Helping Kids with Autism Start a Souvenir Collection


Helping Kids with Autism Start a Souvenir Collection pin

Helping kids with autism start a souvenir collection can provide them with a  lifetime hobby and valuable educational tools.
Mastering consumer expertise and communication are just some of the life skills that can be learned by collecting  souvenirs. For parents wishing to help their children start collecting meaningful souvenirs from their family travels here are our tips.

Designate a spot for the collection 

In the home, parents should find a particular place, shelf, nook, or cubby that will display all his or her worldly treasures. It can be one or two shelves in the bedroom, a window box for dolls or even the kitchen fridge for magnets. The best place should be a place he or she can access freely.With that said, avoid glass cabinets or pricey furniture that your child can damage.


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Help them choose a theme

Souvenir collections are most impressive when they revolve around a theme.
Parents need to have their children make a list of five topics that they find interesting. It could be types of music, transportation, dolls, destinations, even something as simple as rocks.Then have them start a collection around that.

Our son loved collecting hotel keys from the different properties we’ve stayed in over the years. A hundred cards later they are all displayed in a large shadow box he keeps in his room.


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Teach them how  to be a smart consumer

Parents should teach children about quality control and discourage the purchase of fragile and breakable objects as much as possible.
Furthermore, they need to set a cost limit on purchasing souvenirs and encourage their children to compare prices before buying. Shopping for souvenirs can provide an educational opportunity for the kids to learn how to look for sales or even practice haggling strategies with local peddlers in some countries.

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Take freebies

Many restaurants, cruise lines,hotels, and airlines offer free items that may be of interest to those starting or maintaining a collection. Some of the best collection pieces we’ve seen started off as freebies. Napkins, pens, brochures, and giveaway pins are just a few examples.

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Encourage meaningful choices

It is estimated that travelers spend over 2 billion dollars annually on things never use. These things often get thrown out or packed away into drawers never to be seen or enjoyed. This moment is another teachable moment for children. Before they decide to purchase any souvenir, have the kids ask themselves questions like – Will I like this a year from now?  Is this an object that is useful?

Moreover, parents can spring clean items that have not been used for months or years. They can donate unused items to charity and explain the concepts of waste and the importance of making meaningful choices when purchasing souvenirs.

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Consider size and packing difficulties

Travelers using air travel as their primary method of transportation need to think about the size and weight of souvenirs. Collecting postcards, napkins, coasters, magnets, and other small items might work best. These things occupy less space than large bulkier items.
Similarly, the fragile items should be avoided since most checked luggage is manhandled and they can arrive broken.

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Encourage digital collections

Not everything collectible must be costly or cumbersome; virtual collections can be just as enjoyable!
Children can enjoy taking pictures and videos at every destination on their phone. Upon returning home, parents could create a scrapbook or a digital photo frame collage as a memento of their vacation for everyone to enjoy.

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Celebrate nature

Some kids love collecting rocks, fossils, shells, and other natural artifacts. Though usually not a problem some National or State Parks and wildlife/sea life sanctuaries restrict the removal of certain items from their sites.

To avoid disappointment, parents should verify various laws. This way, they can prepare kids ahead of time as to what they can bring home as a souvenir.

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In the end, the most important thing for parents to understand is that their child’s collection should be a product of their own individual decisions.
Along with remembering trips and encouraging healthy shopping habits, a souvenir collection is a way for one’s child to express their personality. After all, discovering one’s passions and interests in a creative way can be fun, educational, and rewarding.


Tips to Booking Guided Tours for Families with Autism

Tips to Booking Guided Tours for Families with Autism pin

One of the best ways to experience a new location is through a group guided tour, especially with a limited time and budget. However, not all tours are created equal. Some trips can end up too tiring for kids with autism.
Just like anything else, a little pre-planning can help make a day trip just as successful as a big family adventure. For parents who have never tried guided tours before here are our tips to ensure a smooth and pleasant experience.

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The first thing that parents should consider when booking a tour is the size of said tour. The difference between a tour group with ten and fifty people is huge, especially for kids with autism. Parents should also ask about the duration of the trip. If the journey is too long, kids can get bored or antsy. The best tours are free walking tours where families can leave at any time.

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Web sites such as Viator and Grayline display tour itineraries that parents can compare and contrast. Yelp, Tripadvisor, and Cruise Critic can also act as excellent sources for reviews by other families. Parents can also use these websites to weight the pros and cons of a private versus group tour. Private tours are more customizable but are also more expensive on average. Those wishing to take a private tour but want to stick to a budget can split the cost of a trip with other families.

Some tours include activities for kids. Parents should determine which activities their children can handle. In the case where they can customize their experience, parents can also try to incorporate their activities into the tour.

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Though it may be tempting, families should never book a tour before a flight home. The only except to this is if the tour company guarantees a trip to the airport at the end.

Questions for the Tour Organizer

While all the previously mentioned websites can provide a lot of information, the best and most accurate source is always the tour organizer. It is important that parents, especially those with children with autism, ask the organizer lots of questions about specific details that can’t always be found online.

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Parents should ask if the tour includes free time and lunchtime. If the tour does include lunch, they should ask what is available on the menu, and if one can order items off the menu. Sometimes when tours include lunch the time allocated for eating is short, and the menu is limited, which can stress out a child with autism.

Parents should also ask about locations the tour specifically stops versus places it passes over. No parent wants their kid to be heartbroken because they only went by a spot they wanted to see in detail.

