Travelling with children can be a challenging experience. Travelling with children who have special needs can be all the more challenging. We have never flown with our kids, so I don’t have any tips there, but we have taken many road trips over the years.
The need for sameness
Routine and predictability are especially important for children with autism. Even the most exciting event, if out of the normal routine, can be overstimulating and stressful for our kids. One strategy that has been helpful for our kids is to build as much “routine” as possible into our trips. We stop in the same town and spend the night at the same hotel whenever we travel home to visit family (it’s a two-day drive with kids, so we stop roughly half-way). The hotel we stay in has an indoor pool, so we typically take the boys swimming after we arrive and get settled in. That is their favorite part of any trip! If we travel somewhere different, we try to stay in another location of the same hotel, because (a) they look pretty similar on the inside so it’s familiar surroundings, and (b) they usually have an indoor pool which is hugely beneficial in giving certain hyperactive boys who’ve been cooped up in a car for hours on end a chance to get some much-needed exercise without running up and down the halls of the hotel screeching.
***Important tip*** do not forget floaties if swimming is planned – especially during the winter when replacement floaties may be hard to come by!
Keeping busy in the car
Now that our twins are older, they enjoy playing video games so that keeps them occupied for long stretches when we travel. Little Bitty is not so easy to keep entertained, and neither were his brothers when they were younger. The first line of defense for us is videos, lots of videos. We have a DVD player in the car now (woohoo!) but before we had that, we used to take a laptop with us and prop it up between the seats so they could watch their videos. You can also buy small portable DVD players that would be good for trips. It can get a little frustrating if they want to keep changing videos or watch a particular episode over and over, but it’s worth it. We’ve put a lot of mileage on our Thomas, Spongebob, and Baby Einstein DVD’s.
We haven’t really gotten to the point where we can play “road games” (I spy, etc.) like we did when I was a kid. So we bring lots of books, sketchpads, magna doodles, and a few toys to try to keep everyone busy when they get bored of playing games or watching videos. There are also snacks which helps keep everyone happy :).
Stops along the way
The big benefit of road trips vs. flying is the ability to stop whenever you need to. Stopping at a place with an indoor play area is an added bonus because the kids can not only eat, but run around and exercise / play also. For kids who crave movement, this is essential! In fact, we usually end up letting them play the whole time while we eat, and then we take their food in the car for them to eat. We usually eat at the same restaurants / fast food places whenever we travel, because that way they know what to expect (what the building looks like, what kind of food they have, etc.).
Allow plenty of time to reach your destination. Watch for non-verbal cues that your kids may be reaching their limit and be prepared with a Plan B / Plan C just in case (ie. if we don’t make it to X city, we can stop in Y city instead, etc.). Believe me, the LAST thing you want is a meltdown in a car in the middle of nowhere. Once it starts it’s pretty much impossible to stop, and no amount of stereo or rolling down the windows can drown out the noise – it makes for a very unpleasant trip. (Yes, that would be the voice of experience speaking there, unfortunately).
Most of all, try to relax and have fun!
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