Holiday and travel tips for parents of kids with Autism or Aspergers syndrome


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.

Family gatherings

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 is true.


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

Autism-friendly places

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 advice beforehand.

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 websites.

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 in preparation.



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.


Click to shut this Autism fact sheet on holidays and travel

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Holidays are a special time for any child - here are some tips for parents on  holidays and travel with their child on the autism spectrum