Why are holidays different for children with autism?
Autistic children need a certain level of structure and routine. During the school terms, routine is easy to maintain. However when the holidays arrive, autistic children can get confused as to why they aren’t getting up at a certain time or going to school.
“With neuro-able children, you are able to wake up one morning and say, ‘I know, I’m going to take my children to the park today,’ but having three autistic children I need to plan days in advance if we are to go on a day trip somewhere,” says Louise, mum to Phoebe, 7, Nathan, 5, and Harry, 4. All three children have an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD).
“My two boys are prone to running off and have no awareness of roadside dangers while Phoebe and Harry both have a hypersensitivity to noise, so places that attract large crowds are no good for us. This is why I need to plan in advance. I need to think about what may happen when we are on a day trip and find out any dangers that could affect my children,” explains Louise.
“Also, things that everybody learns and takes for granted, like queuing, can become an issue for children with an ASD. Trying to tell them they must queue for the thing they want can make life very stressful for them because they don’t understand why they can’t have it now. Then you are faced with tantrums, meltdowns and screaming, which can add to the pressure of parents. Autism is the invisible disability and people viewing automatically assume you are a bad parent, but you just have to ignore them,” says Louise.
How to make the holidays easier for your autistic child
The first day of holidays after a term of school will be difficult for your autistic child and they may take a few days to adjust, so be patient and try to help as much as possible. Your child’s school may provide a transition booklet, which you can read more about in our piece about school and your autistic child.
Activities and day trips are a great way to entertain your children, but there can be a lot of planning involved. Every autistic child is different, so paying attention to what your child likes and dislikes will make your life and your child’s life easier when it comes to choosing a day trip.
Once you’ve chosen a place to visit for your day trip, ring them up to sort out any necessary arrangements to suit your individual autistic child. Some places may ask you to provide evidence of your child’s disability, which you can ask your doctor about if necessary. Louise also advises to check forums or blogs about the place and speak to other mums and dads with autistic children who have visited the place before.
“We visited a theme park over Easter but even though it sounded like a great place to visit when I was ringing them up two weeks before, when we arrived it wasn’t. It wasn’t their fault, we just should have spoken to other mums first to make sure the environment suited our children,” says Louise.
If food is something your child is very specific about, make sure you see what is available at your chosen place of visit before you go. If there isn’t anything suitable, you could always pack a picnic. Head to our article on feeding your autistic child for more dietary advice.
Where are the best places to take an autistic child?
Louise is keen to stress how choosing a place to take your children is dependent on their individual needs – there are no right or wrong places to visit.
“Last year I spent a lot of time stressing about the holidays and thinking I wasn’t doing enough to give my children a good time but in reality, the best thing is to do what is right for you and your family and not worry about everybody else,” advises Louise.
“It can take a lot of time, preparation and money to do any type of activity or day trip. To go on a day trip, my husband has to take time off because our two boys need one-to-one supervision,” she adds.
The National Autistic Society (NAS) is a valuable source of information, especially when it comes to planning days out. Check out their ideas for autism-friendly venues and events around the UK.
Make sure you add your opinion about these places to our neighbourhood section, so other parents can find suitable days out.
How to prepare your autistic child for a holiday, in the UK or abroad
Preparation is key, especially when organising a family holiday for you and your autistic child. The NAS has compiled a fab list of autism-friendly holiday venues throughout the UK and abroad.
If you plan to go abroad, one of the main things you must organise first is travel insurance, as regular travel insurance may not cover you. The NAS has partnered with Unique to offer specialist travel insurance for families affected by an ASD.
If you’re planning to fly, contact the airline before you travel and let them know what your individual autistic child may need, from a special meal on the plane to assistance in the airport.
Manchester Airport provides a fantastic booklet for families travelling abroad with autistic children, which you can download. You can read through the booklet with your child to help them understand what will happen.
“However while planning is great, you have to remember that sometimes situations will arise that you can’t foresee so you just have to deal with them as best you can. Sometimes the typical things that maybe you do on a regular basis could cause problems as much as something you put a lot of planning into, so try not to worry. Just focus on what is right for you and your child,” says Louise.