Travels with Autism Redux - Time to Prepare!

At this time of year you might be lucky enough to be planning a holiday. And some of you, thanks to a negative experience in the past might be having trepidations - I have some advice that might make it easier and more enjoyable for everyone.

Firstly, don't feel you have to stay home. Because if it rains for 10 of the 14 days you have booked, you may find yourself cooped up in a holiday house with no broadband, no cable and the prospect of hanging around the local Supermarket for entertainment.

D'amusements do not work for people with high sensory needs, and they are expensive anyway. And Long walks in the Rain followed by an Irish Coffee in a local pub are for romantic weekends away. Not a family of 4 with no clothes dryer.

So take my advice and go somewhere sunny for your holidays. And fly!

1. Two Words: SELF CATER!

You will all be much happier.
Where I come from, Full Board is something that you surf on at the beach, so I find it perplexing to hear anyone complaining about taking meals in a busy dining room full of people who do not understand their child's behaviour. - Give up on having "The Dinner" at midday and just grab what you need at the supermercado, fill the fridge and let everyone eat when they want.

There are literally hundreds of great websites for choosing a villa or apartment to book yourself.
We use Spainaway or Owners Direct but go on line and shop around. Great Bargains, Great Flexibility in travel times (traveling on a weekday is much quieter) and in this climate you can make an offer to the booking company for an even better deal.

We stay in Urbanisations with a mixture of terraced houses and villas, all with gardens with a high stone wall and lockable gate. Leave the windows and doors of the house open, put on a video or dvd and you can lie on a Tumbano in the sun in the garden while the kids amuse themselves in the house.  Add a garden hose and an inflatable wading pool, fridge full of snacks and you need only leave to go for a dip in the communal fully fenced pool. Then back to the house for more lounging.

You do not have to shop and cook every night. The great thing about holidays outside of Ireland is that you can feed the whole family in a restaurant for less than it costs for a dinner for two here.

Look out for outdoor cafes where a mess will be not only tolerated, but expected and the other diners will be families as loud and raucous as yours - maybe more!

You can also get excellent take-away like pizzas or asian/curries and my other half likes to take our son out for Tapas in the evenings, then bring home a take away for Gracie and me. Dishes go in the bin!

And if you book accommodation and travel independently you can organise your own transfers, by hire car or taxi and not be tied to waiting around for a tour bus that will stop at every resort en-route. Many of the booking companies will recommend or even organise transport for you. Just ask.

2. Prepare: With Social Stories,

If your child can read then write a story on the computer, double-spaced and with pictures to represent each stage of the journey. Make sure you build in rewarding activities to do along the way.

1. Drive to the Airport
2. Take the bags to the desk and get a boarding pass, then go to McDonalds!
3. Then go to the big gate and take off your shoes…..etc
Your child will go through each boring step in order to get to the next interesting step.
You can read the story together several times before the trip and ask teachers and other carers to read and talk about it too.
Finish with a photograph of the villa or apartment that you will be staying in, which is easy to obtain from the web. And the mantra “Holidays are Fun!”

For a pictorial social story go here to the Autism Support Website Guide to planning your journey.
You can even download a story to your smart phone or iPad - here and here

3. Packing: Bring home with you!

I am not mad, I just mean bring a few choice items that the kids particularly associate with home such as their favourite characters on duvet covers and pillowslips.
When you get to the villa or apartment or even hotel room, go straight into the bedroom and put the pillows in the pillowcases and a sheet inside your covers.
In the early days I actually took them straight off the bed so they smelt like home - important for our sensory sensitive kids.

I also take a couple of story books, and as many kids magazines as they have (CBeebies, Peppa Pig or Disney etc), as you can leave those behind at the end of the holiday.

Bring familiar toys to scatter around and look for 'Beanie' versions to save space when packing. Choose one toy each for the plane and put the rest in the hold. 

Also pack as much of their favourite snack foods as you can - if you know you can't get it in spain. We bring vegemite (of course) and Cadbury's snacks for Gracie and then ration them. She does have to eat local foods too - but it helps when stressed to have something familiar.

4. At the Airport - Get the Card 

If you are traveling with special kids, it really helps if you have an Autism ID card, as it can be hard to explain to someone that these beautiful children have special and very challenging needs.

Remember, the airport staff would rather facilitate you than face the risk of a meltdown, so please have a thick neck and ask for help

Top Tip:  Book with a good airline that offers seat reservations and priority boarding for special needs.
Cheap fares are fabulous - for singles and couples with no children, NOT FAMILIES!
It is supposed to be a HOLIDAY so spend a few extra bucks and avoid nightmares.

Online check-in is also a fantastic idea. Less queuing. Happier kids.

When it comes to security, please be considerate of other travelers and have all your gear packed into the recommended sized bags. Ask your partner to empty pockets of coins and offer to remove shoes as you approach security. 
Open bags and remove laptops and make sure liquids are in regulation see through bags as requested. Be cooperative and grateful for the help and thank everyone afterwards.

5. Bring an activity to entertain them at the airport AND on the plane.

Laptops, Mini Dvd players and the iPod/iPad and iPhone are our friends!.
Pre-load your iDevice with movies and apps before leaving and keep them as a surprise for maximum amusement.

Go to the gate early so the crew can board you ahead of anyone else, so don’t dillydally in the shops for too long. However a lot of walking prior to boarding is a good thing..

