By: Courtney Brown
The busy summer travel season has begun. While exciting, traveling can also be stressful at times. Did I pack enough socks? Do I have my ID? Did we leave my child’s favorite toy at the last rest stop? If you are the family member or caregiver
of a person with an intellectual disability or autism, you may need to make even more preparations to ensure a safe and enjoyable vacation.
Family members and caregivers can take these steps to ensure smooth sailing during the summer months regardless of how you
travel. It can be challenging to plan vacations and travel, but hopefully these top 6 travel tips will help reduce worries so you can focus on creating memories with your family!
1. Plan ahead: Do some research on your destination. This can be making arrangements that are accommodating for people with disabilities or autism, guaranteeing accessibility, and getting ready for any unique requirements or needs. For example, at Avalon beach in New Jersey, the borough provides surf chairs (beach accessible wheelchairs) for individuals with disabilities and clearly lists handicap accessible beach entryways on their website.
Another popular destination is Myrtle Beach. Myrtle Beach International Airport provides a Quiet Room for families who require a place to rest before or after a flight. Champion Autism Network (CAN) provides cards that families can use to discreetly alert participating restaurants and attractions that a family with autism is present. These cards can be ordered through CAN in advance or obtained at the Surfside Beach Town Hall or the Myrtle Beach Welcome Center. Through Project Lifesaver, the Myrtle Beach Welcome Center also provides bracelets with GPS trackers for kids who might get lost, providing families peace of mind while they enjoy the beach and other attractions on their website.
2. Visual Scheduling: Using visual aids such as a daily itinerary or pictures to help understand
travel plans and what to anticipate ahead of time. This can help reduce anxiety and give more structure. Here is a great resource that highlights using a visual schedule from Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development.
3. Stick to a routine: If possible, stick to a familiar routine. Traveling can disrupt daily routines which can pose a challenge. Try to maintain things like regular meal times and sleep schedules. Visual scheduling can help stick to a routine as well and help prepare someone for any changes in that routine.
4. Choose transportation: Select transportation options that are comfortable and accommodating for the individual. If flying, it’s important to understand the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) process at the airport. TSA requires all travelers to participate in the screening process prior to boarding the plane. The first step in preparing for the process is to call the TSA Cares Helpline prior to your flight for information about the entirety of the process. You can provide the TSA officer a disability notification card so that they are aware of any disabilities. This can be printed from the TSA website here. If traveling by car, keep in mind planning for rest stops and frequent breaks. Look ahead for where rest stops are located and plan your breaks ahead of time so there’s an estimated time for travel.
5. Be mindful of sensory issues: Take into consideration the sensory needs of the individual you are traveling with. For example, bring items such as noise-canceling headphones, sunglasses or ot
her tools that can help with sensory overload. Allowing for downtime is also important in this step.
6. Prepare for transitions: Transitioning from one activity to another or switching between locations could be difficult. The use of visual supports, verbal cues or even countdown timers can help make more streamlined transitions.
Keep in mind that the tips mentioned above may need to be adjusted based on an individual's needs or preferences. By planning ahead, understanding the person's specific needs and being flexible you can help create a positive travel experience for everyone involved!