I’m lucky. My kid isn’t bound by routine. In fact, he’d just as soon do something different and interesting every day rather than just the same school/therapy/home routine. And that means that unlike most kids with the autism label, mine doesn’t mind travel.
Last weekend we made the six hour drive to Shreveport and then two days later drove back again. Castle did great. Yes, in hour 5, he got a little tired of the car and wanted “out,” but even then there was no meltdown, just a little whining. (And hey, he’s three and a half. I am, um, significantly older, and I was only a few minutes away from whining myself. Six hours in a car with one forty-five minute break is boring.)
So how did we manage this feat of travelling with autism? Well, first let me point out one more time that my only child is high-functioning and not routine bound. We didn’t have any of those routine/transition issues that I know can come up for other kids. My child also doesn’t have any particular sensitivities (other than food) or motion sicknesses. But otherwise, here are my recs for traveling with the high functioning or “normal” small child:
- Travel at naptime/night.
This is true of any kid in any development bracket. The sleeping kid is the quiet kid.
- Get a tablet/smart phone with child appropriate apps and/or movies.
At home, I am not a fan of three straight hours of screen time. That only happens when Mommy is too sick to deal with rambunctious three year old. (In other words most of this winter.) But in the car, three hours of screen time is Heaven. He’s quiet. He’s entertained. There are no pieces to lose, and I don’t have to keep digging in a bag for the next toy. And as he gets bored with an activity, he can change. Also, with the kid friendly styli they make these days, he can practice his grip. Best of all, with headphones, I don’t have to listen to Timmy Time a billion times in the background. The Daddy and I can have adult conversations.
- Put your kid in a diaper.
This may not be as much of an issue with kids who don’t have communication issues, but we made the mistake of not putting our potty trained kid in a diaper on the way out, and he peed all over the place. Luckily, we were staying with relatives so were able to wash the cover that night, but the poor guy sat in pee for who knows how long before we stopped for gas. He never complained once.
- Bring familiar toys.
Yes, it’s cool to get a new toy souvenir, but in times of crisis or stress (and lets face it, traveling is always stressful at some point), the familiar is better.
- Bring at least some food, especially if you are on a special diet.
We’re on GAPS, so I brought an entire cooler of food with us. Yes, there are grocery stores in Shreveport, but I didn’t really feel like trying to find the Whole Foods or other place that has coconut milk yogurt. I brought my own. This is obviously harder for plane (especially international) travel. At those times, we go onto a more limited diet. (No yogurt, more fruits and vegetables.)
- Do not attempt something new.
Traveling is not the time to get rid of the pacifier, try a new discipline technique, or start a new diet. The kid and you (especially you) are already stressed enough. No need to add to it.
Hope this helps and inspires others to travel with their autistic kids. Mine loves to go to new places, and one of his favorite places in the whole world is Disney World. I know that I personally often lean towards constricting my life around my kid’s limitations. Traveling, and the ease at which he does it, reminds me that these constrictions are my problem not his.