Must Have Items when flying with Autism

This month’s question comes from a Facebook follower, a parent, who is wondering what items are essential to pack when flying with a kid on the autism spectrum. Of course, each kid has his or hers favorite things so my tips will solely focus on the ‘essential items’ in all categories, that should be packed with all possible necessities.

Dear Margalit,
I’m taking my daughter on her first flight to Europe and want to make sure I don’t forget anything.
What are your “must have” items when flying with autism?

Looking forward to your tips,

Hi Morgan,
Thank you for the question. It is a topic close to my heart, and I always ask this of others.
I love learning about new, interesting and useful items to pack to make the journey less stressful.
As you might know by now from reading my posts, I’m a huge under-packer, and I prefer everything in mini size if possible.
Based on previous travel experiences, you will know to bring items you are sure you will need. If this is something new to you or your child, the trick will be to think ahead like a girl scout; envision what can happen, and anticipate all eventualities.

In my family’s case, our staple flight items are based on things like temperature changes, and OCD, for example, and what we pack falls into the following groupings: sensory, behavioral, personal hygiene and small emergency needs.
Underlined are my must-have items for flying.

Temperature Control

My son is somewhat temperature intolerant and likes to cover his head when napping. Airlines don’t necessarily supply bedding items, so I carry a compact, lightweight blanket.
There are times we get stuck sitting in an aircraft on the tarmac waiting to clear for takeoff. With the engines and A/C off, the temperature rises, and the air can be stifling, so I pack a mini fan.

Comfort and Cleanliness

Not so long ago, when our son suffered from acute OCD, we ended up carrying plane seat covers and pillowcases as well as shoe covers to go through security.
Nowadays after getting our gFlying with Autism? Pack these Must -Have Items cosmetics


Planes tend to be noisy; whether it is the screaming baby in the row behind you, the rowdy drunk traveler next to you or the engine noise in smaller aircraft, most of us want to tune all of that out.
Noise-canceling headphones were a great investment for my family, not just for those with special needs. Something you need to keep in mind when you buy them is to make sure they fold and aren’t too bulky since you want to take that in your bag or carry-on. Also, since different aircraft use different systems make sure you carry several mini adaptors. Look for the ones that adapt a one prong system to a two and vice versa, so you can use the headphones onboard.

Small Emergencies

Small mishaps happen; especially on flights so you might want to be equipped with a mini flashlight to search for things that fall on the plane’s poorly lit floor.
These days, mobile phones can have a flashlight capability. I also recommend a small carabiner to link items like small bags or clothing items together, a small roll of duct tape to stick any broken or torn items and my favorite soda can cover to prevent spills on clothes.


I used to carry big bulky holders till I realized all I needed were small plastic pouches. They are so convenient; I can write the name of medicines on them, and I also love them for jewelry and any other trinkets that weigh next to nothing.

Besides that, I ‘schlep’ around a collapsible cup for my son to drink out of when he takes his meds since he doesn’t know how to use a water fountain and the crew doesn’t necessarily come as soon as we when page them.Flying with Autism? Pack these Must -Have Items safety


You just cannot ever take enough wipes and tissues when you are traveling with young kids or kids with autism who touch everything and put their hands in their mouths.
For the children are unable to stand while using the restroom or put the paper on the seat. I suggest then that you carry a mini Lysol spray to sterilize the seat and bring a mini toilet paper in case the paper runs out and isn’t replenished. Yes, unfortunately, I have seen that happen!

Positive Attitude

When traveling with children, especially those with special needs, it’s important to communicate and prepare in a positive way; explaining the process to your child, so it is enjoyable and pleasant for them and fellow travelers. In the words of the famous Annie, “You’re never fully dressed without a smile!” so make sure you wear your smile and have a great attitude at all times.




Traveling with Autism? Tips for Successful Road Trips

Every summer questions about car travel seem to top our e-mail inquiries. So, naturally thought I’d share this one as the ‘Ask Margalit’ question of the month.

Traveling with Autism? Tips for Road Trips:Door Mirror


Dear Margalit,

Later this summer for our family vacation we are taking a road trip across five Southern States! I am looking forward to it but also dreading it because our 9-year-old son with autism struggles with being in the car for any length of time.
His older siblings do better, but I guess I need to hear the benefits of driving as flying is not an option this time, and my head is spinning.
Do you have any tips or pointers for me that could make the journey more bearable? I would appreciate it.
Thanks in advance,

Dear Sami,
Let me say right off the bat that traveling by car is one of my preferred options.
I love that I can take along more supplies than on a flight, and I can stop when and where I need to.
If you plan the navigation of the unfamiliar roads in advance, you could have a wonderful holiday to remember.

