So it’s that time of year again folks when we all start thinking about holidays. Fun, sunshine, and family time. Sound idyllic doesn’t it? But holidaying with a child with autism can often prove to be more stressful than relaxing. What with visiting lots of new places, having to sleep in a different room, our expectations that we must all be having fun, fun, fun, and siblings not getting on can all lead to a family that actually needs a break after the holiday is over! Kind of defeats the object really doesn’t it?

Believe me when I say that I have been there and worn the T shirt inside out so I get it. I think as mums we see our friends Facebook pictures of happy smiling kids around the pool, selfies with a cocktail and trips to fun destinations… and we think to ourselves… yeah I want that too! That will be us this year. ‘Happy families are us’.

But like with most things in life, it never goes to plan. It either ends up raining every day, the kids can’t seem to be in the same room as each other without arguing, or I’m too tired and exhausted to relax. So by day 5 usually I can just about muster the will to put the kettle on to make a brew, never mind have a cocktail by the pool!

We have had some stonkers over the years let me tell you. I had a meltdown in a car park in Wales one year. My son ran out of his tent half naked at 3 in the morning a few years ago as he was sleepwalking (he narrowly avoided the guy ropes of our fellow campers, however unfortunately I was far less graceful!). Oh and our tent nearly blew off a cliff with us in it one year, we have flooded many caravan showers over the years, and another time we came home early from Devon as my son wasn’t sleeping…at all… for almost 5 days.

But I think the icing on the cake for me has to be when we went away in a large family cottage with my poor unsuspecting family and ... well let me put it this way we said it would never happen again ha ha!

So believe me when I say I am a seasoned pro at all things holiday. The good the bad and the darn right ugly! So whether you’re braving a tent in Yorkshire, a cottage in Devon or a week in the sun -here are my top ten survival tips from a fellow parent who’s worn the t shirt and is still here to tell the tale…

  1. When we have attempted to go abroad in the past, we got a note from the doctor outlining our sons’ conditions and an explanation of why we needed to carry a vibrating cushion on the plane! You can imagine the looks we got can’t you? Being stopped at baggage check as they pulled this funny looking vibrating cushion apart; batteries, wires and all. But the cover letter was vital and they accepted it with no fuss… just a few giggles!
  2. Most airports do fast track facilities for children with autism. If you contact the airport all it usually involves is filling in a form and your child can be issued with a wristband that allows your group to jump the queues. This helps my son immensely as queuing and waiting around is the big challenge for us at the airport.
  3. We also carry a ‘kit bag’ wherever we go. For us it includes his iPad, earphones, fiddle toys, gum, snacks, tick list or visuals, spare earphones and sometimes a weighted jacket. Of course each child is different so each kit bag will be unique.
  4. Once we are there my son like many other children doesn’t like wearing sun cream. So we buy UV tops that cover his arms, shoulders and back etc. A spray lotion or roll on can work well too for some children as they are often less thick and sticky. And they can apply it themselves for those who don’t like being touched. It may also be worth timetabling in how often it needs to re-reapplied as kids can assume once it’s on it doesn’t need to be put on again.
  5. Getting my son to drink in the heat can be tricky, but the minute I freeze it and turn it into slush, he loves it. So I can usually get fluid into him that way when it’s really hot.
  6. When holidaying in the UK we tend to travel within a 2 hour radius of our house. We literally put a compass in a map and circle our ‘catchment area’. As being in the car for too long is never easy for children with autism. So we plan our stops at each service station, do a social-story telling him the key points of the journey and take lots of chargers/ tech and his favourite snacks to keep him occupied in the car.
  7. We also take his own covers and pillows etc. that we put on his bed once at our destination. Having his own covers can help him settle. But we always know that nights are going to be tricky as sleeping in a new room with new sights, smells and sounds can be really hard for children with autism, so we mentally prepare ourselves for a bad first couple of nights. We also find that taking any lights that help him child to settle (despite the fact that the neighbours in the caravan next to us may think we’re raving into the early hours with the flashing lights on the ceiling - if it helps him to settle then we take it).
  8. A day in, followed by a day out can also work quite well. We often find that if we have visited somewhere one day my son needs a rest day to recover from the ‘social hangover’ that being social creates. So chill around the cottage one day, take a book and read a few pages with a coffee and a Hobnob…and let your child spend some time on their special interest. Believe me I learnt the hard way that you don’t have to fill every day full of activities. It’s ok to watch a DVD, sit in the garden or chill in the room on the balcony sometimes.
  9. I suppose the biggie for me is this…… Don’t worry too much about what other people are thinking. I know sometimes we can feel eyes on us when our child is in meltdown mode or finding themselves in sensory overload. But remember when your child is like this it’s often because they have reached saturation point and need support and calm to get through it. So let people stare, who cares! (It does get easier I promise and eventually you will develop a thick skin to people’s comments and stares in time).
  10. And finally have realistic expectations. No family is perfect. No one ever has a stress free holiday despite the Facebook pictures painting an idyllic picture of happiness. It’s simply not true. People argue, get cranky and sometimes feel overwhelmed with it all. Families are not used to being in each other pockets 24 hours a day. So take turns, have a break, do a day in a day out, or whatever works for you and your family! Holidays are not about what everyone else expects you to do. And generally we find that if our son is happy… then everyone else is happy it’s that simple really.

So be content to holiday out of the box, do what works for you – ignore the stares and roll with the chaos…(oh and maybe book yourself in for a relaxing back massage once the kids are back at school as you will most definitely deserve a pamper session!)

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