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Holiday Travel Tips For Family Members With Autism

The holiday season is right around the corner and you can feel it in the air, as brisk temperatures move in, people break out the jackets, stocking caps, and hot chocolate. This season also comes with a general sense of togetherness and a desire to be close to family. As a result, many people travel over the holidays to see family and close friends. This can be stressful for family members with autism, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. You can make preparations beforehand and while you are on the trip to make the excursion memorable and fun for the whole family.

Preparing For A Trip

The preparation phase of your trip planning will be crucial to maintaining a stress-free trip for everyone. Make plans and prepare for the journey as much as possible so you can anticipate your family member’s needs. Some things you could do beforehand include:

Build Excitement For The Destination

While the actual process of travel can be tough and stressful no matter who you are, you can make your journey a success with relative ease. Start by building excitement with your child about the destination and some things they will get to do on the trip.

While holiday travel destinations are usually much more limited in scope than typical vacations because you want to see family and friends, allowing your child to be an active participant in the planning will help generate excitement and make sure that they feel their interests are being taken into account.

If they are particularly close to any of the family members you are visiting, show them pictures and get them excited to see family. Research around the area you are traveling and find activities you can do that they can look forward to on the journey.

As with many stressful activities and changes in routine, especially with nonverbal children, creating a social story with pictures of specific places and people is going to be extremely beneficial. Do your research online, look at pictures and videos, and even do some practice or role-play traveling before the trip.

Make Arrangements Beforehand

To make things easier on yourself when the moments get stressful, get your arrangements set ahead of time. If you are flying, call the airline and let them know your situation. You should also call the hotels you will be staying at. Try to secure a quiet room at the hotel to make it comfortable for your child. If family is picking you up, make sure they are going to be there, prepared and ready to meet your child and understand their needs.


Seasoned travelers whose children have autism suggest you pay extra attention during the packing phase of your trip. Make sure that all the clothing you pack is not going to cause overload for your child and that they will be comfortable in the destination you are heading. Holiday trips can be particularly hard because of the varied climates across the country.

Pack your carry-on bag with essentials that your child might need at any time, including medications and snacks. Some experts recommend that you pack at least one or two comfortable outfits for your family member with autism in your bag, in case there is a bag mix up.

In your loved one’s carry on, make sure to pack any emergency sensory supplies that you would keep in a meltdown kit, including noise cancelling headphones, sunglasses, and fidget toys. Pack whatever is going to keep them soothed and occupied, no matter how you are traveling and where you are traveling to.

On The Journey

After all the anticipation, then comes the journey. Traveling can either be stressful or a breeze and sometimes it’s out of your hands how it’s going to be. Good preparation is key. While you are traveling through any type of security, there are obviously safety and separation concerns so being ready ahead of time will help. Medical bracelets or necklaces, or even identifying clothing with your contact information is a good idea in case you get separated. If you are flying, you can contact TSA Cares within 72 hours of your flight to prepare special accommodations for your family while you travel.

Make sure that family and friends are aware of the unique needs of your family member while you are visiting. Travel is far outside of their routine so a willingness to understand and adapt will make any holiday gatherings enjoyable for the whole family.

Don’t forget how stressful travel can be for your loved one while you are having a good time with other missed family members. Try to imagine the trip from their perspective, with all of the external stimuli they must adjust for. Breaks from all of the commotion and to center before a triggering event are vital to an enjoyable vacation.

The Return Home

The return journey has the potential to be just as stressful as the departure, if not more depending on how your loved one is feeling. Go over the steps from the departure that you took and do them in reverse. Arrange for a later check out with your hotel to give you time to make 100% sure everything is ready to go. Pack the night before you leave to assure you have all the essentials and you aren’t crunching when you are trying to get out the door. If you are traveling by plane, call the TSA again and let them know about your return journey. You should also notify the airline of your child’s needs.

Basically, you need to be the organizational zen master of your journey, making sure that everything is done ahead of time. If you can manage that, you can have a safe, successful, and fun holiday trip.

A Travel Take Away

Travel is one of the most freeing and enjoyable activities that humans take part in. Holiday trips give you the opportunity to see family and spend quality time with loved ones. When you take your children on these trips, you’re giving them the opportunity to build strong memories for the rest of their lives. For children with autism, getting them away from their routine might be stressful, but it also gives them the opportunity to expand their worldview and their social skills while creating lasting memories.

At Lexington Services, we are dedicated to the quality of life for people with autism and special needs. Whether it’s education options, quality services, or home/attendant care, Lexington humbly serves the Phoenix community. Contact Lexington today for more information.

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