It is important for families to know how far the tour will wander from the hotel or car in case of an emergency. In situations where the tour wanders far, parents should ask if the tour company can provide transportation back if needed.

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If the tour involves a bus ride, parents should ask if the buses feature air conditioning. This feature is especially important for kids with temperature sensitivities. They should also ask if the buses have bathrooms, and if not, how many bathroom trips the bus will stop for on the way.

Finally, parents should ask if the tour company offers disability rates. Some companies will extend a discount for family members with autism or other conditions.

What to Pack

Knowing what essentials to pack for a tour can help create a better experience for everyone in the household. Of course, what to pack often depends on the trip duration and location.

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The most important thing to pack is a mini first aid kit for scrapes and bruises. Parents should also include headache/diarrhea medication just in case as well as an extra pair of underwear. For family members who wear glasses or contacts, parents should pack an extra pair in case the first pair breaks or the contacts are lost.

Parents should pack entertainment like an iPad, iPod or handheld gaming device in the event of a delay. They should also pack a camera with an extra card and battery. We recommend bringing an external charger for any devices needing charging.

Regarding food, parents should pack their own snacks and water in case anyone gets hungry before the scheduled lunch time. We recommend packing napkins and plastic utensils in case the tour stops in a restaurant that doesn’t offer them, especially in Asia. Also, bringing a change of clothes in case there are any food or drink spills is a good idea.

For outdoor tours, sunblock and insect repellent are essential. Parents should also pack a jacket for potentially colder tours as well as a poncho or umbrella if there is a risk of rain. For tours in bright locations, parents should pack sunglasses. Regarding bus trips, parents should pack a mini fan to ensure comfort. We also recommend a cap or hat to protect against the elements.

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Other nicknacks to bring include toilet paper and a trash bag in case the restroom does not have it. Finally, parents should make sure always to bring cash as well as a credit card.

Preparing Children

There is some amount of etiquette that parents need to make sure their children keep in mind during a tour. Parents should remind their child not to talk to, interrupt, or bombard the guide with questions, as it may bother the tour guide or others on tour.

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They should also remind their child to move at a decent pace and not stand in one spot for too long.

Finally, it is important for children to know that lunch may not be at a fixed time, so they need to eat a proper breakfast and pack a snack.

During the Tour

During the tour itself, there are still aspects to consider.
As soon as possible, parents should notify the company and tour guide of their child’s condition. Parents should then arrive a half hour before the start of the tour so they can get settled.

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Parents of children with temperature sensitivities can ask the tour guide for a bus tour what side the sun will be on so they can sit on the opposite side. They can also ask the guide to mention that seats shouldn’t change during the day as a common courtesy (our kid had a meltdown when someone took his place on tour).

For driven tours, parents of younger children should never have their child sit next to the driver, as they might touch the buttons or otherwise interfere. However, if the child wants to listen and can behave, they might be okay sitting near the driver. Parents of children with motion sickness or smell sensitivities shouldn’t sit near the restrooms or in the back of the bus.

Parents should keep the company’s business card with the guide’s cell phone number in case they get lost.

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Overall, we’ve gone on hundreds of group tours over the years and have had a great time. Everyone should remember that guides are human and some are better at their jobs than others. Parents who encounter an issue shouldn’t hesitate to call the company and give feedback. Most companies will be happy to fix any problems encountered when given a chance.

Have you taken your child with autism on a guided tour? What tips do you have for families?


Handling Dolphin Encounters for Kids with Autism



Handling Dolphin Encounters for Kids with Autism pin


People often ask us whether it is appropriate for their kids with autism to participate in a dolphin encounter. As with any activity, the level of the individual’s functioning is always a consideration, along with age and personal interest level. As a family, we have done multiple encounters in such places as Hawaii, Mexico, and Florida.

Since dolphin experiences tend to be pricey, it helps to know what to expect. That way, parents can choose the type of experience best suited to their family without breaking the bank and disappointing the kids.

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What the Child Should Know

Before even considering the investment, parents should make sure that their child is totally comfortable in the water. In most cases, children don’t have to be fully fledged swimmers yet. If they know how to float and control their body in chest level water, that is good enough.

It is important for a child to have a basic understanding of cause and effect, danger, and of what might cause harm to the dolphins. A dolphin is a beautiful living creature and cannot be jabbed, scratched, poked at, or bitten without serious consequences.



The splashing and noises from the dolphins communicating and even from the trainers’ commands will be loud. Noise sensitive children could try earplugs. Parents can also bring their child to a dolphin show or a dolphin training session to desensitize them.

If the child is already uncomfortable at a show, this might not be the right experience at this particular time. In such cases, it may be best for parents revisit the idea at a later date once their child is more comfortable as it is always better to build on positive experiences.

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What Parents Should Know

Some dolphin experiences cater to those with disabilities and are happy to accommodate travelers as much as possible. When making or even considering making a reservation, parents should call ahead and speak to management and ask fundamental questions, expressing concerns about the details and challenges of one’s child’s unique autism experience.

Doing this can be helpful in deciding to proceed. It can also give parents a feel for how accepting and accommodating the particular company is for those with autism. If one’s reasonable questions or desires aren’t met with compassion, respect, and understanding, then work with a better-suited organization that will do their best to help create a rewarding and positive experience.

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If possible, parents may want to opt for a shorter first encounter. Parents might not know for certain how well their child will adapt and enjoy this first time around. Something thirty minutes or less is a good starting point until families can determine how comfortable a child will be being splashed, touched, and playing with dolphins.