  • I suggest you use an App or road map to mark off the location of restrooms and parks along the route, as well as chain diners and stores where you can stop and restock as necessary.
  • If your son has a favorite stuffed toy, pillow or blanket – bring it along because the familiarity helps lower anxiety levels.
    I like to use a permanent marker to write a phone number or email on belongings in the event of them getting misplaced somewhere.
  • I keep the medicines my son will take every day of the trip, an extra change of clothing and a first-aid kit, in the front, so that I don’t have to dig through all the packed luggage to find it.
  • Having snacks available is necessary. I have noticed that low blood sugar can trigger a meltdown. Of course, if your child has dietary needs, you won’t want to be stopping and looking for special snacks unnecessarily so bring these in a small cooler.
    I never travel without Ziploc bags; you never know when leftovers from a pit-stop can come in handy.
  • Of course, keeping the children entertained is vital. I am a fan of Dollar stores for inexpensive, age-appropriate games and books that don’t have little pieces that can get lost. If your child has a few favorite video games or DVD’s, bring those along and don’t forget to keep the electronic gadgets charged.
  • It’s good to be flexible and make alternative plans if Plan A doesn’t work.
    Old-fashioned car games like “I Spy” can be a useful distraction and you might want to bring a friend, babysitter or grandparent along to help keep your children entertained – space-allowing of course.
  • As a final tip, I will share with you what I call my “Road Warrior Kit” that has saved us many a time. It has a roll of toilet paper, WD40, Duct tape, Wet wipes, Lysol wipes and a flashlight. All of these multi-purpose items come in extremely handy and even necessary at various stops along the way. Your family’s health, safety, hygiene and comfort are so important.

I hope you have a wonderful road trip!
Enjoy making memories with your family.



Teaching Kids with Autism How to Pack

Teaching your Kid with Autism How to Pack suitcase


One of the biggest challenges I have faced over my years of family travel was to come up with a simple system to teach my son with autism this life skill: How to pack and unpack efficiently. If you are a parent or caregiver facing the same issue and could use some tips, this post is for you.


[Read more…]

Creating the Perfect Social Travel Story for Autism

One of the questions many parents contact me, about is how to create a good social travel story to prepare their children with autism for their upcoming vacation.
Unfortunately, most travel venues like airports, airlines, hotels and cruise lines don’t provide one, so it is pretty much up to the parents to create one for their kids.
Since the summer vacation is approaching fast here are some essential points to keep in mind while creating your social travel story for your child with autism.

Creating the-Perfect Social Travel Story for Autism books


Keep it Simple

Don’t overwhelm your child with unnecessary details.
The story should provide a rough outline, and you can always provide more information as you go along.

Make it Visual

Most kids like visuals better than text so make sure you download and print pictures of the intended destination from the internet.

Use Different Media Sources

A social story doesn’t have to be solely printed on paper. In today’s day and age you can put together a video playlist on Youtube or Vimeo, bookmark a few blog posts or store some google pictures on your tablet.

Describe it Step by Step

The booklet should have a beginning and an end to the story.Start it with the preparations you and your family will make before your arrival at the destination and continue to describe the steps (in order) till you return home and unpack.

Make Extra Copies

After you put time and effort in creating your story make sure you print, download or store several copies in case the first one gets lost. Some parents like to provide their kids with a laminated copy of the story or even lanyard with cards, so the child can refer to the story during travel.

Build Excitement

Depending on your child’s interests you can choose to highlight certain parts of the story and add additional content; like meeting characters in theme parks, souvenir shopping or even visiting the local zoo.

Make it Engaging

If you choose to make a paper copy, you can add additional empty pages at the end for your kid to fill with his or her memories and photos after your vacation.This way the social story can become a cherished album filled with memories for your child to refer to in the years to come.

 Here are the different topics to cover depending on the type of travel 

Flying and airports

  • Packing luggage and a personal bag
  • Getting to the airport
  • Parking the car
  • Checking your luggage
  • The TSA check
  • Places in the airport including lounges, bathrooms, play areas, stores, and eateries.Reiterate safety rules of sticking with your family members
  • The departing gate and  getting to it (by foot, train)
  • Who to ask for help when getting lost
  • The airplane – seats( including mentioning sitting in your seat and being buckled), overhead bins, entertainment /food options.Lavatory
  • Deplaning and retrieving the luggage from the carousel

Cruising/All inclusive resorts/Hotels

  • Getting to the ship or resort
  • Check in process including passport control ,security, getting a room key, safety bracelet fro the younger kids
  • Cabin/room description.Appropriate use of the room phone
  • Public places like lobby, customer service, elevators and even corridors near your room or cabin
  • The muster drill
  • Activities you can do in the room/cabin along with what you can’t do like make noise or play ball for example
  • Ship or resort activities indoors and outdoors.Make sure you include pools and reiterate safety as many
    places don’t provide lifeguards
  • Dining options for breakfast,lunch,dinner,snacks,desserts
  • Attractions-show venues, clubs, parades, character appearances if you can get pictures or videos
    Kids’ clubs
  • Getting off the ship or leaving

