HOLIDAYS, AUTISM, ASPERGERS
& YOUR CHILD
There are many issues with Autism Spectrum Disorders
that can add to the stress of a family holiday – disruption to normal
routines, behavioral issues and unfamiliar sights, sounds, foods,
and people. The good news is that some careful planning and organizing
can make a more pleasurable holiday for everyone.
If you are having relatives over, or visiting
them for the holiday, planning and organization will take care of
many potential problems.
The first question to ask yourself is whether your child will cope
with disruptions to routines and sensory overload from loud conversations,
cigarette smoke, perfume, hugs, and having strange people around.
Obviously you will want your child to be able to deal with these
issues eventually, but parents need to be realistic and decide on
how many behavioral issues they are willing to tolerate, and impose
on others, in the quest for the big family dinner for Christmas
or other festivities. You can always explain the problems involved
to family members so they won’t take offence, and wait until your
child is ready to cope better.
Preparation is the key
Prepare your child well in advance. If possible,
have photos of all the people they will be meeting, and give your
child information on them so that they will feel they know something
about the person already. These could be incorporated into a wall
chart that counts down the days to the family get together.
Social stories could be used to explain to your child that the environment
will be noisy and boisterous at times, and things your child can
do to cope with this, such as asking parents for some quiet time.
If you are going to someone else’s house and it isn’t too far away,
you could go there a week early so that your child can familiarize
themselves with the environment. This also gives you a chance to
check the house for possible dangers to your child.
Remember to take your child’s favorite toys and games on the big
day, so that there is something routine still in the midst of all
the chaos. It may also be worth having a chart of the day’s events
if your child likes to know what will happen next. If your child
needs constant supervision, make sure someone is always committed
to watching your child. After a few drinks or lively conversations,
it is easy to think someone is watching your child when the opposite
Telling relatives about autism or Aspergers
Discussing your child’s Autism Spectrum Disorder
with others is a personal choice. Some parents have no qualms about
letting others know, as they can then create some public awareness
of the issues involved, and also show the other person that unusual
behaviors are not necessarily wilful misbehavior. Other parents
would rather not say anything unless circumstances get so bad that
they need to explain their child’s behavior. In an ideal world,
all relatives are wonderful compassionate people who will make the
necessary adjustments to share their lives with your child unconditionally.
But we all know some people will refuse to understand the issues
and judge your child harshly. Use your intuition to decide which
relatives you tell about your child being on the autism spectrum.
Going away on holidays
In many countries, some accommodation providers
are now catering for various disabilities. Your nearest autism association
may have a list of any such places, as well as any government programs
that might provide funding for your holiday. If there are no specialist
accommodation services, there may be child care facilities where
you can ring ahead and see if the staff have any knowledge or experience
with Autism Spectrum Disorders, or if they will manage with some
If your child has sensory problems such as sensitivity to noise,
see if you can reserve accommodation that is quiet and relatively
secluded. If you are traveling by plane or train, you can often
ring the transport provider so that staff are aware of any problems
that might arise.
When sensory issues are involved, it can be worth bringing along
your child’s normal sheets and pillows in case they find those in
a hotel unpleasant. Any new clothes for the trip may need to washed
several times if your child finds these ‘scratchy’ on the skin.
Preparing your child
Children on the autism spectrum are usually
prone to stress and disruption to routines. However, they often
are much more able to cope when they have an idea of what to expect.
Spend some time each day telling them what they can expect on the
holiday, and where possible show them pictures from brochures or
Social stories are an excellent way to smooth over anticipated problems.
For example, if your child is going to resent sharing a swimming
pool with other noisy children, a social story can present this
as a fun opportunity to meet other children, and how to quietly
leave the pool if the noise is overwhelming. If your child has never
been on an aeroplane before, a social story can show how to cope
with noisy airports, crowded planes and takeoffs. Images are very
helpful so see if you can get photos of a plane’s interior to put
in the story.
Prepare a chart of what your child will be doing each day so that
a new routine is quickly established while on holiday. Create this
chart with your child as a fun experience by cutting and pasting
pictures to go with different activities. This timetable can go
on the wall so that there are less unexpected surprises that could
create undue stress. If your child doesn’t have a calendar, make
a special one so that the days to the holiday can be counted off
Given the confines of an aircraft, it is worth
considering whether you want to take the risk of flying. If driving
or catching trains is a possibility, then weigh these against the
chances of your child having a full blown ‘melt down’ in a crowded
cabin with no chance of escape until the plane lands!
Airlines have become much more sensitive to the issues faced by
people with various disabilities. For example, if your child will
not be able to tolerate a noisy airport, that may be able to arrange
for you to bypass any queues. You should also have the option of
either boarding first or last, if either reduces the stress on your
child. There will be a choice of seating arrangements, such as the
first row where there will be less visual distractions, or exit
rows which will have more room. Airlines often cater for special
diets, so see if they will have meals to suit your child, or take
your own. If you are flying internationally, make sure there won’t
be problems with any medications – for example, stimulant medications
for Attention Deficit Disorder could create problems at customs
in certain countries. It can be hard to know if the deep rumble
of jets will be comforting or alarming for your child, but having
their favorite music playing through headphones, as well as favorite
toys, can help to calm your child.
Managing behavioral issues
Disruptions to normal routines will often result
in more behavioral issues so it will be important to apply your
management strategies consistently. If you are traveling to another
country, it may help to learn a phrase or two that can explain your
child is autistic and not simply having a tantrum if you have major
problems in a public space. An alternative could be to have these
phrases written on a card.
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range of Asperger's and autism fact sheets and personal stories