While gentle, beautiful, and immensely intelligent and intuitive creatures, dolphins are enormous and powerful. This fact can be overwhelming to smaller children in particular. Dolphin encounters are typically only for kids ages six and older. The size and sudden movements of the dolphin can frighten younger kids.

Wild dolphin encounters offered in some tropical areas are probably not a best first-time option. Although exceedingly rare, accidents can occur with untrained wild dolphins in an uncontrolled environment.
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Additional Tips

Every destination offers a different experience.
Some encounters include swimming with, or on, the Dolphins. Others are more passive experiences where dolphins may simply greet standing families in shallow waters. Other types of experiences, such as dolphin training camps or institutions, may have participants follow detailed directions to encourage specific behaviors from the dolphins.

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They can all make for very magical memories and tactile experiences. However, they can also prove to be quite overwhelming and, in some cases, frightening.

Taking kids on a dolphin encounter is an excellent way to get them connected with wildlife. As long as precautions are taken, any child can have a great time petting or swimming with dolphins.

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Have you taken your child on a dolphin encounter? What was your experience?


Tips for Families Cruising with Autism

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Dear Margalit,

Our friends finally convinced us to take a cruise vacation, and we are going to do it!
My wife and I are finding it all a bit daunting and don’t know where to begin because of our one daughter with PDD and our younger son who was recently diagnosed with autism.
Any tips for newbie cruisers you can share with us would be greatly appreciated.


Marco Di Carlo

Dear Marco,
 I’m glad to hear that you are choosing this adventure for your family.
Cruising is becoming more accessible for special-needs families, and there are many benefits to a cruise vacation.

Families can enjoy sightseeing, comfortable lodging and dine out without having to pack and unpack suitcases, check into hotels or look for places to eat.However, as you might have guessed by now choosing the right cruise vacation for families with autism isnt as simple as one may think . So, to help you enjoy your first family cruise here are some tips.

Scrutinize the duration and itinerary

The length of time on a cruise matters, especially to families like yours trying it for the first time.
Many parents I’ve spoken to over the years are afraid their kids may become claustrophobic staying in a cabin for a long time and hate the trip.

Families sailing for the first time might want to consider booking a shorter cruise build their way up from there. With that said, longer cruises do offer a sense of stability for children with autism. Longer cruises allow children to sleep in the same bed for extended periods of time and get better acquainted with the staff. As always, this is all up to personal preference and what you think your children can handle and manage.

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Another pertinent issue to address before booking is what type of itinerary is best suited for your family namely more days at sea or more ports of call.

Like the first dilemma, this one is complicated.
Of course visiting several ports of call can be exciting. However, it can also be tiring and somewhat overwhelming. In an ideal situation, parents would know the right balance between the amount of time spent at sea and the port stops on land but that takes time and experience.

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For our family, we’ve discovered that the best itinerary involves visiting not more than two ports in a row with a day at sea afterward to rest and regroup.
My advice to you is to choose a simple itinerary that involves no more than three ports of call for your first time and see how it comes.

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It is important to choose the right cabin

Choosing the perfect cabin comes with several pitfalls that you should try to avoid if possible.
I have to tell you that the walls of most cabins are thin. There can be repetitive sounds that can become annoying and frustrating. If noise-sensitivity is an issue for your special-needs kids, a stateroom on a deck nowhere near the restaurants or entertainment areas would be the safest choice.

If you have no choice and your cabin is close to pools, restaurants or gym areas, be sure to bring ear plugs to block out early-morning sounds if you plan to sleep later. Night time sounds of theaters and lounges can continue until after midnight sometimes, so those ear plugs will come in useful if you need an early evening.

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Royal Caribbean‘s  ‘Freedom,’ ‘Independence’ and ‘Oasis’ ships have promenade-facing cabins with sound-proof windows. They are ideal for children with autism who can watch parades from afar without being affected by the noise.

If your kids are sensitive to light, I recommend getting a cabin without balconies or windows. On some cruise ships, they offer virtual picture windows or balconies, and this too can be too stimulating. If your room is one of those make sure you call the cruise line in advance and verify that the system can be switched off completely when your family needs to sleep.

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Safety on board the ship is a major concern for parents of special needs kids, especially if they tend to wander off somewhere on their own. I wouldn’t recommend a cabin with a balcony especially if your kids are physically able to open the door locks and would try to climb on the railings. Nor would I suggest adjoining rooms for families with younger children.

Many cruise companies offer budget-friendly choices of quad-rooms that can sleep up to four passengers.The rooms might feel slightly crowded with their upper bunks, but you can keep close tabs on the kids. It is up to you to decide if that is an option for you.

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Ask for Special Needs Accommodations

Cruise lines like Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, and Disney are front runners in catering to families and special needs travelers. They make things easier for every aspect of the trip, from boarding to dining to entertainment seating arrangements. These cruise lines also offer family friendly activities such as ice skating, bowling, rock climbing, and zip-lining.
Whichever cruise line you decide to try I strongly recommend that you contact the cruise line’s special needs desk at booking to make sure they can accommodate your kids’ specific needs.

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Don’t miss out on the activities.

I suggest you speak with the cruise director on the first cruise day to explain your kids’ capabilities and behaviors. From our experience, they want to make the vacation enjoyable for everyone. Therefore, having them know the details will be advantageous so they can customize the accommodations for your kids.

