, I bring Melatonin with me when we travel.
Nathan’s pillow and blanket also always travels with us, because if he doesn’t sleep well, all of us don’t sleep well. Bring their bedtime “things” to ensure the best travel sleep possible.
4. Bring their favorite device
For Nathan this means I bring his iPad. This device has saved me more than once! We even bring it when we are hiking in National Parks, because that means we can actually get Nathan to come with us.
Nathan at the Grand Canyon on his iPad
5. Get a Free National Parks Access Pass
Did you know that if someone in your family has a permanent disability (like autism), you can get a free pass to visit the national parks in the United States? Here is some cool information about this “Access Pass.”
- Cost for the Access Pass: Free
- Who is it for: U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities.
- How do you get it:
For more information, scroll down to the “Access Pass” part of the National Parks website at:
6. Use a Visual Schedule for Travel
Children with autism often have a hard time transitioning to new and different activities. Using a visual schedule to help them understand what you are doing and what is happening next helps ease their concern and understand a little better what is going on.
7. Travel with Their Favorite Foods
I am never above a little bribery, and so if I need to bribe Nathan with gummy bears to get him on a hike, I will. This is one reason it is important to bring a few favorite foods along the way.
That also means that when you travel you make sure that you are eating things that they would typically include in their diet. Sometimes you might get lucky and be able to buy some of those things at a fast food restaurant (like hamburgers or chicken strips) and sometimes you will need to pack a cooler and bring their favorite foods in the car, especially if they are picky.
8. Bring headphones & Avoid Crowds
Some children on the autism spectrum are sensitive to noise. If so, be sure to pack headphones, especially if you are going to be going somewhere noisy.
Kiddos on the spectrum also usually don’t enjoy crowds. Try to visit places that are less busy. For example, don’t visit the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in the summertime when it is hot and super-crowded with tourist. Instead, visit the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. It is much less crowded and the sight is just as breathtaking. Plus, since it is at a higher elevation it means it is cooler in the summertime.
9. Contact Information
If you are going somewhere where it might be a little more crowded and your child is a runner, be sure to have their name and your contact information somewhere on your child. It could be on a lanyard, inside their shirt, even on a temporary tatoo on their arm.
10. Be Flexible
Sometimes your child with autism is simply going to have a bad day. Know this and be willing to be flexible with your schedule and give them some time doing their regular everyday things to help them be happy.
There have been several times when Nathan has been “burned out” after several hours and either my husband or I have had to wait in the car or a hotel room while the other spouse took the rest of the family out to finish an activity. At moments like these it is important to be flexible and patient. Change is always hard for these kiddos.
Just because your child is on the autism spectrum doesn’t mean that you can’t travel. Just be sure to follow these 10 tips so that you are prepared.
Thank goodness we travel by car. I don’t think I could fit all this autism stuff if I was flying–plus I bringing the kitchen sink would be against FAA regulations;).
Here are some photos from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Waputki National Monument, Walnut Canyon National Monument and Sunset Crater National Monument that we visited last week with my sister and her family.