The best advice I ever got about autistic travel was to get your kid used to waiting in lines. I knew that before we went anywhere I had to take them places but not just to fun places. I had to take them to places that were boring too. Like the bank and the post office. This is easy for me do now because my boys are homeschooled so they go everywhere with me. This was harder to do when they went to school because I’d do all the errands while they were at school. If your kids go to school you may have to work a little harder to incorporate these tips into daily life. You also have to take into account what your kids can handle after being at school all day.
Autistic kids have to get used to waiting in lines.
This is extremely important as you don’t want melt downs every time you have to wait for something. To get your child used to waiting in lines you have to actually take them with you to wait in lines. This will probably suck at first, and the first time we had a really long wait at the post office I had to drag them out screaming. Prepare yourself for the worst and keep trying even if you have to wait a couple of months or another year or two before you go anywhere.
Prepare your kids by telling them they will have to wait in line and that it will probably be boring. Offer incentives and always praise them when they wait patiently. Afterwards, you can also take them someplace they enjoy as a reward, like the park. The boys know that they will get a lollipop if they stand by me quietly and wait patiently while in the bank. I used to walk into a bank with them and they’d be all over the place. Asking the tellers a million questions, walking into peoples offices, it felt like they’d never behave appropriately. Now they are fine inside the bank and the post office. Stick with it in the beginning, I promise it will get easier.
Let them stim appropriately.
Stimming is self stimulating behaviors and it is very common in autistics. Stimming can range from anything to spinning, chewing, hand flapping, head banging, repeating phrases, and so on. Sahki often plays with his hands or spins and Keiren is usually talking non stop. Don’t try to stop autistic behaviors that cause no harm simply because you want your kids to appear normal. Let them be them and accept that they are different.
Get over your embarrassment.
Your kid is going to do or say something embarrassing even when your kid is “too old” to do something embarrassing. Like loudly proclaim that their butt itches. Or that they need to poop. Social skill and tact are not my boys strong suit. You have to stop caring what others think. You have to stop worrying about looking like a bad parent with heathen children. They won’t learn proper social etiquette if you keep them at home all the time.
I started by taking walks in my neighborhood. This sounds very benign but I couldn’t take them anywhere alone for years because it was just too dangerous. I took them to the grocery store and strapped them in the shopping cart but that’s about it. That was the extent of our “travel” a few years ago. The ability to take my boys for a walk is a non issue now, but it was a mighty accomplishment when we first began.
Once we mastered walking together I began taking them to restaurants. Restaurants are still a problem because we don’t eat out often enough. It’s expensive to eat out and often unhealthy therefore I avoid it. But I did start at McDonald’s and Wendy’s. Just getting them used to going in and ordering food, handling mistakes, sitting down and eating, is good for them. There are certainly better restaurants to pick from besides fast food places, and I advocate you choose them but do the best you can. I still struggle with getting the boys to behave as nicely as I’d like in restaurants but I know they don’t get enough exposure to restaurants. I plan to start taking them to restaurants at least twice a month.
Go to parks and join museums. Utilize things that are local for you before planning any trips. The boys do not play like typical children and they rarely play appropriately with other children. While at the playground, Sahki never acknowledges the other children, doesn’t swing anymore and hardly ever goes down the slide. That’s okay, just bring them around other kids and people anyway.
Make your first trip close to home. Our first trip was Washington DC, and we drove about six hours to get there. I don’t recommend this even though my boys did fine. I’d suggest maybe an hour or two away from home the first time. It may be even wiser to get a hotel in your home city in case things go very poorly you can go home quickly. You know your kids best, and my boys were able to understand the concept of vacation somewhat. My boys are used to long car rides because their dad lives in a different city. I just jumped in with both feet and went to DC. It was a city I’d been to before and its super easy to navigate, but I think its always easier to start closer to home.
Take your kids to festivals and to the movies. The first time I took the boys to the movies we sat down and immediately got up and left the theater. They weren’t ready and it would’ve been terrible to force them to stay and sit through the movie. They didn’t like that it was so dark and loud. It was unexpected and nothing like watching tv at home. I didn’t attempt it again for two more years. It was a cheap $1 movie so there was no real loss done. Even though they didn’t last one minute in the theater, going inside left an impression on them and they spoke about going to the movies afterwards. They’d ask about the light switches and how theaters work. Even though it seemed like an epic fail, the groundwork for success was in motion.
Now I’ve taken them to see three movies and they are able to sit through movies just fine. They have sat and watched rather boring presentations at museums and some shows at Disney. Being able to sit through a movie is an underrated skill for autistics. They rarely watch tv at home, but they do enjoy some movies and television. Keiren watches much more than Sahki, though even Sahki is able to sit through movies now.
Always pick activities that are cheap or free in the beginning so that you don’t feel like you are wasting a ton of money if the kids don’t enjoy it. Pay more upfront for a membership so you can go all year and its not big deal if you only last 10 minutes inside. You can always go back and try again.
You don’t need to spend a lot of money or even invest a ton of time to begin autistic travel. The photo up above was taken in an ice cream shop, Graeter’s scoops and chutes indoor playground. It can be places close to home, nothing fancy or expensive. Take advantage of what is close to you first, then keep moving.