Take your kids for a walk around the vessel, familiarize yourselves with the available activities and book them in advance to avoid unnecessary disappointment.

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If possible, see if you can arrange the activities before or after the specified hours to avoid crowds. Also, be sure to ask the staff how this is best done. As you know, kids with autism do better with individual attention away from crowds. From our experience, a good time to try onboard activities is when the ship is in port, and many guests are on land.

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I hope that your kids will be encouraged to try all the activities and the entertainment offered. The shows are good for education and enjoyment; just make sure that your family is seated close to the exit so you can make a quick getaway in the event it needs to.
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If your kids are going to participate in the Kids’ Club, remind them to stay there until you arrive. Also, make sure all the responsible parties are aware of their needs.
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Finally, I would recommend blocking their sea pass card charging capacity to avoid unplanned expenses. This step is important to take if they wander off and purchase nonreturnable items from the ship’s stores.  We have had our son with autism invite several teens to play at the ship’s arcade with him. Unfortunately, he unknowingly was charging their games to his card. Moreover, I would get an itemized bill every day from guest services to keep a close watch on any expenses charged on your kids’ cards.

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I wish you a fantastic first-time family cruise! Bon Voyage!


Tips for Choosing Hotels for Families with Autism



One of the most important elements of a vacation is choosing the right lodgings. It is necessary for parents booking the room to take the requirements of their child with autism or other special needs into account. If they have allergies, sensitivities, and other issues, parents need to make sure that these will be addressed otherwise the vacation might turn disastrous. For those unaccustomed to asking for accommodations, here is our list of what to look for when choosing a hotel.

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Pick a property that is part of a chain

A benefit of selecting a hotel chain is that when guests encounter an issue, they can talk to their corporate office customer service. Customer service tends to listen and resolve problems quickly, especially when traveling overseas. Many chain hotels offer 24-hour service which comes in handy for a sick family member who requires sheets or towels.

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Another benefit of staying in a chain is accruing points for future stays and obtaining a loyalty status that helps with possible upgrades. Chain hotels are usually designed to look similar, so children with autism will feel a lot more at home at each hotel.

Look for a property near a  park or playground

Parents should never book a property located on a busy street unless it is a high-rise equipped with dual paned windows. Also, it is best for parents to choose a hotel close to places they intend to visit. It is not conducive to have to travel half an hour to the center of town each way, especially for those visiting a new city for two-three days and wanting to make the most of their visit.

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Prefer a property with an Executive Lounge

Whether parents wish to pay extra for access, use points or ask for a free upgrade, Executive Lounge access is great, particularly when traveling with special needs kids. The lounge provides travelers with free breakfast without having to go outside the hotel as well as free snacks, beverages, wi-fi and even some dinner appetizers.

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Research if any construction is planned on the premises or nearby

Construction translates to dust and noise even at night in some places. Also, certain facilities like pools or restaurants might become temporarily inaccessible which can affect a family’s stay. Parents should ask for a discount if the hotel is renovating and they still want to stay there.

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Inquire about the last renovation

Parents should always ask how long ago the last renovation was on the property. This information is important to know for family members who suffer from allergies. A hotel that hasn’t been renovated in many years might translate into dusty, musty, smelly rooms that could trigger unwelcome attacks. A very recently renovated property might have strong paint or glue smells, and some carpet adhesives can also cause allergic reactions.

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Ask about A/C and heat control in the rooms

Some older properties have it set to either/or, so families can be stuck with heat in winter when it is 80 degrees outside. Parents of children with temperature sensitivities should find out about the heating and cooling systems. They should also ask if both a/c and heat are accessible throughout the year.

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Find out if there will be any special events going on in the hotel or city during your stay

With the crowds, noise, and even rowdy fellow guests, special events can negatively affect one’s stay. It is good for parents to know what they should expect so they can make an educated decision.

See if the property has an open atrium with rooms opening onto it

Some older hotels are designed around a central atrium which can be aesthetically pleasing but may be a problem for guests with autism. If the rooms have balconies or windows that open, those can be a safety hazard, especially on the high floors. Also, sound carries differently in a large open space so that any music will be amplified in rooms facing the atrium. For parents who want to book hotels with open atriums, they should ask for a room on the lowest floor possible

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Find out if some balconies or windows open fully on high floors

It may sound like a basic safety issue to solve, but many properties still don’t have proper locks to prevent dangerous situations for kids with autism. Parents should always ask about locks on balconies or windows before booking any property.

If the property has pools or access to the beach, parents should also ask about safety measures they may have like lifeguards or locks on the doors leading to the outside.

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Specify you want a quiet room for your family

Technically all hotel rooms should be quiet. However, for parents of children with noise sensitivities, they need a room away from and NOT directly over or under or above certain facilities. The following is a list of services parents should request a room away from while staying:

  • The Laundry
  • Elevators
  • Executive lounge
  • Vending machines
  • Pool
  • Saunas
  • Spa
  • Gym
  • Ice machine
  • Hospitality suites
  • Conference rooms
  • Restaurants
  • Housekeeping equipment rooms
  • Cooling equipment
  • The roof

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Ask if the hotel has smoking and non-smoking rooms

When traveling abroad, it is important for families to remember that many countries still allow smoking in public places including inside hotel rooms. In the case of a property like that, parents should know that some of the smoke will inadvertently get to a non-smoking area through the ventilation system. If smoking is allowed, parents should choose a different property, especially if your kid suffers from allergies.

