How is everyone’s summer going so far? As I jump into my third week of summer, I can’t help but think about my upcoming cruise to the Caribbean Islands! When most “typical” people think of a vacation they think of a fun, relaxing time filled with family or friends. When I think of a vacation I think of the positive things above as well as the many challenges that come with it, including long car or airplane rides, different food, unfamiliar environments, interaction with strangers, long days, etc.
When I was little and went on airplane rides, my parents made me a social story (research Carol Gray to learn the proper way to write a social story) filled with pictures of the TSA process and airplane rules. This allowed me to understand and prepare for TSA. As a little boy I was very scared of the TSA. My dad also talked with the TSA and airline staff beforehand to make them aware of my condition. I was allowed to pre-board the airplane to get settled in before everyone else got on. My parents bought me a window seat, brought headphones, music, toys, and snacks. Now, in addition to the above, the TSA has special programs to help out kids with Autism. Please click here to see the TSA’s special procedures. Click the “Autism or Intellectual Disabilities” situation and other applicable situations to learn more! For car rides, my parents made the same social stories with different pictures to prepare me for a long car ride. My parents often left around my bedtime so I could sleep most of the ride throughout the night. My mom packed me a travel kit filled with toys, snacks, games, movies, books, etc. Finally, my mom used to wrap mini gifts for me that I could open for good behavior along the way. Nowadays, the same happens above minus the mini presents. For an unfamiliar environment, my parents used to make me social stories with pictures of the hotel, places we were going to visit, the hotel pool, restaurants, etc. My parents talked to me usually two weeks in advance so I had time to review the social story over and over again. Also, my parents packed my own pillow and stuffed animals for me so I would feel comfortable. Now, my family and I just research our vacation spot online in advance.
As some things change over time as I get older, other things stay the same. As I am still a picky eater, my parents research restaurants where I can eat, pack lots of snacks, and even rent houses or condos instead of a hotel room so that I can make my own meals. My parents also rent houses or condos because I need time to be loud and hyper. With houses or condos, I have the freedom to be loud and hyper without worrying about complaints. As vacations involve interacting with a lot of strangers, my parents don’t force me to meet my social goals like I have at home, since a vacation is already stressful enough without more pressure to interact so much with others. For long vacation days, I still have troubles. My parents tell me that, when I was younger, vacations were extremely difficult because they tried to show me things that a “typical” family would do and pack a lot of activities and sights into each day. My parents have since changed their expectations of family vacations, which has made them more enjoyable for everyone. They know that I won’t be able to see everything and they never plan a full day’s worth of activities. Depending on the location, activities may end halfway through the day! My parents also always plan a “down day” every few days where I can relax and hang out at the house or play at the pool. Their idea now is to show me the highlights of the destination while allowing time for down days or activities to get my energy out; for example: a trampoline park.
As weird as it may seem and despite all of the difficulties, I always want to go on vacations! I have gotten better as I’ve gotten older, but I still need to work on a few things. My dad always says that the past vacation was the most stressful one, but we always go on more! My advice to parents is to take a lot of time to prepare! Research airline and travel programs for kids with Autism, bring travel kits and mini presents, make social stories, have down days, and remember to have fun yourselves. You deserve it!!!