Preparing kids for vacations–critical visuals for Autism and Down syndrome

Susan Ellis - head shot

Having two boys on the Autism spectrum, I learned early on that visuals are a very effective way to communicate with my sons. Simple visual strategies such as a list of the day’s activities, or even a social story about what to expect in new situations has been my saving grace for over a decade.

As the summer is now upon us here in the USA, you may be planning on taking a vacation. If your children have special needs such as Autism, Down syndrome, Sensory Integration Disorder, etc., “fun vacations” could be very traumatic to them because they are out of their normal routine. There may be a lot of new sensory information to process (ie. new places to see, different smells, louder sounds, hotter weather, etc.) which can sometimes be overwhelming.

A week before you travel, take a few moments to gather some pictures of your adventure: where you will be staying, relatives you may see, places you will go, and types of transportation you may use. You may even want to include a map of where you live vs. where you will be going to give them some orientation. Providing this information at least a week in advance gives children an opportunity to feel more “in control” because they will be able to process the information, mentally prepare for it, and hopefully get excited about their trip.

Last month, we took our boys to Washington DC for a few days. I knew there would be many buildings that would look alike to them, and that there would be plenty of walking which would exhaust them. I made a small map for them and circled the places we would visit (see below). I also gave them a quick list (with pictures) of what we would see each day. As we expected, they were hot and tired, but we didn’t have any major meltdowns because they were mentally prepared for the day. I wish you safe and happy melt-free travels too!

dc map

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