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Enquire about hypo-allergenic rooms

Properties like the Omni and Marriott have started offering rooms cleaned with natural products instead of chemicals. This fact is great news for allergy sufferers. Parents should find out about duvets and pillows, and if they can get foam instead of feathers.

Enquire about air fresheners and other chemicals used in the rooms and public areas

Collecting information about the air quality is important. Parents should not shy away from asking specific questions, such as inquiring about chemicals used in cleaning. Many hotels spray air fresheners that may be offensive to those with olfactory challenges or allergies.

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Ask if the property is pet-friendly

Parents might think that pet-friendly means only dogs, but pet-friendly can also include cats and birds. If guests have brought their pets, cat dander or feathers can get in the air vents that might trigger unwanted allergic reactions.

Be wise about room features and design

Some rooms are just not designed to house children, especially ones with special needs. For safety reasons, it is imperative to know ahead of time if the bathrooms have separate showers or a tub/shower combo, hand-held shower heads, bathroom anti-slip mats, and glass doors on shower enclosures.

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Cooler or fridge availability in the room

Though many rooms do come with a stocked mini-bar, some properties balk at the prospect of needing to empty it for the guests’ personal use. Parents who need to refrigerate medicines or snacks should ask ahead of time if that is an accommodation they offer.



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Most hotels do their best to provide excellent customer service and go out of their way to make sure that their guests enjoy their stay. It does help the hotel staff to know ahead of time about guests who have autism or other special needs so they can plan in advance. Parents should never be afraid to ask questions to ensure that their stay is full of good memories.



Which Disney Park is Best for Kids with Autism?



Which Disney Park is Best for Kids with Autism? pin

Dear Margalit,

After meltdowns from our son with autism every time we had to leave the house when he was younger, we used your tips for introducing special needs children to the idea of traveling, and it has worked so well that I think we are finally ready to start visiting theme parks. Do you have any particular Walt Disney World one that you can recommend?    Thanks, Julia.


Dear Julia,

I’m so glad to hear about progress for your family.That’s great! Your question is a good one and one that I have been asked on some occasions. I have to say that all Disney parks excellent at accommodating special needs and disabilities for both adults and children.
Therefore, the way to choose between them will depend on your child’s specific sensory issues. With that said, I will try to highlight the pros and cons of visiting each of the four main parks in WDW.


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Magic Kingdom

Since you didn’t specify your son’s age or if you have other children I have to say that the Magic Kingdom has the best indoor and outdoor options for all ages. It also has the widest selection of rides from mild and slow to moderate.

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For those who don’t like to or can’t walk a lot, it is ideal because the rides are relatively close together. If you like the outdoors, they have the Liberty Square Riverboat and Tom Sawyer Island which is fun to explore. If your son prefers to stay indoors, there are shows like the Country Bear Jamboree and Mickey’s Philharmagic. The sensory issues he might encounter are noise and darkness, but with headphones and some light from a  mobile phone, he will hopefully be okay.Which Disney Park is Best for Kids with Autism? dumbo

Visitors should be aware that the Magic Kingdom is the most visited of all Disney parks. With Disney’s new program for autism, visitors have to go to the ride they wish to experience, and the staff gives a slotted time to come back. Because of the popularity of the park, these waits can be long. Areas like Main Street are also more crowded than the other parks, so that’s also something to consider for kids who hate crowds or are noise sensitive.

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Hollywood Studios

Hollywood Studios has more extreme rides which cater to an older age group.
Unlike the Magic Kingdom which has parades, Hollywood Studios offers more stunt shows and live stage performances. This is THE park for kids that love thrill rides and can’t get enough of being twirled upside down or sideways.

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Also, it is the best place for kids that love movies and are fans of Star Wars. Overall, between the riders’ scream and night fireworks this park is the noisiest, something to bear in mind if your child is noise sensitive.A good time to go for kids with autism is in the early morning when they first open since the park gets more crowded by midday and evening.

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If you and your kids prefer exotic souvenir hunting and tasting ethnic foods, then Epcot with its variety of international pavilions is for you. I have found that Epcot has been a great way to introduce children with autism to different cuisines and cultures in Disney form. It also has rides which are similar to the other theme parks and again, noise-sensitive children need to take that into consideration.

Which Disney Park is Best for Kids with Autism? epcotA highlight is the Park’s firework show  IllumiNations: Reflection of Earth, which can be seen from almost everywhere in the park. As our son is noise sensitive, we’ve discovered the best spot to watch the show was from inside the restaurants in the Unite Kingdom pavilion.

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The Animal Kingdom

If your family likes the outdoors and learning about animals, then The Animal Kingdom will be right up your alley, providing none of your family members are smell-sensitive. The park features a great scavenger hunt, a live stage production of The Lion King, and an interactive bird show, all of which we have found to be entertaining.


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Moreover, the Animal Kingdom is now open in the evenings. This fact might be a bonus, though it is still the least lit of all parks and some kids might find it scary.
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Once again, I’m thrilled you’ve decided to take a leap of faith and travel with your son to Walt Disney World. I hope that once you have had the opportunity to research and visit each park, you will be able to make a choice that suits your family best. 
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Nine Ways to Accommodate Kids with Autism while Flying

Nine Ways to Accommodate Kids while flying pin

Airline travel is a stressful experience for any family. For a family with children with autism, however, there are many aspects to airports that are not autism-friendly by default. To help mitigate problems, parents need to be proactive in both contacting the airline and preparing themselves. Here are our nine tips for accommodating children with autism while flying.

