Family Vacations and Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Young Child

Some of my greatest childhood memories are from family vacations. My mom and I have ridden on horseback down the Haleakala Crater in Maui, explored the Chichen Itza Mayan ruins in Mexico, and marveled at the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. However, along with all the excitement of traveling comes a great deal of stress. From checking bags and navigating through airport security to enduring flight delays and long layovers, traveling can be a real hassle. And while most people find traveling stressful, it can be especially difficult for families of children with autism.

Traveling can be overwhelming for children with autism due to changes in routine and environment. In addition, the overall lack of accommodations for children with autism can make family trips especially challenging. However, greater autism awareness has led a few travel operators to offer autism-friendly accommodations.

For instance, several cruise lines (Royal Caribbean, Disney, Carnival, and others) have partnered with Autism on the Seas to provide special amenities for passengers with autism. Some accommodations offered on group cruises include specially trained staff, a variety of Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) pictures, a special “social story” designed to summarize the first day of activities on the cruise, priority boarding and disembarking, early dining, special dietary accommodations, respite time, private group activities, and more.

Additionally, some hotels have designed autism-friendly rooms. For instance, the Wyndham Garden Hotel in Austin, Texas has partnered with the Thoughtful House Center for Children to create five Thoughtful Rooms. Among the special accommodations are specially trained staff, and gluten and casein free meal options. In addition, the rooms are equipped with special safety features including door alarms, outlet covers, cushioned table corners, and childproof drawers just to name a few.

Although special amenities for families of children with autism are still few and far between, companies like Autism on the Seas and the Wyndham Garden Hotel demonstrate an emerging trend in autism awareness. This makes me hopeful that increasingly more accommodations will be made available to persons with autism and their families.

Please share any fun vacations that your family has taken. Have you found any places to be more autism-friendly than others?

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