Family travel with autism can be difficult. With a diagnosis of autism – or many other similar ones – you may find the radius of your family’s life starts to shrink dramatically, often overnight. Between an individual’s desire for routine, a full schedule of therapy, and an unprecedented level of exhaustion, it can be daunting to even think about travel, let alone plan a trip anywhere.
Over the since diagnosis years, we have taken trips ranging from 24-hour road trips to week-long vacations. Here are some things to keep in mind for thoughtful family travel: choose destinations that make sense, travel at times that are less crowded, in weather that is not extreme, and for not too long at a time. Be thoughtful about where you stay and make allowances for everyone’s needs. In other words, take your complexly balanced system that works at home, and take it on the road.
Most recently, we applied these guidelines to a trip to Denver, Colorado, during Thanksgiving week. Overall, the trip was a chance to celebrate Thanksgiving with extended family and catch up with friends there. Click here to find out what worked.
Family Travel with Autism: What doesn’t work
Sitting in the continental breakfast room:
it was just too hectic. Brother B and I made “take-out” trays for breakfast every day. It was a little tricky navigating the halls and elevator with breakfast for four (I’ve never waited tables!) but it was preferable to trying to contain Mr. Diggy in that loud, rather chaotic room.
The more severe weather:
While we had mostly sunny days, the afternoons turned cold quickly and it even started to snow on our last day in town. This made it hard to go outside without (undesired) bundling. After spending his whole life in California, Mr. Diggy has little understanding of cold weather. He prefers to be outdoors as much as possible, in as little clothing as possible, which was a bit of a challenge.
The gate agent who wanted to separate our family of four for pre-boarding:
While Southwest was super-accommodating on our outbound flight, we had a disagreement with the counter agent in Denver. She stated that only Mr. Diggy and one parent could pre-board. What this meant was that we would likely have been seated far from each other which would have made the flight itself that much more challenging. Once we were in the pre-boarding queue, however, the staff had no issue at all allowing the four of us to pre-board together. Considering the other pre-boarders were two single women with their respective lap dogs, I did not feel like our request was unreasonable. (Maybe the airlines could take some notes from the folks at TSA Cares.) .
The “second journey” within the enormous Denver Airport:
The only other challenge was not accounting for the significant time spent in Denver from touchdown to pulling out of the rental car lot. There was a maze of walkways and elevators (escalators prove to be a bit too disconcerting for Mr. Diggy), a train between terminals, a seemingly endless (outdoor) wait for the rental car shuttle, and then a trek to the rental facility. Our early evening touchdown time that had made so much sense when I clicked “purchase” stretched into a later and later bedtime as we transferred from elevator to train to bus to car.
Are you ready to try family travel with autism? Let me know in the comments where your next adventure will take you!
Rethinking Travel for Your Special Needs Family via The Piece of Mind Retreat