Nine Ways to Accommodate Kids with Autism while Flying outside

Register for TSA Precheck or Global Entry

Registering in the TSA precheck or Global Entry can help make the airport screening process much less intrusive for a child. Both programs allow children to keep their shoes or jackets on through screening. They also don’t have to unpack their electronics or small liquid containers. While waiting in the screening line, parents should explain their child’s special needs to the TSA agent. They are fairly compassionate, patient, and accommodating when they are aware of the situation.

Nine Ways to Accommodate Kids with Autism while Flying line

Ask for Bulkhead Seating

When booking a flight, parents should ask the bulkhead seats or aisles for additional room and accessibility. If there is no availability for bulkhead seating, they can always try to trade with someone else if they are lucky enough to find a compassionate fellow traveler. This occasion may be another instance when parents speaking candidly about their child’s special needs and being their advocate may pay off.

Nine Ways to Accommodate Kids with Autism while Flying seating

Order a Special Meal

Many jokes are made about the food served on flights, all with just cause. Most airlines serve unhealthy, stale food that barely equals cafeteria fare and with little to no choice. When flying, parents can request a special meal that addresses their child’s dietary needs. Though not all airlines can accommodate all requests, most will try. Specially requested meals are better suited for a child’s needs and are served first which means a kid with autism won’t have to wait a long time for his or her meal.

Nine Ways to Accommodate Kids with Autism while Flying food

Ask for Wheelchair Assistance

Parents should look into requesting wheelchair assistance at the airport, especially when they have a short layover time to navigate between terminals. Trained Airport staff can help carry luggage and guide families to the right gate so no one will get lost and wander aimlessly. Many kids with autism who do not have mobility issues can still benefit from a wheelchair in instances when they need to be contained and monitored.


Nine ways to accommodate kids with autism while flying wheelchair

Get a ScotteVest

Buying a ScotteVest might be the best idea for families since one can wear all items needed for the flight and have them readily available at all times. The 42 pocket vest allows parents to carry a large number of valuable items through TSA. The items in the vest are also not counted as luggage or carry-ons. Furthermore, the Scottevest will allow one to have passports, ID’s, cash, and boarding passes at their fingertips. It also helps prevent pickpocketing.

Nine Ways to Accommodate Kids with Autism while Flying crowd

Invest in a Wi-Fi Hotspot

Getting a hot spot to use around airports might be the best $10 or $15 parents can spend to keep their child occupied. The hot spot allows kids to stream movies or go on the internet while waiting calmly for the flight.

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Travel with Carry-On

Parents should try to travel with only carry-ons if at all possible. It is cheaper, more efficient, and helps to keep track of belongings while lessening the chances of anything getting lost or stolen. If families only need one carry-on per person, they may want to consider packing an empty backpack inside their carry-on. This way, when they purchase or acquire things on the trip, they can fill up the backpack and return with a carry-on and a personal bag.

Nine Ways to Accommodate Kids with Autism while Flying seating

Pre-Book Transfers

Parents should arrange pre and post-flight transportation to their destination to avoid long and frustrating waits for cabs. If using a transfer service or shuttle service, parents may want to alert them ahead of time that they will be traveling with someone with special needs. This way, the cab service can shorten the wait time if possible.

Nine ways to accommodate kids with autism while flying luggage


Download the Airline App

Parents should download multiple apps on their cell phone or tablet for their child to use while waiting at the airport. There are many educational and game apps that are free or almost free, and there are many apps now specifically for children with autism. Furthermore, parents should download the airline app for access to in-flight entertainment. They should take a portable charger for all electronic devices to juice them up during the flight if necessary.

Nine ways to accommodate kids with autism while flying app

Have you taken your child with autism on a flight? What are your tips?


Seven Pre-Flight Tips for Autism

Seven Pre-Flight Tips for Autism pin

It is never too early for parents to start preparing their special needs child for any future vacation.
In fact, the sooner parents begin to practice the tips below, the more equipped they will be to travel and the more enjoyable their experiences will be. For those who might be unsure how to start the process;h ere are our tips for preparing to take a child with autism on a flight.

Prepare your kid

Parents should print or download a social story about flying from the internet to read to their child. Nowadays many airlines and airports have useful links including printable social stories to refer to on their websites. These stories can introduce the kids to the topics of airplanes and airports in a straightforward and fun way.

For kids that like watching Youtube channels, parents can look for videos online showing the particular airport they will travel from along with any eye-catching and funny airline safety commercials.

Seven Pre-Flight Tips for Autism safe

Study the airport layout

Families should download  a map of their local airport and clearly mark on them the play areas, restaurants, and restrooms. In addition, travelers can check the airport website to see whether it offers any family TSA lines or disability accommodations.

Some airports offer free mobile apps that parents can download on their phones to use when they travel. Having the app ready on their phone can aid parents in finding the different areas in the terminal faster as well as come up with alternate plans if they encounter unforeseen delays or changes.

Seven Pre-Flight Tips for Autism seat

Find places to relax

Many airports have areas for families to regroup and relax.
US airports like Minneapolis and Boston offer secluded sections with rocking chairs for those who feel stressed which are perfect for kids with autism.

