Guest Post from Rebecca at Sunway Holidays: BOOKING and Traveling with Autism
So today is the day that some clever marketing company decided to call "Blue Monday" I guess this is because in the Northern Hemisphere at least, it represents the peak of christmas being totally over, with Spring not even visible in the distance.
For me it was the first Monday after my lovely trip home to Australia to see my family, who I had convinced to spend a week in a caravan park at the beach. A proper post-christmas summer holiday as opposed to a stay-cation which is all too common in a place where it is actually really hot all summer.
|Chasing my niece Emily with a bucket of water.|
I had a great time being super-aunty to my 3 lovely nieces, mixing kitchen cocktails for my sister and her husband, and walking on the long sandy beach at Apollo Bay, which is on the Great Ocean Road, about an hour and a half from Melbourne.
|Jelly Shoe nostalgia heaven.|
It was actually ten degrees COOLER than nearby Melbourne which was roasting in 35 degree heat most days, so we got to really enjoy the outdoors. In fact it was so cool on the first few days that the entire town was getting around in tourist shop sweatshirts and baggy track pants as obviously no one had packed any warm clothes! We got to walk, swim, explore rock pools and even had a climb into the treetops at the nearby Otway Fly experience.
|Otway Fly walk.|
Taking a break is important for EVERY family. Getting Mum AND Dad away from work and home responsibilities can allow them to really focus on being present for their kids. Kids thrive with all the extra attention and learn so much from the extra freedom to explore their environment, away from the city or suburbs.
I've been back almost a week now as I said and decided to confront "Blue Monday" by booking my next trip, this time with my son Liam, to our beloved El Capistrano Village in Nerja, Andalusia. I always book independently as we have been going there for almost 15 years and I know what to look for in accommodation and flights.
|Boo owning it in El Capistrano, Nerja, Spain.|
If you are new to the idea of planning a holiday that includes a special family member then you might prefer to use a travel company like Sunway.ie. I've written so many times about how we plan and book our annual break that I thought it might make a nice change to have a contribution from someone on the booking side, so I agreed to let Rebecca from Sunway put together this complimentary guest post. Sunway is a fully bonded Irish owned travel company of some 51 years. That sounds pretty reliable to me. Oh, and I have not received a gratuity for sharing this post.
Enjoy and I hope that 2017 is good for you, from Lisa and the Domicans xx
Traveling with Autism
by Rebecca from Sunway.ie
Just like anyone else, families that have a child or children on the autism spectrum want to be able to go away on holiday now and then. Many rely on a daily routine, so preparation in advance is vital to minimize the disruption that change will bring. Working around your child and placing their needs first will help all of you to relax more and enjoy your holiday.
How to Book:
Airlines and destinations are becoming more aware of hidden disabilities and willing to help. Start with an online search such as "autism friendly" to help narrow down locations. The UK's National Autistic Society website has a list of holiday venues that offer accommodation for people with autism. When you find a few places you like, contact them and explain what you need as well as asking what training the staff has regarding people with hidden disabilities.
When choosing lodging be clear about what you need with attention to safety. For example, you may need to avoid multiple stories, balconies and feel better with a fence around the property if you are in the city. Be picky about your child's comfort, especially when it comes sensory triggers such as noise. A hotel on a busy road or a room near the bar or pool may be too disruptive for someone with autism. Read reviews online and get a map to identify areas that may be problematic and quiet places to chill out when needed. Consider if it would be better to have a rental house over a hotel.
Try to book out of season to help reduce crowds. Consider if you will need help when you arrive. Holiday Nanny provides short term nannies that have experience with children on the autism spectrum to accompany your family in the UK or abroad and will even meet with you beforehand to let everyone get acquainted.
At the Airport:
To help prepare your child explain what they can expect well in advance. Make a visual scrapbook of the different areas they will go through to prepare them. You can create social stories for each place, including any sensory issues that may occur like loud plane engines. Manchester Airport and Aer Lingus both provide online booklets to download, or you can use brochures to create your own.
Make a few practice runs before the big day. On their first plane ride my children compared it to riding on a bus, so start with a bus ride around town to practice coping together; bumps in the road are turbulence, turning around a corner the bus leans much as a plane does. Pack a suitcase and bring it with you so that will also seem familiar, and bring along any distraction or coping devices that you plan to bring on holiday.
The next step would be to go for a visit to the airport at least a week in advance, and some will even allow you to take a tour or practice going through security. Be sure to communicate your needs with the airport ahead of time, see if you can be fast tracked on the day you fly to minimize delays that may lead to meltdowns.
Talk with the airline when you book about how they can make it easier for you and your family to fly. Discuss ways you can check in quickly, perhaps arrange a set time to do this and then a quiet area where you can wait before it's time to board. You know your child's needs, try to determine if it would be better to board early or late, or to ask for seats in the back or the front where there is more room. Keep in mind that the lavatory is usually located in the back so there will be additional activity and more people in this area. Let the flight attendants know that your child may need to walk around during the flight. If any of you have special dietary needs it's a good idea to take your own food as a familiar backup even if the airline says they can accommodate you.
Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst
This might seem obvious if you spend a lot of time caring for someone with autism, but bringing along things that provide comfort for them is always helpful when things get overwhelming. Noise blocking headphones, favorite toys, snacks, music, games or tablets can help block out upsetting noises and provide a sense of comforting normality.
Dining out can involve too many distractions for your child to cope with, much less eat. Try to eat outside of peak meal hours in your destination so the restaurant won't be crowded. Ask for the check as soon as food arrives so you can eat and run if you need to.
The National Autism Society offers cards in 16 languages that explain your child is autistic to help onlookers understand what is happening if a meltdown does occur. They also offer travel insurance especially for people with autism, pre-existing conditions, disabilities and allergies as well as friends and family traveling with them.
Discuss special needs with your GP before the trip. Consider getting a letter from them* in case someone asks for medical confirmation. Be sure to take along enough of your child's medications to last a few days longer than your trip just in case you are delayed somewhere.
When you decide to travel, there are always challenges, but if you can look back and find that you're satisfied with how you handled them, and you remember to enjoy the good moments, you will have a holiday to remember.
About Author: Rebecca is a writer and editor at sunway.ie. When she is not travelling, she is most likely reading novels or enjoying her time with friends.
*Editor's Note: We always carry a letter from our local GP explaining how our kids have autism and need certain accommodations, including the Apple Juice boxes that Gracie will need on the plane. This letter was translated into Spanish by a local doctor to be used on our return trip. It makes things so much easier so take the time to organise it prior to heading off.
For more information on Travelling with Autism, go here