Top Tip: when Booking Your Seat Allocation: - Mark Your Man!

If traveling with 2 adults and 2 kids, don't put the kids in the row of three and allow your partner to sit across the aisle. 

He will ally himself with the other passengers and put on the "Headphones of Invisibility" that block out all sounds of turmoil in the seats across from him while you struggle with the kids alone.

Book 2 on 2 with the Seat Kicker of the family (there's always one) seated behind a family member. Match one parent to one child from the moment you reach the airport and stay on them until your reach your accommodation or home. Transfers must be agreed to by both parties and only in case of emergencies like going to the toilet.
If you can book the back row even better - you'll have 'em surrounded!

Top Tip: Bring a hard cover copy book and colored markers to draw on until after take off when you can bring down the tray table . Don't assume that you have to wait until the seat belt light is off before switching on the Portable DVD players. When the plane levels off and the Flight crew are moving about the plane - ask. 

The sooner you get the entertainment started, the better the flight is for everybody

Just be sure to incorporate the need to switch off the entertainment, into your social story.

6. On board food, drink and other stuff.

Bring a selection of small snacks individually wrapped to hand out during the flight. My daughter will only drink one brand of apple juice in a carton - and with the restrictions on liquids so we bring these in a clear bag through security with Doctor's letter explaining her condition.

Top Tip: If you are considering pre-flight sedatives, get a doctor’s advice as Phenergan and Valium can have the opposite effect. And test all meds at home 1-2 days before the flight.

Go easy on the fizzy drinks or salty/sugary snacks as they can induce hyperactivity or nausea. Bring a towel or sarong/pashmina to use as a blanket or clothes protector in case of spills.

Also; anti-bacterial hand gel is useful as the toilets can be a bit manky in the airport and on the plane. And Bring Wipes!

Light clothes in layers are best - as the children will not thank you as they swelter at the baggage carousel in Malaga in their best “traveling clothes." - but bring a light jacket for the homeward journey.

Sandals are great as you can get them on and off easily if your feet smell swell. (just don’t wear socks with sandals or you will be stopped by the fashion police)

7. Safety.

Make sure the children have I.D, on their person. God forbid they should get away from you, but if they do, be sure they have their name, age, condition and your mobile phone number on their person.

I dress the children in bright tee-shirts with the name of their AUTISM school in large lettering. Stripes are also very easy to see from a distance and easy to describe if god forbid, you do need help to catch a runaway. Liam also has a mobile phone on an "Irish Autism Action" lanyard around his neck. I ring it if I can't see him.
Wearing the school tee-shirst really helps with "the Look" that some people give you, and makes strangers a lot kinder.

8. Enjoy yourself when you get there!

The great thing about holidays in Latin countries is that children are very visible. Spanish children seem to be more indulged and we often find ourselves in the happy situation where the boldest children in the cafĂ© are not ours! 
But follow your child's lead. Day trips and "adventures" are to be avoided as you need to establish a routine that makes your special needs child feel safe and comfortable. Make a visual calendar that shows each day and where they can expect to be - with the trip to the airport on the last day.

If your kids are verbal, teach them to say Hello, Please and Thank you in the local language and prompt them to use it wherever you go. Tip well, use the same cafes or coffee shops regularly and you will find you are welcomed back and indulged next time.

Give each other a time out where one parent looks after the kids and the other goes shopping or for a hike or Tapas and beer. Then swap. 

Because that really is the main thing. To E.N.J.O.Y. yourself."

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I get that holiday feeling just from reading this Hammie! Great advice, though holidays in Ireland do work for some of us and I really must write about holidaying with cerebral palsy at some point x
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Casdok said…
I have yet to be brave enough to try taking C away.

Love the new header!
Momx3 said…
Great blog Hammie. I love the bright coloured tee shirt idea! xx
Taz said…
Having just come back from our second trip to disneyworld, I am a HUGE fan of self catering!!! We rent a house with a pool and enough bedrooms for everyone. That way Button can shriek all he likes in the pool and not disturb too many people, and both kids can keep their routine to some extent. One other big tip is to do what we just did and bring Nana!!!!! Built in babysitter who adores Button and Belle nearly as much as we do!!!
p.s loving the new layout! Swit Swoo!!
pps I redeemed Good Karmas code! Thanks xx
aud said…
Some great advice there, espically the one about bringing the bedclothes straight off the bed. (On your advice) it saved many a meltdown for us on holidays. My little bratski always sleeps better when he can smell his own bed :)

Love the new layout
Aud xx
Great post Hammie...and I LOVE the new, clean look ;-)

xx Jazzy
Truf said…
You forgot to mention not to bring the kids on a day trip to Morocco :-) I've been following these tips for years - luckily they suit well our family's tastes in general. Still have to get the IAA card though...
sharon Morris said…
Thought I'd come to the wrong blog for a minute, what a transformation. As I type we are on a family holiday. I'd have to say one of the best devices for keeping Harri entertained while waiting for meal service has been the ipad. Thanks Apple.
We did Bali last year which was also a success. ONe tip for travelling abroad, especially to countries that are developing is to find out ahead of time where the best medical centre or hospital is. Carry their details on you.
Anonymous said…
Hey You,
I'm giving you the Kreativ Blogger award :)