Ports of call/day trip/theme parks

  • Packing clothing /snacks
  • Security checks
  • Getting there -transportation and entertainment
  • What attractions or activities you will be  visiting or doing
  • Food venues, bathrooms
  • Where and what to buy there (if your kid likes souvenirs)
  • Who to ask for help (badges or uniforms in a theme park)




Theme Parks with Autism –Top Seven “Must Pack” Items

One of the more pressing and recurring questions that many parents to special needs children ask is, “What should I pack when planning a Walt Disney World or Disneyland vacation?”
So whether you are a first time visitor or have visited before and could use a refresher list, this post is for you.

Hand Sanitizer Wipes

Sanitizing wipes are not only useful for cleaning hands after bathroom breaks or before snacking and meals but to clean toys that get dirty or sticky from food spills.And don’t forget you can use them for scrapes and cuts if necessary too.


You will need ponchos for all your family members since it not only rains almost daily in Florida, but most of the water rides  WILL soak you to the bone.
Parents can either pack ponchos or purchase them at the park where they are sold for around $8.Though eight bucks is a bit pricey in my opinion, they can serve as an inexpensive souvenir since they do come with the park logo printed on them.


The Parks are enormous, and there is a lot of walking involved, so the best thing is to invest in a pair of Crocs ™ shoes. to use when the ground is wet around water slides or after the rain.
As they are closed in the front, they protect toes better and don’t fall off like flip flops do, if you use the back band.
If your child doesn’t like wearing Crocs ™ you can opt to bring a pair of fabric sneakers that can dry fast if and when they get wet.

Themeparks with Autism – Top Seven “Must Pack” Items crocs

Cell Phone Chargers

In today’s world, mobile devices rule so you should bring not only your mobile phone but your kid’s too so that you can find each other in the event of them wandering off and getting lost.
Besides, the phone can double as an entertainment device if they have to wait for a ride.

The most important point is to pack and bring a working cord with a wall plug so you will be able to recharge the device, as battery life on a phone is relatively short. Those who don’t want to spend time looking for an available outlet can bring a power bank to juice up your devices when they are out of power.

Noise-Canceling Headphones

Some rides and shows can be on the loud side, so if your child is noise sensitive you may either want to bring a set of noise-canceling headphones or ask at guest services if there are any sets available to rent.

GPS Device or Temporary Tattoo

If your child is young or unable to communicate, you need to consider using a tracking GPS device or temporary tattoo to make sure that they can get help if they get lost.

Duct Tape

If your kid is noise sensitive and frightened of the automatic flushing mechanism some of the toilets in the parks have, then you need to bring a small roll of duct tape to cover the sensor while they use the commode (remember to remove it before you leave.)
The tape can also be useful to stick on soles of shoes as an anti-slip mechanism after a downpour when the ground is very slippery.

Do you have any items you pack with you when you visit theme parks?
What are they?

Q&A with Graeme Phillips Train Travel Aficionado


How do you plan a trip?

I research the places I want to travel to and see how accessible they regard transportation.
If I still want to go, I  create my itinerary, book the trips and then my lodgings.

Do you travel alone or with a group?

I travel solo unless there is someone who shares my interest in the places I wish to visit and what I want to do there, which does not happen often.

Q&A with Graeme Alexander Phillips Train Travel Aficionado roof

Photo Credit: Graeme Phillips

What is your favorite form of lodging?

I prefer Bed and Breakfast or half-board lodging -depending on the price and availability in this particular region.

Where do you usually travel to?

Mainly cities as I  don’t like renting a car and feeling bound to use it because “the meter is running.”

Q&A with Graeme Alexander Phillips Train Travel Aficionado ocean

Photo Credit: Graeme Phillips

Do you ask for any particular accommodations in airports/lodging?

No, nothing in particular.I plan ahead and make sure I have what I need with me.

Do you join guided tours or venture on your own?

I  prefer to make my timetable and wander on my own.I might consider taking a  guided tour if it is offered at a reasonable price though in some instances like hot weather group tours with fixed itineraries would make concentrating difficult.


Q&A with Graeme Alexander Phillips Train Travel Aficionado bridge

Photo Credit: Graeme Phillips

Favorite place you’ve been so far?

Seville, Spain! That’s why I’ve bought a flat there. My close second would be Cartagena de Indias.

What place you would never go back to?

I can’t  think of anywhere.I once spent a month in Syria, and  I guess it wouldn’t be an excellent idea to visit at present.


