Special Needs Travel

Ask the Experts: Tips for Traveling with a Child with Autism

Last updated 26th March 2018

Q: How can I make it easier to take a vacation with my child with autism? What are things I should be looking for in destinations, attractions and accommodations?

A: Great question! I’m so pleased that you’re going to be traveling with your son or daughter with autism; did you know that in a recent study by Autismtravel.com that 87% of families with children with autism don’t even travel at all? So, the fact that you’re doing your research and looking for ways to vacation with your child is wonderful. Kids with autism benefit tremendously from traveling with their families – it gets them out of their comfort zone and opens their world a little bit more with each trip.
Here are a few tips for easier travel with your child with autism:
  1. Choose a destination that’s in line with your child’s interests. Kids with autism are often hyper-focused on certain things. Going to a destination that allows them to experience their interest in real life can be a huge motivator for the child. Is your child a huge Lego fan? Well, then Legoland Florida may be for you? Do they know the names of every kind of penguin? Perhaps a trip to an aquarium or zoo is in your future. Not to say that your child with autism has to drive” the decision on destinations, but getting buy-in from your child with autism will assist with motivation. Read Top 5 Travel Destinations for Children with Autism.
  2. Understand your child’s sensory needs and how to manage them. Sensory issues can derail your vacation days, so be sure to take into consideration the destination’s sights, sounds, smells and crowd levels when planning your trip. For example, my son with Sensory Processing Disorder cannot tolerate loud noises, so we actively avoid any activities that will upset him. If we’re at a theme park, our family makes sure we leave the park well before any firework displays are scheduled to begin.
  3. Prepare your child before the trip. Social stories are a great way to prepare your child for an upcoming vacation. These social stories can be reviewed by you, teachers, and therapists that work with your child. Include unfamiliar processes that your child will experience, so they know the steps and expected behaviors during these events. Getting through an airport can be tricky for kids with autism, so that’s a great place to start. Also use Youtube videos to search for videos of your destination to become familiar with the sights and sounds of your chosen resort and activities.
  4. Work with a special needs travel agent. Overwhelmed? Don’t know where to start? Work with a special needs travel agent. The International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards is now certifying Travel Agents as Certified Autism Travel Professionals (CATP); they are required to pass a course to learn how to assist families with Autism prepare for their vacation. You can search for a CATP in your area on Autismtravel.com.
Nicole Thibault is a Certified Autism Travel Professional and owner of two travel businesses: Magical Storybook Travels, a travel agency that specializes in assisting families with Special Needs with planning their vacations, and Spectrum Travel Social Story Videos, a video production company that produces destination-specific travel social story videos.

For more tips traveling with a child with autism, see Special Needs Travel, with articles on 10 U.S.Vacation Cities for Families with Autism and Best Amusement Parks for Families with Autism.