Great Getaways

Posted on: May 23rd, 2012 by saaac-master No Comments

Planning Your Family Vacation

Many families eagerly look forward to their summer vacations. Whether it’s travelling to a foreign country, enjoying a cruise, or taking a simple road trip, family vacations are where memories are created and a family’s bonds are strengthened.  But, for families who have loved ones with autism, planning a vacation can be a difficult prospect. 

Individuals with autism crave routine and a predictable environment, but travelling to new places can unfortunately disrupt carefully structured routines and schedules. In new environments and time zones with varying schedules, those impacted by autism may become agitated and frustrated, leading to behaviours that might be disruptive and, in some cases, violent. There is also the additional stress to families of what others may think and say when witnessing such behaviours.

For these reasons, families who have loved ones impacted by autism are hesitant to plan trips. Yet the success of any trip lies in its preparation. Below are some tips generously offered by SAAAC families to help create a memorable family vacation for you and your loved ones.

Tips From SAAAC parents:

  • Your trip should begin even before you arrive at your destination. Try to expose your son/daughter to the destination as much as possible. I did this through social stories. Social stories are stories that teach kids how to behave in certain social situations. Two months before the trip, I taught my son about our destination: what kind of people to expect, where we will stay and sleep, the types of trees and flowers that are present in that environment – anything that was related to our trip I somehow introduced to him. This allows for a certain familiarity. No matter how faint it is, the process does help very much.

  • If you are staying with family or friends, call them ahead of time and let them know about your loved one. Tell them what to expect, so they will not be caught off guard when disruptive behaviours do arise. This also creates a more supportive environment where friends and family are more accommodating and understanding when they have been appropriately prepped.
  • If you will be staying in a hotel call ahead of time to notify the staff. In addition, you can request rooms and floors that are the quietest. Most hotels are very accommodating in this respect, and by letting them know early on, you can be provided with a space that may not be so disruptive to your loved one 

Most families who have loved ones with autism are hesitant to travel by air; the possibility of being in a confined space for an extended period time can be daunting to families. But, it doesn’t have to be that scary! Here are a couple of things you can do:


  •  Try to request seats at the back of the plane when booking your flight, so other passengers might not be disrupted by certain disruptive behaviours (e.g. heavy rocking). Try to get seating where your son/daughter is positioned in the middle and a family member on each side. We did this on our trip to Disney World and it helped soothe and calm down our son when he got too anxious.  
  •  Bring along a game, toy, or anything of personal attachment to your loved one (this will not only serve your son/daughter on the flight, but also on the trip), so they can play and interact with it on the flight. This allows for a decrease in anxiety because of the comfort and familiarity that a cherished item provides. I also found interactive tablets to be a good way to pass the time for my son.  

 When at your destination try your best to incorporate the routines and schedules you implemented at home. This may be difficult given the new environment, but it is still possible:


  •  Our family brought our laptop along with a lot of our son’s favourite DVDs. We played it for him periodically throughout our trip and it alleviated some of his homesickness. 
  •  We usually ate our meals at roughly the same time we did at home. This allowed for a more familiar interaction between family members, which in turn gave a sense of familiarity to our son.

 To read even more in depth tips on making your family vacations pleasant, please refer to the helpful suggestions made by author Chantal Sicile-Kira:

The secret to any successful venture is planning and being proactive. Hopefully these tips will help you prepare for a great family vacation where bonds can be strengthened and memories can be made.