Q&A with Graeme Alexander Phillips Train Travel Aficionado lights

photo Credit: Graeme Phillips

Personal Travel pet peeve?

I’d have to say that would be assistants who cannot answer questions unless the answer comes from a list of pre-memorized responses.

This happened a lot in Malaysia when I asked about books about trains: the shop assistants looked pained when I asked questions about this, as it was outside their usual repertoire of questions.
Another pet peeve is transportation to the airport being late.
Recently had an experience where I traveled by bus to a city center, where I was catching an onward coach, but my flight was delayed, and it took forever to get to the city center’s coach station in rush-hour traffic, making me about hour-and-a-half late for the bus. Luckily, I was put on the next one.


Q&A with Graeme Alexander Phillips Train Travel Aficionado lake

Photo Credit: Graeme Phillips

Favorite method of transportation while traveling and why?.


Traveling by train in comparison to the bus is a good idea since trains don’t interact with rush-hour traffic except at level crossings.
I think that choosing transportation modes with a high degree of predictability are better for people with autism, particularly if they are traveling alone.
I will often plan holidays in countries with extensive networks like Spain and China just to experience their high-speed trains. I like Spain’s AVE service that promises on the Madrid-Seville line that if the train is more than 5 minutes late, you get all of your money back.


Q&A with Graeme Alexander Phillips Train Travel Aficionado station

Photo Credit GraemePhillips

The German and Swiss rail systems with their reliable timetables provide sound traveling choices for people on the autistic spectrum, and I like the fact that most of the times, the platforms the trains leave from are announced well in advance.
The Swiss railway system prides itself on punctuality and interconnectivity.
As far as I know, it was among the first to adopt the clock face timetabling method (trains departing at the same number of minutes past the hour) and to produce a timetable map of the country.

The system is designed so that it is easy to interchange, with many major cities having trains arrive five minutes before the hour and departing five minutes after the time. The numbers closest to the station show how many minutes past the hour a train arrives at a station and the number on the other side slightly further away shows how many minutes past the hour the train leaves the station.
Would I trade the Swiss system for the British system?
Probably not, because the punctuality of the Swiss seems to be achieved by leaving extremely generous allowances. The system of timing nodes around the half and whole hours can be fairly wasteful and reduces the number of destinations reachable within a day’s travel.
Nevertheless, the system is easy to navigate when you are in a country you don’t know, and you don’t want to struggle to learn a new regime.

Q&A with Graeme Alexander Phillips Train Travel Aficionado train

Photo Credit: Graeme Phillips

Over the years, I’ve heard some complaints about the appearance of the Chinese metro system, but I don’t personally have a problem with it since for me predictability trumps appearance, especially in a city, I’m not acquainted with.

Though I know a lot about high-speed trains around the world, my real specialty (and day job) involves metro trains.
Metro systems are in many ways my favorite method of getting around, as they offer the best of both worlds- spontaneity and predictability.

Spontaneity in that you can just turn up and, in most systems, a train will arrive in a matter of minutes (generally no need to find out times in advance).

Predictability in that you can look up the location of the station, and you know exactly where you are going, unlike by bus where you might not know where to get off and possibly overshoot your spot.
However, as much as I do like seeing other metro systems, I have to confess I often don’t bother using the systems if the distances are short enough to walk since as a tourist I want to get to explore the city as much as possible.

Q&A with Graeme Alexander Phillips Train Travel Aficionado rainbow

Photo Credit: Graeme Phillips

Graeme lives in the United Kingdom and works in the railway industry. In his spare time, he enjoys participating in his Reformed Baptist Church, learning foreign languages and finding out about railway systems across the world. To learn more train travel tips, you are invited to join his  ‘Fans of High-Speed Trains’ Facebook group.


Top Five Family-Friendly Cemeteries


Exploring a cemetery may seem like an odd option to pass a morning or afternoon, but in the past decade, a growing number of families have discovered the benefits of becoming budding taphophiles*.

In fact, visiting a cemetery can be the perfect budget friendly way to interest school-age children in a city’s history and dignitaries as well as start the conversation about concepts of mortality and immortality.

Our sons went on their first cemetery excursion at the age of seven and have enjoyed visiting local cemeteries in the different countries ever since. After touring the world’s most intriguing cemeteries, we’ve compiled our top five family friendly cemeteries in the list below.

*A Taphophile -an individual who has a passion for photography, art, and history of cemeteries.


 Top Five Family-Friendly Cemeteries cemeteries-WWII

American  Cemetery in Normandy, France

Located east of St. Laurent-sur-Mer and northwest of Bayeux, Normandy the American Cemetery contains the grave sites of 9,387 US soldiers and a memorial to 1,557 others whose remains were never found.

The cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach and the English Channel showcases what seems like endless rows of white marble Latin Crosses and Stars of David surrounded by vast lawns and manicured trees.
Touring the D-day battlefields and cemeteries was one of the most emotional days we’ve experienced in our decade of travel and like many others, we stopped by the tombstones of Robert and Preston, the Niland brothers who inspired in Steven Spielberg’s ‘Saving Private Ryan’ movie to pay our respects.

For a sensory and educational experience take your kids for a walk along the beach so they can see the area from the soldiers ‘ perspective.
Pack an extra set of clothes to change into since the ground is uneven and can become slippery during the rainy season.

 A Do-it- yourself tour is a good option if you can do some research on the internet and learn about the different areas in advance.The underground visitor center provides an exceptional multimedia presentation of the D-day stories told by actual survivors.


Top Five Family-Friendly Cemeteries la recoleta

La Recoleta  Cemetery in  Buenos Aires, Argentina

The immaculate 13.5-acre cemetery features impressive entrance gates, gargantuan mausoleums and maze-like paths that lead the visitors to an adventure of exploration.

Even though Eva Duarte de Peron is La Recoleta‘s  most famous resident, other tombs like Facundo Quiroga’s (buried standing upright) and the Argentinean politician Sarmiento are impressive too.
However, the real show stealers are the 70 plus feral cats that roam the premises undisturbed and follow the tourists around.

If you are planning to visit in summer with a  heat intolerant kid, you should arrive early as possible since the cemetery doesn’t have shaded areas, and the cement structures make the place feel quite hot.
There are several coffee shops and restaurants across the street. If you need to take a break.
Free  English guided tours are offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11, but you can also print a map off the internet and just walk around.


 Top Five Family-Friendly Cemeteries pere la chaise

Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, France

Located in Paris’ 20th district, Pere Lachaise is the final address for over 300,000 people, including some French and international dignitaries. The most visited grave site by far is Jim Morrison’s of The Doors fame who died at young age of twenty-seven, but the tombstones of painters (Modigliani, Delacroix), writers (Victor Hugo, Oscar Wilde) and musicians (Edith Piaf, Yves Montaigne) are popular too.

The cemetery named after King Louis XIV’s  Jesuit confessor encompasses over 100 acres of cobbled avenues and tree-lined paths weaving around 19th-century monuments, making it one of the more romantic places to stroll in the city of lights.

Additional tips:
Enter by the Gambetta Gate to catch gorgeous city views and walk downhill since the ground is uneven (muddy and slippery on rainy days) and somewhat difficult to negotiate.

There are benches throughout so you can take a break, sit and enjoy a snack and drink of water.
You can tour on your own with a downloaded map from the internet or purchased one from the flower shop by the entrance.
Guided tours are given by City Hall for approx 6 Euros.


 Top Five Family-Friendly Cemeteries NOLA

St  Louis One in New Orleans, Louisiana (U.S.A)

Opened in 1789, St Louis One is the city’s first and best-known cemetery located a short distance from the French Quarter.Like all other New Orleans cemeteries, the tombs are built above ground to prevent the caskets from floating away after the rain storms.

Among the famous locals buried here are Etienne de Boré, pioneer of the sugar industry, Homer Plessy, the plaintiff from the landmark 1896 civil rights lawsuit, NOLA’s first African-American mayor ” Dutch ” Morial and infamous Voodoo priestess Marie Laveau ( believed to be resting in the Glapion family crypt).

Tips :
If your child is temperature sensitive go early in the morning since the cemetery has no real shade or benches to rest.
Forewarn your kids not to comment if they notice strange objects in front of Marie Laveau.
Touring on your own is not especially recommended for the area is a bit sketchy.Guided tours are available.


 Top Five Family-Friendly Cemeteries FOREST lawn

Forest Lawn  Cemetery in  Glendale, California(U.S.A) 

Dr. Hubert Eaton envisioned an uplifting cemetery where people came to remember their loved ones and enjoy art and life. So, he created Forest Lawn -a park filled with towering trees, sweeping lawns, and elegant fountains. But Forest Lawn also boasts a Chapel ( where Ronald and Nancy Reagan were married), and a museum filled with artifacts from around the world.
The museum ‘s permanently exhibit includes an extensive stained glass collection from medieval France and Germany, a bronze sculptures collection, a  wall mosaic depicting the signing of the Declaration of Independence, replicas of the British crown jewels, and even an authentic Easter Island statue nicknamed Henry.The cemetery ‘s residents include many Hollywood icons like Sammy Davis, Clark Gable, and Elizabeth Taylor, but most visitors come to pay homage to the late King of Pop Michael Jackson whose grave site is not even accessible to the general public.
Forest Lawn is by far the most autism-friendly cemetery providing visitors with many different outdoor and indoor options.

