Stress-Reducing Vacation Tips for Families with Autism

Traveling with the whole family can be a challenge on any given day, but traveling with a special needs child can be daunting, especially since many behaviors, such as diverting the eyes and avoiding touch can be misinterpreted or misunderstood by airline crew or security agents. With summer break just around the corner, many families simply avoid air travel for fear that a situation could unravel fast.

Traveling with a child with autism is possible, but it requires some preparation and planning. Here are 5 stress-reducing vacation tips for families with special needs.


  • The trip starts before the trip starts:When traveling with a child with autism, provide them with as much information about the destination ahead of time to help alleviate stress and eliminate surprises. Spend time looking at photos of the hotel you are staying at and discuss expectations for the journey. Try to paint a mental picture for your son or daughter so they will feel a little more at ease and even practice key elements if possible.
  • Make arrangements ahead of time.Contacting your hotel and/or airline in advance can make your trip easier. Explain to them that you are traveling with a child with autism so you can discuss your needs and request certain accommodations.
  • Prepare a “takeaway bag”:Unforeseen circumstances are a common occurrence when traveling, so prepare yourself in advance for flight delays or limited access to food and entertainment. Bring a “takeaway bag” filled with snacks, DVDs and other activities to keep your child busy and maintain his or her comfort level.
  • Give some control:By allowing your child to have some control over parts of the trip, they are more likely to be invested and willing to participate in their less preferred activities. For example, if your child gets to pick the restaurant, he or she may be more willing to try that bird watching excursion you’ve been eyeing for the past year. Plus, this gives them things to be excited about which will be a great motivation for the trip as a whole.
  • Power up and power down:It’s a good idea to start each morning by powering up and “frontloading,” in other words making sure your child knows as much as possible about activities planned for the day. This will help to create some idea of how the day will unfold. Because travel comes with breaks in routine, build in some down time to allow for relaxing, quiet activities like listening to music and coloring to prevent being overstimulated or overwhelmed by inconsistent schedules.


Richie Ploesch, Behavior Analyst at Autism Spectrum Therapies,