Our Tips for Minimizing Travel Anxiety with Autism

 

Our Tips for Minimizing Travel Anxiety with Autism pin

As a parent or caregiver, we are always looking for ways to minimize travel anxiety. The best way to do that is to identify one’s child’s anxiety triggers before, during and after travel and then seek to find suitable accommodations or solutions to eliminate these triggers.   Here are some factors and questions to consider before booking the next family trip.

Our Tips for Minimizing Travel Anxiety with Autism chair

Daily Schedule

Generally speaking, people with autism find adhering to routines comforting, and they resist changes of any kind. Parents should over their regular schedule, ask what they will be missing while they are gone, and consider accommodations to help them adjust.

What Will They Hate to Miss While They’re Gone?

Ask your kids ahead of time whether there is anything they will miss while they were gone. If it is things like homework or a favorite TV show, parents can make arrangements to get it to them via e-mail or online.

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Are They Used to Dining at a Specific Time or Eating Specific Foods?

This one is a bit trickier, especially when traveling across time zones. Parents should carry snacks for kids. They should also try to plan meal times similar to the ones they are used to.

Our Tips for Minimizing Travel Anxiety with Autism

Sensory Overload

Since every child is different and those on the autism spectrum have varied responses, the parent or caregiver needs to determine the specific triggers for their child.

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Do Certain Smells Bother Your Child?

Parents should make sure seats on the airplane are away from toilets or galleys. Dining in ethnic restaurants or visiting attractions that involve animals like zoos, farms, and even Disney’s the Animal Kingdom might not be the ideal place for children with smell sensitivities.

Does Your Child React Adversely to Certain Lighting?

Parents should call up any shows or attractions to check what lights they use and choose to avoid going there or not accordingly.

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Is Your Child Sensitive to Noise?

Parents can pack a set of noise-canceling headphones to use at theme parks and during fire drills. Also, they can map out quiet places in theme parks and request a quiet room in hotels and airports if they are available.

Does Your Child Have Temperature Sensitivities?

Some children are incredibly temperature sensitive and can’t tolerate heat, direct sun or wind blowing on them for prolonged periods of time. Parents can pack items like umbrellas or fans to help children cope.

How Does Your Child Cope with Crowds?

If crowds distress them, parents might want to take advantage of the airport lounge or avoid visiting a theme park on weekends and holidays.

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Is Your Child Comfortable with People Touching Them or Their Belongings?

Parents should notify the TSA agent ahead of time of their child’s diagnosis and have a doctor’s note ready for any problems that may arise.

What Clothing is Your Child Comfortable Wearing?

Many kids on the spectrum aren’t able to wear certain types of clothes like button-down collar shirts or long pants. This fact might be problematic in some locations where a specific dress is required such as in restaurants or formal nights on cruise ships. Most places unless it is a formal gala will forgo the dress requirement if parents call in advance explain the situation. Parents should pack clothing that kids have worn before and found familiar.

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Can Your Child be Confined to a Small Space for Long Periods of Time?

Parents should plan on splitting the flight into shorter segments or taking longer breaks during a road trip to accommodate kids.

Navigating the Unfamiliar

Children with autism need to feel that they are in control of their environment. Unfamiliar surroundings frighten them and stress them out.

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Are They Used to Sharing a Common Space?

Parents should consider their child’s familiarity with sharing common spaces when booking lodging, as conflict might arise.

Is Your Child Used to Sleeping in an Unfamiliar Bed or Room?

If kids have never slept anywhere else but their room they might become anxious when they travel, especially the first time. Parents should try to get them used to different environments by having them sleep at a friend’s or family member’s house first. Moreover, In additionparents should also pack their favorite toy and blanket to help them adjust to new places.

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Is Your Child Comfortable Sitting Next to Strangers?

Parents should opt to book window or aisle seats on planes and trains for their child. That way, they can sit next to a family member or caregiver instead of strangers.

Does Your Child Fear Parental Separation?

Most children have separation anxiety whether on the autism spectrum or not. Parents of children who are verbally communicative should teach them to identify staff and ask them for help whAlso, equipping the kids with a phone or walkie-talkie in advised.

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If they are not verbal, parents should have them wear a special tag on their clothing or a GPS device that can help track their exact location if they wander off.

Degree of Flexibility

Many children on the autism spectrum are obsessed with certain habits and show inflexibility when parents try you change them. Parents should try to work with them and accommodate their needs rather than stress them out and risk a meltdown.

How Well Does Your Child Transition?

Parents of children who have difficulty with transitioning between activities or are obsessed with being punctual should allocate enough time to reach places.
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How Does Your Child React to Schedule Changes?

Parents should research their travel plans thoroughly at booking and before actual travel. That way, sudden changes to schedule don’t catch anyone by surprise. Moreover, they should check both flight schedules, and theme park rides the day of travel since plans can change last minute.

How Does Your Child Cope with Standing in Line?