Another option for families is to obtain access to airport lounges. Some lounges offer access as a credit card benefit, while for others day passes can be purchased. Depending on the frequency of travel, parents can decide whether it is a good idea to apply for a credit card that offers lounge privileges or not

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Know the different routes to the airport

Parents need to familiarize themselves and their kids with the different ways to get to the airport whether by private car and public transportation.Those planning to go by car should drive there at least once ahead of any planned trip to know exactly where to park and how to get to the different terminals.

Likewise, parents planning to arrive at the airport by bus or light rail should take a ‘dry run’ practice trip to know which station to get off and how far they would need to walk to get to the different airport areas.

By familiarizing themselves with the route, parents will not only know what to do if something goes wrong on the actual day of travel but help their kids with autism be less stressed since they will be able to recognize the different spots.

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Try the airport’s program for autism

Parents should call their home airport and ask whether they have programs for autism.
Some programs allow visits within the airport terminal, checkpoints, and inside a parked aircraft. Others like the one in Minneapolis airport even lets autism families explore the stores and different food venues in the terminal.
Moreover, to help their children remember the different places they see on tour, parents could take pictures and create a social book for them to use as a reference when traveling.

Seven Pre-Flight Tips for Autism plane

Get medical paperwork ready

Even if they have no plans to go anywhere, parents should still keep an updated printed copy of their child’s medical papers ready to use when necessary. The documents should detail the child’s diagnosis,  medicines taken along with any special accommodations they might need.

When signed by the child’s physician, these papers can be useful in communicating with the TSA, the airlines as well as mitigate misunderstandings with the flight crew while traveling.

Seven Pre-Flight Tips for Autism food

Apply for Global Entry or TSA pre-check

Parents wishing to go through a shortened TSA line with no hassle can apply for Global Entry or TSA pre-check. Though the initial vetting can take 3-4 months to complete, the good news is that once approved the card is valid for five years. Participants in the programs are allowed to keep their clothing and shoes on, and there is no need to take out the various electronic devices and  3 oz liquid bottles at the checkpoints which is helpful for families with autism.


Are you thinking of flying with your special needs child? What special preparations are you making?

Seven Pre-Flight Tips for Autism above

Disembarkation Day Tips for Families with Autism

Disembarkation Day Tips for Families with Autism pin

The very last morning of a cruise can be hectic with thousands of people trying to get off the ship.So, planning the day to be as stress-free as possible is crucial, especially for parents of children with autism. To help parents make the disembarkation process as painless as possible, we are sharing our personal tips.
Disembarkation Day Tips for Families with Autism pool

Before Boarding

Schedule a late departure

Parents should try to schedule a post-cruise flight that leaves after midday. Such scheduling will make the disembarkation process less rushed.

If this is not possible, and parents end up having to book an early flight, they should ask to leave the ship by seven AM with the first group of passengers . This way; things will go so much more smoothly .
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Pre-book  transfers

Disembarkation day in port is a chaotic scene with hundreds of passengers all trying to grab a cab and drive off to their next destination.
To prevent unnecessary waits and subsequent meltdowns, parents to kids  should consider pre-booking their transportation from the port ahead of time.
In the case that is not possible, they should bring electronic devices and snacks to entertain their kids.


The day before disembarkation

Ask for assistance

Parents should ask customer service for help to schedule their disembarkation time slot as late as possible. This way, kids don’t have to wait in long lines to get off the ship.
Furthermore, to avoid misunderstandings they should make a note of the person they spoke to so they can reach them if anything goes wrong.

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Opt for self-assist disembarkation

The best system for parents with autism to disembark is to get the suitcases off the ship on their own.By using the  self-assist disembarkation system, they have access to their items at all times and aren’t separated from their belongings. Furthermore,  they won’t end up spending additional time looking for their luggage in the port’s  hall along with hundreds of fellow passengers.
The downside is they will get no staff assistance which might be difficult if they travel with a lot of luggage.


Order breakfast from room service

Parents should check whether the cruise line they are sailing with offers room service on disembarkation day. If it does, they need to pre-order breakfast from room service and avoid the huge lines at the restaurant or buffet. Ordering room service can reduce the rush factor and allow everyone to eat leisurely while getting dressed, thereby making for a smoother transition.Disembarkation Day Tips for Families with Autism resturant

Fill all customs and immigration forms ahead of time

Filling all the customs and immigration forms in advance can help parents avoid delaying their family and other travelers at the checkpoints. Placing all passports, customs forms, and travel tickets in a convenient holder is a good idea. Also, they should check ahead of time for rules and regulations, so they know what they are allowed to bring back as souvenirs.

We strongly recommend that parents enroll their family members in the Global Entry Program to cut down on wait times at the immigration and security checkpoints.

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Check the final bill

Passengers should go to customer service and solve all payment matters the day before. Since the client service counter  gets busy on the last evening at sea, it is best to settle balances or  gratuities in the early afternoon hours. The early afternoon is  an opportune time to deal with last minute returns to the ship’s stores and take possession of  pre-purchases made during the cruise.
Disembarkation Day Tips for Families with Autism pool

Assign jobs to different family members

It is recommended parents assign each adult family member to watch over a bag and a younger kid throughout the process of disembarkation. Also, all family members should carry cell phones to communicate with one another and track younger kids and luggage.



Have you gone on a cruise with your kids with autism? What are your tips for disembarkation?



Taking Your Child with Autism to Japan

Taking Your Child with Autism to Japan pin

Japan is a fascinating family-friendly country to experience for all, including children with autism. Before traveling, parents should understand its customs and culture better to help everyone have an enjoyable visit.

