Why are vacations often a challenge for children with ASD?
It is a fact that the holidays are a challenge for children with autism as they require changes in the daily schedule of the child, in his daily routine that disrupt the stability and predictability of his environment. These changes include a different place than usual, socializing with new people beyond parents, teachers, and therapists, and especially a completely different daily schedule of activities.
Also, environmental stimuli during the holidays, which include heat, intense sunshine, and often crowded places, may cause sensory overload and overstimulation in the child with autism, thus intensifying the already existing behavioral difficulties. It is also important to mention the particular difficulties associated with eating (in cases where children consume only certain foods) and sleep disorders.
How can we functionally and effectively shape our child’s vacation schedule?
Initially, it is helpful to refer to older holiday photos with the child, which we will be able to see and comment with the child in order to relive familiar summer routine activities.
Then we can download from the internet photos of the hotel or house we are going to stay on the upcoming vacation and prepare the child accordingly. We can also create tabs that include the child’s daily schedule visualized, ie in pictures so that the child is aware of the changes in his routine, and what activities are expected to follow.
We make sure to have with us, his favorite items, and toys that he can play with in his free time and which give him a sense of intimacy and security. We include in the above the favorite delicacies of the child (eg jellies, chips, or cookies that he prefers).
We can also use social stories that show the child the appropriate behavior during the holidays on a variety of occasions such as the beach or the restaurant.
Finally, in case we are traveling for the first time by boat or plane it is useful to inform the child through photos or pictures, and where possible to make a test visit to the place of departure in order to give the child the opportunity to get acquainted with the place.
Proper preparation, planning as well as proper information of the child and the environment (friends, relatives, hotel staff, etc.) are the key to the smooth adaptation of the child and family to carefree summer vacations.