For a Do-it-Yourself tour, you need to do some extensive Internet research, especially if you are interested in visiting specific grave sites many of which are not accessible to the public.

Be aware the staff is not helpful or willing to moonlight as tour guides. Guided tours are offered but bundled with visiting other sites in L.A, so you end up spending a limited time in the cemetery.

Have you ever taken your kids to explore a cemetery- how did they like it?




Q&A with Michelle Conover, Neuropsychologist


 How does exposure to new places and experiences contribute to active learning?

With exposure to new experiences or people comes an opportunity for problem solving or communication.
When you are familiar with the person or the place, you have already learned how to navigate the issue, so there is not as much opportunity for further learning. However, when engaging in a new activity, your brain is more “lit up,” as it’s taking in as much information as possible to understand and assimilate into functioning.

What travel activities would you recommend for a person with autism?

  • On any trip, hitting the highlights of any place or country is a good start.
  • Places of interest, like museums, have the value of learning that’s concrete.
  • Observing your new environment is also important. Taking things in by sitting and relaxing is just as important as running around and fitting as many new activities as possible.
  • Trying new things, such as foods, within and outside your interests is also important. Sign up for a tour to gain additional information.
  • Visit other places you would not necessarily visit. For example, if you’re interested in politics, you can seek out the places that match up with your interests such as City Hall. However, make it a point to explore areas outside your interests to get a broader view such as visiting an old bakery or the fashion district. Anything that the brain is unfamiliar with allows for more connections to be established.
  • Participate in events that the local culture values. Connect with local people and see what they’re interested in. Festivals and other social activities are a great way to experience a new culture.

    How can parents keep the learning going after a trip is over?

  • Ask the child about their highlights/points of interest.
    It’s a good idea to ask at the end of the day and also to review once you get back home.
    A good activity to do is to pick the best photos of the trip and make a collage or scrapbook for a keepsake.
  • Once at home, parents can keep doing similar activities with their child.
    For example, if the trip forced you to try new foods, you can continue that at home and try different restaurants or items to eat. Cooking together also can facilitate this learning.
  • If the trip were to a foreign country, parents and children could continue to use the foreign language at home.
    For example, substituting basic words or phrases makes interaction less mechanical and more fun (“Ciao” for goodbye).Also, taking turns and writing out fun questions or phrases in a different language on the chalkboard or paper and having the family members guess the response makes mealtime more fun and interactive.


Traveling with autism sensory enhancing experience or overload?

There are pros and cons to exposure to too much information.
On one hand, sensory overload can cause meltdowns, anxiety, or panic, where the brain is processing too much information and has no way to regulate and thus the negative emotional output of anxiety.
On the other hand, for those who are under-stimulated, that could be a good source of awakening some of the senses. Parents should monitor how the child reacts to a new environment because if it causes a negative response, it can put

Parents should observe how the child responds to a new situation because if it causes a negative response, it can put a damper on the whole trip. Parents should prepare ahead by planning to become involved in new experiences but also plan to take some time to rest and relax in a quiet setting. For the person who doesn’t have enough stimulation, touch upon all senses (sight, sounds, smells, touch, and taste) as often as possible.

Some parents are quite reluctant to take their kids anywhere because of meltdowns-any tips you can share to help them travel more?

Meltdowns occur from different sources, whether it’s due to too much or too little information.
Even boredom can cause anxiety or irritability. You may find your child has poor frustration tolerance because they have to wait in a line or follow a particular protocol they did not expect.

  • Have the plan to implement in the event of a meltdown. For example, review with your child before the trip what is going to happen if a meltdown occurs. This is helpful in that it sets up rules for child and parent.
  • What can help is to give the child a small toy so that they can bring that out if they are feeling frustrated, angry, upset, etc. This little element can inform the parent that a meltdown is on its way without the pressure of finding the words for the feelings.
  • Know the triggers for a meltdown. Such as being cooped up for too long can cause meltdowns. Too much time with the little brother or sister can be distressing. Also, when parents become upset or anxious, the child will take on your anxiety and project it for you. Tip; never argue in front of the kids, save it for when you get to the hotel.
  • Don’t force situations, meaning if you have your itinerary, don’t be so rigid that it can’t change to accommodate. You may end up not seeing a museum you want to go to, but instead sitting by a lake watching the ducks.
  • Establishing a new basic routine prevents meltdowns. The expectation of what is going to happen always puts people at ease. It’s the unknown that we all struggle with.

    What can parents do when their kids on the spectrum misbehave on vacation?

