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Advice for a successful trip while travelling with a child on the spectrum

Nicole Thibault promised to maintain travel a priority for her family after having her first baby. She said, “We weren’t going to let having kids stop us from travelling.”

When her son was around two and a half, travelling then started to get “tricky.”

Everything he adored on our previous travels simply turned into nightmares, Thibault remarked. He used to enjoy Disney World, but he came to loathe the characters, the din, and the throng.

He received an autism diagnosis six months later. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2020, one in 36 children in the United States has autism.

She said, “I can’t even take my son to the grocery store without a meltdown.” “What made it so tragic was that the majority of the parents I met said, “We don’t go because it’s too difficult.” The family trips are simply not taken.”

According to a 2019 survey by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards, just 13% of parents with a kid on the spectrum claimed they go on family vacations (CCES).

Thibault had a strong will. “We’ll continue to make an effort. We’ll work this out, I promise.”

Before boarding a plane, the family began by taking her kid on day trips and weekend excursions. Over time, she added, “we learned a tonne about sensory triggers, how lot avoid them, how to prepare, and what to do if you’re having a sensory meltdown in public.”

Thibault is a mother of three and the proprietor of Magical Storybook Travel, where she assists families with individuals on the autism spectrum in making travel plans. Her youngest child, who is now 15 years old, also has an invisible illness.

When I can assist families who in a million years would have never imagined being able to take a vacation and I help them get through it and create wonderful memories with their children, it means so much to me, Thibault said.

Travel obstacles

“The prospect of going someplace new they’ve never gone before… is really overwhelming, which may generate a significant amount of anxiety,” Thibault said of many autistic youngsters.

According to Jennifer Hardy, an expert in accessible travel and mother of four children with invisible disabilities, “Families do not want to put themselves in a scenario where their child is dysregulated and without a trusted environment to bring them back.”

Hardy’s children have been greatly impacted by travel.

Traveling, she said, “helps kids to grasp various cultures, gain some flexibility and independence skills, and have new experiences like new meals, new modes of transportation, and hear new music.” Our children frequently fail to understand social norms and expectations.

On a trip, Hardy’s youngest child, who was 5 years old at the time, revealed how much he adored roast duck. “This is a major deal for a kid who basically wants to eat nothing but butter, fries, and Nutella sandwiches!” Hardy thought.

The hospitality sector has long been exclusionary to those with invisible disabilities. According to a survey by CCES, 97% of families with autism indicated they were dissatisfied with the current options for families travelling with autism, and 93% said they would travel more if there were more options that were autism-certified.

As more cruise lines, hotels, theme parks, and even cities attempt to become autism-friendly, the tourism industry is becoming more inclusive. Thibault remarked, “You know they’re going to be ready for you when you get there.

As the first city to receive autism certification in 2019, Mesa, Arizona, now has roughly 60 businesses and organisations that have received it, compared to just one or two in most other cities.

Taking things slowly

The amount of planning and preparation necessary to be ready for a vacation will vary, even place to place, according to Hardy, because every child on the spectrum is unique. The key is to customise the preparation processes so that the child is aware of what to anticipate and how to handle disruptions ahead, with an emphasis on how to best suit their specific requirements.

It’s never a good idea to surprise a child on vacation, especially one who has sensory triggers, according to Dawn Barclay, author of “Traveling Different: Holiday Techniques for Parents of the Anxious, the Inflexible, and the Neurodiverse.” Explain the idea of moving slowly and make any necessary changes.

According to Barclay, when you can achieve achievement, your child develops a favourable frame of reference.

Here are a few suggestions from professionals:

Barclay advised reading books when travelling, including picture books.
According to Hardy, role play in “social storytelling” takes children step-by-step through what to anticipate in various travel situations.
According to Barclay, take your youngster on digestible yet novel excursions, such as to the zoo or a restaurant serving a novel cuisine.
To assist give students an idea of what to expect, Thibault largely depends on YouTube videos. Videos of staterooms on numerous cruise lines and rides in amusement parks are both widely available.
Ask a family member or friend who resides in another home to let your family stay the night if your youngster has never slept in a bed other than their own, she advised.
Wings for Autism teaches persons on the spectrum to flying in an effort to lessen obstacles when flying. If there is an event coming up in your region soon, look at their calender.

How is working with an Autism Travel Certified Professional?

The Certified Autism Travel Expert Thibault advised parents going on their first trip: “You don’t have to do it alone.

A CATP, a credential that was made available in 2018, can offer assistance and help with travel arrangements for families with members who have autism. With over 700 CATP specialists available, many of whom are also parents of autistic children, “they probably live it as well,” according to Thibault.

The first step in working with a CATP is a pre-counseling session where all of your child’s needs, including any room preferences, dietary restrictions, and desired activities, are thoroughly discussed. After reservations are made, the schedule is reviewed, including films of the parks or lodgings.

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