Whether it is waiting in lines to board a flight or lines in the public restrooms; waiting for a table in restaurants, or even waiting for their food, children with autism seem to have a problem with occupying themselves during free time and that in turn stresses them out. Parents should inquire ahead of time for line accommodations to avoid waits wherever possible. They should remember to bring entertainment like coloring books, building blocks or cards to occupy them.

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How Successfully Can Your Child Follow Directions and Rules?

The ability for a child to follow direction affect many aspects of travel like buckling up seat belts, using a public swimming pool and visiting theme parks. Parents of children who experience difficulties with these tasks should stay in close range at all times to provide cues.

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The most important thing is for parents to be available and willing to discuss situations with children and prepare them ahead of time. Knowing that someone is there for them is the most reassuring thing kids can have, and a comfort for when they are feeling fears and anxiety.

Clothing Tips for Taking Kids with Autism to Disney World

Clothing Tips for Taking Kids with Autism to Disney World pin

Unknown to many, clothing choices can be quite important for a theme park visit. For those who deal with sensory issues, clothing can make a day visit unpleasant and lead to meltdowns. Here are our tips for making good clothing choices for Walt Disney World.

Clothing Tips When Taking Kids with Autism to Disney World train

Shoes

Visiting Walt Disney World involves a lot of walking throughout the four large parks. Even groups who set themselves to one park a day can expect a lot of walking. Also, the parks have areas with water attractions, and Florida often has lots of afternoon showers. As a result, the ground frequently gets slippery, which can be dangerous for kids running around.

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Non-slip shoes, like crocs, are essential. Parents can use fabric on/off shoes for the best results. Everyone in the family should avoid flip-flops, heels, or wedges. They should especially avoid leather or suede shoes, as they can get ruined by rain and shrink.

Pants

Choice of pants is of particular importance for those who want to go on the water attractions. Thick denim pants will not dry out easily, leaving kids with wet denim sticking to their legs for the duration of the trip.

Clothing Tips When Taking Kids with Autism to Disney World water

The best option is pants made of thin, lightweight material that quickly dries. Parents can find pants like these in most travel and camping stores. Alternatively, parents can bring a change of clothes for their kids.

Colors

Bring colors that stick out in a crowd is best, especially for little kids. Parks get crowded, and kids can easily slip away. In this situation, he or she would be easier to find if they’re wearing, for example, a bright orange jacket.

Clothing Tips When Taking Kids with Autism to Disney World car

Ponchos

As we mentioned before, at Walt Disney World it frequently rains in the afternoon. Ponchos are the best option for people who don’t want to have to stay indoors for the two to four hours these afternoon rains last.

Long ponchos are best, and parents can either bring them from home or buy them from the parks. We like buying them from the parks because they double as an excellent souvenir for kids to get from Disney. We suggest not buying expensive ponchos since ponchos are an item that one can easily lose. Also, if someone forgets their poncho in a bag, these expensive ponchos can develop mildew.

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For the most budget friendly option, parents can buy a one time use poncho from the dollar store.

Jacket

Easy to dry, thin jackets are best for theme parks. The jacket should preferably have a hood that it easy to take off. The jacket should also zip, not button.

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While it may seem like a good option, parents shouldn’t take heavy coats. The kids are not going to be wearing them the entire time, and nobody wants to walk around with a jacket all day for miles.

Pockets

Clothes with multiple pockets are always helpful. Parents and kids can either wear cargo pants or a jacket with many pockets. There’s a lot of knick knacks that parents will want to store, such as phones, wires, wallets, and small water bottles.

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Expensive or favorite items

Parents and kids should not bring expensive clothing or items into the parks for many reasons. These items can get snagged on rides, lost, or stained by food items. Jackets can especially get easily lost or misplaced between attractions.

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Bags

While tempting, parents shouldn’t bring large bags into the park. Many of the rides will not allow riders to carry large bags. And dragging these bags through the park gets tiring quickly.

Instead, parents should either wear clothing with lots of pockets or wear a fanny pack for small items.

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Tight fitting

Mini skirts and tight pants might be fashionable, but they’re not optimal theme park attire. Being confined in tight clothes for an entire day can be challenging to many.

Clothing Tips When Taking Kids with Autism to Disney World building

Loose fitting cotton clothes that breath are best for these environments. Dressing in layers is also crucial since the temperature can be highly variable throughout the day.

Costumes

Although the idea of letting the little one walk around in a princess dress might seem fun, having kids dress up in costumes is not the best idea.

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The costumes are often pricey and can easily get ruined in a theme park environment. In some cases, the costumes are long, such as with princess dresses or capes, and can get caught in ride mechanisms or doors.

After reading our tips it is your turn to chime in! What are your clothing tips when visiting the theme parks?

Common Cruising Misconceptions for Parents of Kids with Autism

Common Cruising Misconceptions for Parents of Kids with Autism pin

Traveling parents of children with autism often have many concerns over cruising. However, many common concerns are either unfounded or easily remedied. Here are some cruising concerns we frequently hear about and how families can navigate them and enjoy cruising.