Taking Your Child with Autism to Japan kitty


 The Japanese toilets can be scary

One of the first things travelers will encounter in Japan are the plug-in Japanese toilets. The commode facilities have individual settings for sound and heating which may freak some travelers with autism.
Our son with autism was frightened he might get electrocuted when he saw the toilet plugged into the outlet. Though we tried to reassure him repeatedly that it was safe, his fear never really went away.

Furthermore, visitors may encounter a traditional Japanese squat toilet that looks nothing like the western ones. This ground level commode requires balance that people with autism might not have and presents a challenge to use.


Taking Your Child with Autism to Japan toilet

Autism Travel Tips:

  • Show your kids pictures or videos of the plug -in Japanese toilets before visiting so they understand they are safe to use.
  • If your kid is uncomfortable with using, the plug-in toilets remember they can be unplugged.
  • Parents should bear in mind that hotels and restaurants have Western toilets to use for free if the traditional Japanese facilities are too scary.


The Japanese food is different

Food in Japan is quite different than in other countries, with many dishes either being saltier or sweeter than travelers might be accustomed to in their countries of origin.
Visitors should understand that restaurant portions are smaller than in the US or Europe and that the options of free drink refills and returning food to the kitchen if disliked aren’t offered.

Also, parents should be aware that many of the budget friendly restaurants only provide chopsticks which may be challenging for kids with autism.


Taking Your Child with Autism to Japan food

Autism Travel Tips:

  • Travelers should always ask the price of the dishes before ordering.
  • Some venues have plastic replicas of the served dishes displayed in the front window, so visitors can see what they are about to order
  • Avoid American chain restaurants as their fare is usually adapted to local taste preferences which could disappoint kids used to particular flavors and textures.
  • Parents should prepare their kids for the possibility they might not find their favorite pizza selection since Japan isn’t big on cheeses (many people in Asian countries are lactose intolerant.)
  • Tourists should check out the local supermarkets for cheaper food and samples of the local dishes.
  • For kids that can’t use chopsticks, parents should pack plastic cutlery to facilitate easy eating.

Mind the trash

Japanese streets are immaculately clean with virtually no litter on the streets. Surprisingly enough, as we discovered during our visit, there weren’t that many public bins to dispose of waste, which made it cumbersome to dispose of any trash after enjoying street grub.

Taking Your Child with Autism to Japan street grub

Autism Travel Tips:

  • Carrying a plastic Ziploc bag in one’s pocket for unexpected garbage may be a good idea when touring Japan.

There’s quite a bit of smoking

Japan still allows smoking in public places. Therefore, parents need to request non-smoking hotel rooms and restaurant tables ahead of time to avoid unnecessary snafus.

Taking Your Child with Autism to Japan lines


Autism Travel Tips:

  • As customer service is excellent in Japan, travelers can always ask to change their room or table even at the last minute.

Crossing the road is complicated

The major cities in Japan have intersecting crosswalks that can be downright daunting for tourists from other countries. During our first visit to Tokyo, we stood at a Shinjuku crossing for a few minutes trying to decipher which way we should go. Because of this, parents should reiterate to kids the importance of staying close to them and not darting into traffic which in these cases can come from multiple directions.

Taking Your Child with Autism to Japan crosswalk


Autism Travel Tips:

  • Familiarize your children by showing them pictures and videos of this type of many crosswalks.

Navigating public transportation takes practice

Navigating the subway in the large cities like Tokyo takes a bit of practice. Travelers might find themselves lost or unable to pay the fare the first few times, as the machines aren’t exactly user-friendly. In addition, many subway stations are so large that passengers might easily find themselves walking a mile from one exit to the other. All these factors can lead kids to autism to unnecessary frustration and meltdowns if not planned for in advance.

Taking Your Child with Autism to Japan maps

Autism Travel Tips:

  • Parents should pack two pairs of comfortable, broken-in walking shoes for their kids.
  • Travelers should try to get acquainted with using the fare adjustment machines on the subway the very first day.
    If they find it complicated, they should ask for help and videotape the process to help memorize the steps. A budget friendly option when using the subway is purchasing the cheapest ticket and then paying for fare adjustments during the day.

Anime and Manga might not be PG

Japan is famous for its anime and manga comics and characters, translated into many languages around the globe. What many parents don’t realize is that some of the comics easily fall into the soft porn category.
Moreover, those visiting certain neighborhoods like Tokyo’s Akihabara might be taken aback by the young girls in manga uniforms soliciting customers.

Taking Your Child with Autism to Japan manga

Autism Travel Tips:

  • Depending on the kid’s level of comprehension parents can decide whether to expose their child to this genre of entertainment.


Japan is very Autism Friendly

Many museums and tourist attractions we’ve visited offered disability passes, which helped us with discounted pricing and bypassing long lines.
Moreover, everybody was incredibly respectful and helpful with our son even when he experienced a meltdown.
An excellent example of Japanese hospitality and kindness was when we couldn’t get tickets for Ghibli Studios. Our disappointed son was crying in the middle of the street, and several people approached us offering to help. The person who finally succeeded in calming him down was a gentleman who spent over twenty minutes of his time figuring out a way to order the tickets through an automated machine.


Taking Your Child with Autism to Japan train

Autism Travel Tips:

  • Tourists should download apps that show maps and basic words in Japanese.
  • Parents should teach their children to thank people in Japanese when they get help.  (ありがとう Arigatō)


Have you visited Japan? Come and share your tips with us!


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