    If your child acted out or behaved poorly, I think it’s important to speak to your child about how “disappointed” you are and that you know they can do better.
    Have expectations for your child and that he/she can do better job next time. Give them opportunities to correct a wrong and accept an apology; don’t hold a grudge.

    You can also take away their toy for the evening to reinforce a loss when they do something they know they shouldn’t be doing. Children with poor memory or attention should be asked to repeat the rules out loud so that they know what is expected of them.

 Successful trips start with careful planning how can parents get their kids to participate?

  • As you create your itinerary, get feedback from your child. Include activities they’re interested in. Even if your child cannot verbalize, but you know they’re interested in dinosaurs or the ocean, you can include relevant activities.
  • You may offer them the chance to make decisions between two museums or give them the opportunity to make a choice regarding what restaurant to eat at.
  • Give them the map and ask them to navigate. Trips to Disneyland or other amusement parks, for example, are a good start since the map is color-coded for easy tracking.

In today’s travel world stress might become an overwhelming factor for some kids- any thoughts on how to help children on the spectrum be less stressed?

  • Pack some of their favorite items such as toys or blanket.
  • If they play video games (coloring books, puzzles, etc.) at home, and they want to bring a pocket video game with them allow them to do that. It can make a long plane ride much more manageable, and also, it can be a real reward for a long day of sightseeing without incident.
  • For some kids, especially with spectrum disorders, a central routine is necessary. Establish a basic routine during travel. For example: get up, have breakfast, talk about plans for the day. This minimizes any anxiety of the unknown.
  • Review issues of safety such as what is the plan if someone gets separated from the group. Also, having a watch on is helpful so that everyone is mindful of the time.
  • Try to include physical activity, if possible. Physical activities help with stress. Consider walking to your destination if it’s a short distance and physically feasible, as this helps with anxiety.

What would you say to parents whose trip turns out a total disaster?

There’s always a positive and negative view of any situation. It’s important to see the good or you will dread family vacations. Also, problem-solve issues as they arise. While you may try to anticipate and plan for everything that can go wrong, you may not be able to do so. Let things go. Attempt to remember that you’re there to have fun. Being open and flexible will allow you to enjoy the short time you have off as a family.




Q&A with Michelle Conover, Ph.D.Neuropsychologist
Dr. Michelle Conover is a licensed psychologist and Q.M.E., trained at Pacifica, Fielding and UCLA.
She specializes in clinical and forensic neuropsychology with special training and experience with traumatic head injury and neurodegenerative diseases.  Dr. Conover has treated individuals with TBI, PTSD, Autism, Asperger’s, ADD/ADHD, learning difficulties, stroke, personality disorder, addiction and other complicating diseases such as Alzheimer’s. As the clinical director and owner of Southern California Neuropsychology Group in Woodland Hills, CA, she provides neuropsychological assessment, cognitive rehabilitation, and neuro-psychotherapy.




The Holiday Travel With Autism Survival Guide

 The winter holidays according to most popular songs and stories are meant to be ‘the most wonderful time of the year’, yet many families with autistic kids dread their yearly arrival.
Some families opt to stay home and celebrate away from their loved ones just to avoid the hassles of traveling with autistic children.The ones who do travel, return home more frustrated than before their so-called holiday vacation.

Having been approached and asked multiple times about the topic, I’ve decided to share my holiday travel with autism survival guide with you, but do bear in mind that since people and circumstances vary not all ideas may not work as well in your household as they do in ours.

The Holiday Travel with Autism Survival Guide


Plan your Holiday Travel Early

Even if you’re the world’s greatest procrastinator, you must plan ahead if you have a child with autism.
Decide where you will be spending your holidays as early in the year as possible, as that will help you organize all the details you need ahead of time.

Choose the quickest method of transportation from your home to wherever you need to be, avoid traveling the day before, the day of, and the day after any holiday when airports, bus /rail stations, and roads get busy with crazed last minute travelers.

Look into booking a hotel room and pass on staying with family or friends, as many autistic kids find crowded homes overwhelming.Along with providing your family with more space to spread belongings and the ability to wake up at your pace hotels are more are convenient when you need extra towels, bedding or that unexpected mattress change after a ‘night accident’.

Consider renting a car, especially if you are in traveling to a suburban area to enhance your independence to come and leave as needed.

Start packing a week ahead

Start packing the weekend before your trip and ask all your family members to help by packing their belongings in colored coded Ziploc bags. The best part about beginning to pack early is that you notice and have time to purchase any items you need for travel.
The color-coded method is efficient since not only eliminates the guess work of whose t-shirts or socks are in each bag but helps promote the independent dressing process every morning.Best of all, it also simplifies doing the laundry when you return home since everyone can wash their items separately.


