Don’t Just Survive: Enjoying Vacations with a Child with Autism

Getting ready to vacation with a child on the Autism Spectrum? Here’s a few pointers on how to make it enjoyable for all involved.

You planned that dream vacation but worry about how the child on the Autism Spectrum will fare. Horror visions of public meltdowns cloud your fantasy of carefree days at the theme park or beach. Well, there are no guarantees when dealing with a special needs child of any kind, but with a little preparation you can make the trip more enjoyable for both you and the child.

The Way There:

For the actual traveling part of the trip, it may be worth investing in a small portable DVD player to provide entertainment and perhaps bring along a few DVDs of a favorite show or movie. Often it can be comforting and soothing to a child on the Autism Spectrum to have familiarity and this will also allow for viewing of favorites during downtime. Bringing the child’s pillow from home is also a good idea, sensory issues may make a hotel pillow or guest bedroom pillow uncomfortable plus the pillow from home can be nice in the car. If the child happens to be on a Gluten Free Casein Free Diet, you may want to pack snacks from home for the trip to your designation to insure there is no difficulty in finding a gas station that happens to carry GFCF food. Depending on the functioning level and interest of the child, printing out a map or purchasing a map with home and the designation may be interesting and helpful. Also, providing brochures for the activities planned or even showing the website/videos of the location will help prepare the child.

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Food needs:

Another consideration is food for the child once you arrive at the location. Often children with Autism have picky eating habits, even if they are not on a GFCF diet. If the child DOES happen to be on a Gluten Free Casein Free Diet there are many resources out there for a listing of locations and fast food places with GFCF fare. If you happen to be staying at a relative or friend’s house, it’s easy to take a run to the local grocery store and explain “Hey, my child has special dietary needs, I know your cooking is fantastic but they need certain foods!” Most theme parks have several styles of restaurants and stands set up with a variety of different food.

Theme Parks:

If you happen to be going to a theme park, there are a few things you can do to make it more likely to be enjoyable. Some theme parks have special accommodations for a child with ASD. According to, if you bring a psychologist’s note stating your child’s diagnosis, you will be able to get a pass allowing shorter wait times in lines at Walt Disney World. Other parks may or may not allow this, it is best to talk to the guest services section and bring along a “stimmy” toy if you’re unsure, to preoccupy the child while waiting. Although rides may look incredibly fun to most kids, to a kid with sensory issues they may be borderline terrifying. It’s best to point out the different rides and watch with your child what happens when it is in operation to see if it catches interest. Keep an eye out for characters that may interest or scare your child and give a heads up to them either way.

Finding exhibits or calm parts of the park with interesting things to look at like sculpted art or animals may be a good idea to make sure they can enjoy a spot without overloading stimulation. Often parks also have short live shows that consist of animals doing tricks or actors in costume acting comically; it depends on the content of the show and your child’s comfort level as to whether these would be a good idea. Make sure to grab a park map to find bathrooms for a hasty retreat if needed and for the intended use.


Another popular vacation designation is the beach. Some children may find the feel of sand unusual if they are not used to it, so setting up a small sand play area weeks before the vacation is a seemingly odd but good idea; in order to get the child used to the texture and feel. Bring along or purchasing an umbrella while you are there is an easy way to shield from the bright light of the sun as well as prevent sunburn, and a little fold up chair or favorite towel can serve as a relaxing spot. If you know your child happens to love cars, horses, or some particular type of small toy, picking up some from the dollar store for sand play is a pleasant surprise for your child in a new place. Trying on the bathing suit several times before the actual vacation is a way to prepare the child for spending an extended period of time in a piece of clothing they may not be used to. Make sure to bring plenty of water so nobody becomes dehydrated.

Overall, planning ahead can often minimize or eliminate meltdowns that could occur while vacating with a child who has Autism. Vacationing is about having fun and taking a break, but you want to make sure everybody is included at their own comfort level. Many preparations cost little or nothing and are well worth the investment of time or minimal money. Children with ASD want to have fun just like everybody else, it just requires a little more thought and planning for vacation.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used for diagnosis or to guide treatment without the opinion of a health professional. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact a doctor for advice.