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As a parent of an autistic child, you know it’s important to include them in much of the planning process for vacations. After all, helping with the planning allows them to get used to the idea of being away from home in a new destination. Skipping this step, and creating surprises, may result in an autistic child who is less than happy about going on vacation.

Picking a destination

One of the first things I recommend doing when planning a vacation with your autistic child is working with a certified autism travel professional. Travel advisors who have obtained this certification have the knowledge and experience to ensure every aspect of your trip is as autism-friendly as possible. Travel advisors ask you questions about your autistic family member, so they are aware of the specific things you will need while on vacation. The very first question is usually about where you want to go on vacation.

I recommend choosing a destination that offers a low-sensory vibe, especially if this is your first autism-friendly family vacation. Beach destinations are always popular with autistic children. If your family doesn’t love the beach, you can always discuss other options that will fit your family’s needs.

Choosing a place to stay

Once you choose your destination, it will be time to focus on the accommodations. Some autistic families prefer vacation rental homes. These can feel like home and may make it easier for autistic children to adjust.

However, you can also consider staying at a hotel or resort. These types of accommodations often offer more activities and amenities that families enjoy. If you know your family will love having access to at least one swimming pool with lifeguards and kids’ clubs, then a hotel or resort is perfect. Staying in one of these types of accommodations will also allow you to door alarms. This is important if your autistic child is prone to elopement. These requests can be made in advance of your stay.  Many hotels and resorts have a phone number you can call to make these requests. Keep in mind, however, that this is a request, and it isn’t guaranteed.

Planning autism-friendly activities

Tell your travel advisor what specific activities your autistic child wants to do while at the destination. This makes it possible for me to choose similar activities I know everyone in the family will love.

If your autistic child is struggling to make a decision on what to do while on vacation, I have a few ideas. Most autistic children love spending time at aquariums and zoos. The quiet spaces filled with animals are perfect for those times when you need low-sensory activities.

Your certified autism travel professional can work with you to find sensory days at the local attractions during your vacation. This is not always an easy task to tackle on your own unless you know the area you are visiting quite well.

It may also be helpful to know which local restaurants are best for autistic families. You will want to choose ones that do not have long wait times. Child-friendly meals may be important for autistic children who are particular about what they eat. Your family may even require quieter spaces for mealtimes. If this is the case, your certified autism travel professional can work with you to find the best times to dine at the restaurants you want to visit.

Packing for your trip

The last thing you need to consider when planning a vacation with your autistic child is packing. This will be something you do a couple of days before your trip. Keep in mind that if your autistic child is particular about their soap, shampoo, or clothing, you will need to be careful about what ends up in the suitcase. There are plenty of things to consider when packing for an autism friendly vacation. Make a list and check things off as you pack them to avoid issues once you arrive at your destination.

Consider starting small

Finally, if all else fails and the first trip doesn’t go as planned?  Take a few steps back and try something closer to home!  You can begin with small weekend getaways in your local area.  The beauty of this is you can be very close to home to support your child.  This also sets the stage to be able to start small without the pressure and stressors of planning a trip to a faraway destination.

All these tips will allow you to easily plan a vacation with your autistic child and the rest of your family. Use these tips for your next autism-friendly vacation and see how amazing traveling can be when you take the time to be prepared.

I’m Dina Farmer, a Certified Autism Travel Professional and Family Travel Advisor. I help families with autistic loved ones navigate the unique challenges that arise during travel. My goal is to create unforgettable autism-friendly vacations, so you can travel the world and spend precious time with your family.