Prepare your autistic kid with stories and pictures

Use the weekend to prepare your child with autism by sharing holiday stories, traditions and keepsake pictures of past holiday gatherings.
By adding quirky descriptions of people, items and foods you can help get your kid more interested in socializing and participating in holiday customs like trimming the Christmas Tree, or lighting the Menorah.

 Invest in electronic devices

Purchase or rent electronic devices like I- Pads, Nintendo DS or DVD player that are useful in entertaining your kid with autism.
Make sure they work and are fully charged before your trip to prevent problems. It pays to invest in extra batteries and headphones as a backup, in the case of original one’s malfunction, get discharged, break or get lost somehow.

Relax before your trip

Stressed out parents inadvertently lead to stressed out kids that in turn are bound to experience meltdowns, so start your vacation a day early and make sure you relax.
Make the day before your travel your special day and engage in a fun activity like a visit to the spa, a hot bath or a date with friends.The night before you plans to leave put out everybody’s clothes, gadgets, and travel papers to ensure the trip starts hassle free.


Explain your challenges

Ask your friends and family to brainstorm along with you and come up with comfortable solutions to issues that might arise.

In the case of a kid with sensory issues wearing formal clothing might be difficult.You can compromise and let them wear the formalwear for the family portraits but bring an extra an extra set of clothes for him/her to change into after the photography session.
If your child can’t sit for extended periods of time at the dinner table, you can either leave earlier than the rest of the other diners or bring electronic gadgets to engage your child in the next room.Have your host prepare a quiet place your child can go to if they feel overwhelmed and don’t wish to socialize with others.
If your child has food allergies, you should let your hostess know ahead of time and discuss what your child can and cannot eat in detail.You can offer to bring an item or two for them if you can to make your child more comfortable.


Whatever arises, bear in mind no vacation is perfect, next year will be even better and that a couple of years down the road even the worst experiences can be laughed about around the family dinner table!

Inn at Harbor Town Hilton Head

      The greatness of a five-star establishment lies in its ability to modify itself to the needs of its different patrons, and its never-ending capacity to solve any issues that hamper planned stays. The Inn at the Harbor Town, Sea Pines Hilton Head fits this description to perfection.
Inn at Harbor Town Hilton Head bellman

The service


We have stayed at this amazing property, several years in a row always enjoying the wonderful hospitality. This year we unexpectedly encountered some unforeseen ‘glitches’.
It started with arriving at a balcony street facing room after I specifically requested a quiet room, continuing with getting our booking dates wrong and culminating with various minor room malfunctions.

The front desk managers, Sarah, and Andrew , were on top of the situations and solved them patiently and graciously.Moreover, all staff was enthusiastic and helpful.  I had the opportunity to speak the hotel manager Attila, who assured me that he and his team would go the extra mile to work with families of special needs persons, including offering those rooms facing the golf course with a large window, which we got instead of the noisier balcony one. He also said he would look into my suggestion of other child proofing the rooms and teaching his staff to become more autistic aware.
Inn at Harbor Town Hilton Head Island drinks

 The hotel is cozy, sixty-five rooms in all, about five hundred square feet each, built about ten years ago on the southern side of Hilton Head Island, as part of the Sea Pines Resort Plantation.

Fellow guests include business people that come to attend conferences as well as families who come to enjoy the beach.
The property is meticulously decorated in a colonial style with beautifully carved last century wooden furniture. The inviting lobby has multiple comfortable seating areas, a library, complete with TV and computer access, as well as manicured shaded patio areas featuring fountains, lawns, and walkways. The careful attention to details is evident throughout the resort and can be seen from the moment you arrive and are welcomed by the bellman dressed in a Scottish quilt even on the humid hot summer days. One can find fresh refreshments like coffee, lemonades, and cold water all day long in the lobby.

Inn at Harbor Town Hilton Head Island lobby 

Our Room

Our room had two queen beds, a lounge chair, and two sitting chairs as well as a desk and a flat-screen TV on top of a spacious dresser. Our bathroom, all marble, offered both a shower as well a separate sunken tub, rather oversized vanity and commode.

The property has two restaurants that serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, but visitors can go to the neighboring resorts for more selections.

Inn at Harbor Town Hilton Head beds 
The best time to visit late spring and early summer, especially for families with younger kids including those with autism.
The soft sandy beach alongside the shallow almost waves free fewer waters are a winning combination for many ocean fearing persons or sand loathing ones. Our son, riddled with sensory issues fell in love with swimming and now tolerates walks on the beach.

Hilton Head offers many other outdoor activities guests can try like kayaking, biking, horseback riding to dolphin or alligator watching cruises.

Autism Travel Tips

  • Request a quiet room with no balcony facing the golf course and not the tennis courts.
  • Bring your night light and bath mat.
  • Check out the free kids activities offered on selected days.


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