With summer just around the corner, families who were unable to go on vacation last year will be looking forward to a relaxing break in a few months’ time. But while certain aspects of everyday life are beginning to normalize again, we’re not completely out of the woods yet.
Instead of doing the careful planning required to comply with the new CDC guidelines for Covid-safe summer camps, some camps have simply decided not to open again this year. For families with children with autism, this presents a real challenge.
Despite this, there are still plenty of vacation options. And while you may have to put a little more effort into planning in order to prepare, with a little patience your family can still enjoy a summer break.
With this in mind, here are some tips on how to prepare for the road ahead, plus some alternative summer vacation ideas for families with kids with autism.
Vacation Tips for Families with Children with Autism
When planning your vacation, following the checklist below can help prevent any hiccups that might dampen your child’s spirits while you’re away.
Factor in routine:
Try to maintain the routine your child is used to following at home even while you’re on vacation, such as getting up at the same time and eating meals to the same schedule.
Prepare your child:
Another tip is to use role-play to prepare your child for the trip ahead, ensure they know what to expect and understand why their usual routine is changing. One way to do this is by showing them pictures of where they’ll be going and activities they’ll be doing in the order you plan to do them.
Pack a bag with familiar items to keep your child occupied when on the trip. It should include some of their favourite items to keep them as relaxed as possible.
Write a diary:
Keeping a logbook throughout the trip can help you keep track of what works and what doesn’t. Remember, taking a vacation during a pandemic is never going to be straight forward, so don’t set your expectations too high.
Take all necessary precautions:
Once your kids are on vacation, ensure they can be identified in case they get lost by wearing a medical bracelet or necklace with your contact information on it. If your child has any sensory requirements that make wearing jewellery uncomfortable, try using ID tags that can be clipped to their shoelaces or zippers.
Always have a plan B:
If all else fails, it’s a good idea to have a backup plan in case you need to change your schedule. While planning ahead is always a good idea, try not to let your schedule become too rigid and leave some room for unexpected changes. It’s also wise to stay as up-to-date as you can with news about local Covid outbreaks and pandemic restrictions depending on where you plan to visit.
Alternative Summer 2021 Vacation Ideas
With many summer camps off the cards for another year, here are some other family vacation ideas to ensure you get the break you need.
The great outdoors can be the perfect spot for an autism-friendly vacation, as it provides plenty of space, tranquility and privacy. What’s more, campsites can be rented out for as little as $25 per night, which means they won’t break your budget either.
Regardless of where you are in the country, a campsite is never more than a few hours’ drive away. And if you’d prefer not to share a tent, see if you can find any parks with lodgings available. Yellowstone National Park has a few autism-friendly lodgings, just keep in mind that these tend to fill up pretty quickly in the summer.
Small Beach Towns
What better place to relax than renting out a cabin or vacation home by the ocean? The east and west coast are dotted with countless idyllic beach towns to choose from.
For an autism-friendly trip, try to stick to small seaside locations that aren’t as popular or well known as they’ll be less noisy and crowded. If you can travel there safely, Surfside Beach, South Carolina, is the world’s first autism-friendly travel destination.
If your child loves being around animals, try booking a family getaway to one of the country’s many autism-friendly ranches. One of the best is Snow Mountain Ranch in Granby, Colorado, which is still taking reservations for the 2021 season. This Colorado ranch offers activities that range from hiking to canoeing, art programs, and therapeutic horseback riding.
With parks in Orlando, San Antonio, and San Diego, SeaWorld has always prided itself on being autism-friendly. All three locations are currently open, but in true 2021 style, you’ll need to make a reservation before arriving.
Each park comes with helpful guides outlining which rides and activities are most suited to children with autism. Plus, they even have tailored accommodation options for kids with special needs. On arrival, make sure you pick up your Ride Accessibility Pass and timecard which allow you to access certain rides at specific times without having to wait in line.
A list of autism-friendly vacation ideas wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Sesame Place theme park. Located in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, it’s long been one of the most popular vacation destinations for families with children with ASD and is recognized nationwide for its autism initiative.
The theme park offers autism-friendly rides, a water park, live shows, and, of course, the opportunity to meet all the characters from everyone’s favourite street. As with SeaWorld, while it’s open for business, reservations are required during the pandemic.
So this summer, whether you decide to make adjustments ahead of your trip, or change your plans altogether, don’t let the camp cancellations dissuade you from taking a vacation as a family. Despite the pandemic, there are still plenty of ways it can go ahead.
Written by Estee Rothstein, BCBA and Executive Director at Golden Care Therapy, a New Jersey-based provider of in-home ABA therapy for children with autism. Estee also regularly contributes to discussions around autism as both a public speaker and writer.