By Deanna Picon
Family trips can be a great way to bond with your loved ones, especially with your Austistic grandchild. With proper planning, realistic expectations, and a positive attitude, it can be a rewarding experience for you and your grandchild alike. All you have to do is take things one step at a time.
First, cover the basics
Most likely, your grandchild is used to a structured life, so the change implicit to travel creates its own challenges. That being said, the best way to help your grandchild embrace this change is to focus on their interests and personality.
For example, if your grandchild doesn’t like being in large crowds, with lots of people and noise, then a big theme park like Disneyworld might not be best. Some children with autism have sensory issues and might not be able to tolerate the loud noises of crowds and amusement rides. They might have meltdowns if they are over stimulated.
Wherever you choose, make your grandchild feel more comfortable by establishing a daily routine that is close to the one they have at home. Compile a list of their routine and activities and be sure to give your grandchild plenty of “time-outs” in between to help his or her transition go more smoothly.
Second, get ready to go
There are pro’s and con’s to every means of travel and lodging.
Driving will allow you to set your own pace and help your grandchild feel comfortable traveling with people they know rather than strangers. For greater ease on trips, be sure to use (or apply for) a handicap parking tag.
When flying, book a non-stop flight, preferably first thing in the morning. Layovers and flight delays can cause unnecessary anxiety and stress. If it’s your first time traveling by air, be sure to book a tester flight of 1-3 hours to see how your grandchild adapts. Make sure to bring snacks and a favorite toy or book for entertainment.
To make flying easier, call the airline company to let them know you’re traveling with a child with special needs. The airline can provide a wheelchair for your grandchild, help you navigate airport security, allow your family to pre-board the plane, and provide you with preferential seating.
It’s best to choose a hotel near the places you’ll be visiting. Rooms that include a microwave, refrigerator or kitchenette are ideal for children who don’t do well eating in public places or who require a special diet.
Third, prepare yourself
One or two weeks before the trip, read travel guides to your grandchild or look together at the websites of places you’re visiting. Show your grandchild where you’ll be staying and discuss trip activities.
There’s one element that is considerably more difficult to anticipate. You may feel sad or even jealous of others during your trip. Watching families with typically developing children may make you wish that you and your grandchild could participate in some activities or events. Remember, these kinds of emotions are perfectly normal. They don’t make you a bad person or grandparent. You’re simply human.
Loving your grandchild unconditionally and doing your best for them makes you an excellent grandparent, whether or not your grandchild has autism.
Deanna Picon founded Your Autism Coach, LLC to provide guidance, support and seminars for parents. She is a parent of a non-verbal, young man with autism. She wrote