Home > Family Services > Ten Tips for Vacationing with Your Child – Part 2

Ten Tips for Vacationing with Your Child – Part 2

This guest post is by Elaine Hall, author of the memoir NOW I SEE THE MOON: A Mother, a Son, a Miracle and founder of The Miracle Project, a theatre and film arts program for children with special needs. She is also the mother of a fifteen-year-old son with autism. Discuss the book on Facebook and follow Elaine on Twitter @CoachE.

This is the second post in a three-post series about vacationing with your child who has autism; read the first post here.

Tip # 4 Expect the Unexpected. Go with the Flow (as if we had a choice!)

As well-prepared as Neal was for his flight, once he got to the airport, he was so excited he couldn’t contain himself. At the airport, as we waited to board, Neal stared at the huge planes out the windows. He had great anticipation. I turned my head for a moment. I then heard the sound of an alarm. Neal had raced to the exit door and tried to open it so that he could go outside and be with the airplanes. He panics. People glared at him. Security raced over. “It’s okay sweetheart,” I told Neal, trying to comfort him.  To the security guard and the concerned onlookers, what could I say? “He has autism! He just likes airplanes!”

I remember early on in our diagnosis becoming outraged at others for making what I thought were “stupid comments” about my child and his behavior. Too, I resented their judgment of how I handled unexpected situations based on Neal’s reactions to circumstances. Now I understand that such reactions come from ignorance (just plain lack of knowledge).  I now try to use every occasion as an opportunity to educate and sensitize others to the special needs of my very special child and others like him.

TACA (Talk About Curing Autism Now) has cards that you can present to strangers to help them understand autism.

Tip #5 Call the airline (cruise line or hotel) in advance and let them know you are traveling with a child who has special needs.

Our choice to go with the flow continued throughout the flight. Once we boarded the plane, Neal remembered all that we had practiced (backpack under his chair, seatbelt snapped closed, and ears covered at take-off). Success! Until beverage service does its thing in the aisle, blocking the path to the bathroom in coach (where we are seated) and Neal indicates that he needs to go NOW. This we hadn’t practiced.

At my husband’s suggestion, Neal and I make our way forward to the first class restroom where the flight attendant recites the usual “first class passengers only” spiel. As I try to explain the situation of my son’s special needs, a man from first class, clearly able to overhear our conversation, heads into the bathroom, pushing ahead of Neal. “He’s going to have to wait like everyone else,” she prattles on. As I start arguing with her,  Neal sees an opening. He darts towards the bathroom door. And yet another man jumps in front of the door with the cocky condescension of a first-class citizen. Neal tantrums. “Return to your seats,” demands the flight attendant. Neal grabs her eyeglasses off her face. She panics and calls for security. All this happens within twenty seconds. I’m losing it. My husband steps in. He calms me and quiets Neal enough to get him to wait behind the cart as it passes each seat. He then takes Neal to the bathroom. I return to my seat, fuming. If that stupid flight attendant hadn’t been so stuck on her rules, if that guy in first class hadn’t been so arrogant, none of this would have happened. How can people be so cruel?

Now I know to phone the airline in advance and tell them about my child’s special needs and apprise the flight attendants, that if something unusual presents, they need not be afraid. My child has the best intentions and he has autism. Things happen. I believe that people really do want to help families like ours if we tell them how by sensitizing them to our circumstance.

Airlines are becoming more accommodating. When I do the work beforehand, they offer comforts including letting us board early, being kind, patient, and attentive to Neal. I have found that, generally, fear of the unknown creates discomfort and anxiety which manifests in judgment or unkindness. The more we proudly travel with our children or go to movies, malls, or neighbors’ homes, the more they too will come to learn compassion, understanding, and non-judgment, just as we have.

Tip # 6 When traveling long distances prepare activities to keep your child engaged.

For older children, this might include computer games, DVDs, magazines, etc. When Neal was younger, I wrapped up little “gifts” in aluminum foil and let him unwrap them periodically on the trip. I remember going to a party supply store and buying bags of favors, little match box cars, airplanes, bubbles on a string, animated characters, plastic pretend food, etc. Unwrapping each package took up to three minutes.  He would then take another three minutes to play with the toy car, spin the wheels, flicker it in front of his eyes, and then line the cars on the tray before he would get bored again. I also wrapped his favorite foods in little packages, a couple crackers here, a piece of string cheese there, three apple slices. Once we we’re in the air, he was intrigued and distracted by his little presents. Once in a while he ran up and down the aisle. I just ran with him. Life happens!

Check back later this week for the rest of Elaine’s tips and subscribe to the Autism Speaks Blog to make sure you don’t miss out!

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  1. July 28, 2010 at 6:40 pm

    I enjoyed your blog and appreciated the advice. My wife and I have a 3-year old son who has autism. We look forward to taking him on his first trip to Disneyland, and your article certainly gave me some things to think about and plan for.

    • July 30, 2010 at 8:11 am

      Great, Michael. That special Pass that you can get as soon as you arrive is great! No lines. Have fun and let me know how it goes!!

  2. Jenny
    July 29, 2010 at 11:11 am

    Michael :
    I enjoyed your blog and appreciated the advice. My wife and I have a 3-year old son who has autism. We look forward to taking him on his first trip to Disneyland, and your article certainly gave me some things to think about and plan for.

    Be sure to go to Guest Services in City Hall on Main Street when you arrive at Disneyland and let them know your son has Autism. They will give you a special pass that allows you to wait for and board rides in the handicap entrance. It was a lifesaver for our son and helped keep my husband and myself calm on our last two trips there. Nothing is worse than trying to keep your autistic child from grabbing, bumping into, stepping on the people in a long line around him. It will make your trip much less stressful and way more magical!! :)

  3. July 30, 2010 at 8:13 am

    Yes – definitely. The Pass is fantastic. Sometimes Neal wants to go on the same ride over and over. With the special pass, we can get off of Space Mountain and just go in a short line to get back on! (a little tough on Jeff’s and my stomach – but very fun for Neal!!)

  4. December 3, 2011 at 11:33 am

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  5. Angela Taylor
    December 8, 2011 at 1:44 am

    I’m adopting a 9 year old little girl from the Philippines this next year. She is “labled” as a low functioning autism. She is not violent or or wild necessarily, but she really dislikes sitting for long periods of time. However she does enjoy car rides, i have taken her for rides throughout the city and she is quite an content…until traffic. When the car stops and sits for an extended period of time she begins to try to escape her booster seat and will try to crawl around in the car. She is non-verbal, in diapers, and needs to be spoon fed for meals. I know she will finally get the care and medical assistance that she needs when i finally get her here. I’m just really concerned about the flight, i don’t know if i’m over-reacting but i keep worrying about the possibility of her throwing a major meltdown because she can’t roam and pet the other sleeping peoples hair and then we get kicked off the flight and stranded in korea or something…any ideas? She doesn’t have a whole lot of coping skills, she doesn’t watch t.v., she won’t wear earphones, and other than eating her favorite thing is to bang things to make loud noise….which i’m sure would get us in trouble….or play an her piano i got her last year….which would also be loud…any ideas? HELP!
    Oh and just so you know its about a 24 hour plus trip in the air….not counting scheduled layovers in the airport.

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