Just so you know, I may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post. Links may be affiliate links, which won't cost you anything extra when you purchase. For full affiliate disclosures, click here.
The idea of autism family vacations may seem like a bit of an oxymoron. I have shared how we use sibling travel and quick couples getaways to reincorporate travel into our autism family. But family vacations exist for a reason – they are the foundations of childhood memories, connectedness, and shared new experiences.
Autism family vacations should be no different.
But before you plan one, you first need to have a mindset shift.
You don’t want to cancel therapy
You have spent forever researching providers, hounding insurance companies, and scheduling sessions. It seems like pure lunacy to then contact your child’s team of therapists and cancel several sessions. You hesitate, so you miss the opportunity to book something, and then you regret it later.
But you may actually benefit from doing so
We have had forced hiatuses from therapy – perfect storms of therapists personal lives, illnesses, and other circumstances resulting in week-long breaks (which were unexpected, so we spent them at home, in staycation mode). While there was certainly some readjustment to routine when the break was over, there was almost always some sort of unforeseen growth – as though the weeks and months of various therapies suddenly clicked into place when Mr. Diggy’s brain was given the chance to rest and reset.
You may feel like you are “losing time”
The fresher the diagnoses, the more stressful it will feel to try to take time away. With a new autism diagnosis, it can feel as though your child is now a ticking time bomb- and there is a mad rush to smother her in as many therapies as possible, as soon as possible.
But you will gain more than you lose
The human brain actually benefits from travel. Yours – and your loved one with special needs. If you create a manageable travel experience for you and your family, then the benefits will far outweigh any perceived losses. Autism family vacations can be valuable, if thoughtfully planned.
You need to choose your destination carefully
Base your travels on the interests and challenges of your loved one with special needs. Certainly an interest in Disney is a common thread for many autistic individuals, but so may be trains, tall towers, or bridges. For us, water and music are almost equally compelling – thus why Hawaii continues to have our hearts.
But you will be rewarded with pure joy
By steering clear of trips focusing on centuries-old artifacts and densely-populated urban areas, we are rewarded with the raw emotions that are so often unfiltered in autistic individuals. The utter joy of being immersed in water, outdoors, in the middle of our winter reassures us that we have made the right decision. The calm that comes over him, watching the sunset and listening to ukulele music is unparalleled. Autism family vacations can be a portal into this emotional space.
You need to prioritize safety
It is important to find a vacation environment that suits the capabilities of your loved one with special needs. Safety looks different for different individuals – but consider access to outdoor spaces, access to water, situations involving open flames, and traffic and street location. If your loved one has mobility challenges as well, then that will create a different set of needs.
But if you do, you can truly relax
If you can find a safe, comfortable environment – then you will find the ease that most people associate with vacations. Your trip will become a vacation only when you can relax. Find a place where your kid is in his element AND safety parameters are in place, and the rest of the family can actually enjoy the vacation as well.
You may feel like you can’t possibly take the time
If parenting often feels like you are racing in a crazy human-sized hamster wheel, parenting a special needs child can feel like that hamster wheel is hooked up to a generator. Even if you slow down a bit, the wheel will still keep racing around you at breakneck speed. But it is precisely that speed and force that creates the need for a break.
But you deserve it and will be a happier family as a result
You need a break. Your special needs child needs a break. And so does the rest of your family. You will return with an ability to reset and move forward with fresh perspective. And that is worth all the time in the world.
Want some tips to plan your next vacation – maybe even to the Piece of Mind Retreat? Click here to download our Ultimate Autism Vacation Planner.