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Cabin is too Small for my Child

The average inside cabins encompass about 160 square feet, so it is no surprise that they can feel a bit claustrophobic. However, there are options on the bigger and more modern ships for larger family style cabins or two connecting inside cabins. These options provide much more space for families.

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Balcony cabins aren’t recommended for most special needs families due to safety reasons, especially for younger kids with autism who don’t have an understanding of danger.

My Kids is a Picky Eater and on a Special Diet

Nowadays cruise lines do a great job of accommodating everybody’s needs. The dining areas now frequently offer gluten-free and low-salt items. Most restaurants offer vegan items as well. Parents can sometimes request a particular dish, especially in the main dining room at night.

Common Cruising Misconceptions for Parents of Kids with Autism dining

Ships are Too Crowded

Many times we hear that people don’t like the big ships, especially the larger ones that have 4000 people on them. However, parents should remember that 4000 people are never in the same place at once. People do different activities in different parts of the ship, and since the ship is large, there are many activities spread out in various areas.

Common Cruising Misconceptions for Parents of Kids with Autism ship

Parents of children with autism can request accommodations during boarding or disembarkation. That way, families won’t ever have to face the crowds. There are quiet areas and even serenity decks on some ships so finding a quiet or uncrowded area is as easy as asking a cruise director or purser for suggestions.

We Might Hear Nasty Remarks

All parents of kids with autism face nasty comments at a particular point in their lives. Our best advice would be for parents to ignore them. If they are rude or even insulting, then there’s not much to say to the offending person except to either just ignore what they said, move to another area or perhaps pass out informational cards on autism.

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If somebody asks questions, this would be a great opportunity for parents to educate others about autism. Such a situation has the potential to be a great thing because parents can raise autism awareness and help the autism community.

Activities are Unsuitable

On older ships, this used to be a problem because all the events meant either coloring in the kids club or sitting drinking a beer and playing bingo or trivia. That is no longer the case nowadays as the ships are filled with activities. On Norwegian cruise line, kids can enjoy a rope course. There are shows and parties for everyone in the family to enjoy. Parents can take their children to classes on cupcake decorating, dancing, cooking, photography, or computer programming.

Common Cruising Misconceptions for Parents of Kids with Autism limes

As an example, RCCL recently teamed with DreamWorks and NCL with Nickelodeon. Therefore, there are now character breakfasts, parades, and other themed activities.

If some things aren’t comfortable for them, kids can still either use the pool or watch TV. A lot of the cruise lines show kids movies at the pool or kids clubs. Some even have theaters. Of course, if all else fails, most of the modern ships have WiFi. A lot of the new ships also have Nintendo and other electronic games. Whenever parents come on board, they can just communicate their needs to the activities manager or the youth director.

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Cruise Ships are Dangerous for Our Child

Once in a while, we hear from parents concerned about safety on ships. These are colossal ships, especially the newer ones with 4000 people.

First, parents should not get a balcony cabin. As romantic as it sounds, unless the kid knows not to lean on ledges or overboard then parents much better off in an inside cabin.

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Parents should bear in mind that the pools on the cruise ships do not have lifeguards. Parents of children who wander off should choose a cabin away from pools, places with water, and elevators.

Cruise ships don’t have supervision except for a few safety officers. Parents should go to them if their child goes missing. They have procedures and can start looking for a lost child immediately.

Common Cruising Misconceptions for Parents of Kids with Autism

We Won’t be Relaxed

Most of us want to go on vacation and relax. However, parents of children with autism might worry they will have to be hyper vigilant at all times. Kids will likely be excited to be on the cruise ship and maybe want to explore. Meanwhile, parents will want to get a massage or at least sit by the pool.

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Parents should think of either teaming up with another family member to help watch the kids or bring a caregiver. They could even team up with several other parents of children with autism and take turns, especially during the activities.

Cruises are too Expensive

Pricing is a factor for many people going on cruises, especially the modern crew ships with the endless activities. Families should seek bargains at every opportunity.

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We recommend traveling off-season for many reasons. There are fewer guests on board and families will get more personalized attention. The silver lining to going off-season is the fact that the prices can be almost 50% off compared to the summers or holidays.

Cruises are too Long

The average cruise is seven days for most first timers. Parents of children who react adversely to changes might want to consider a shorter journey. These shorter cruises of three to five days can be hard to find, but they do exist. We recommend starting with these to get children acclimated to cruising. Then if they enjoy themselves, parents can always book a longer cruise later.cruises of three to five days can be hard to find, but they do exist. We recommend starting with these to get children acclimated to cruising. Then if they enjoy themselves, parents can always book a longer cruise later.

 

 

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Have you taken a cruise with your special needs kid? What was your experience?

Attending a Flamenco Show with Children with Autism

Attending a Flamenco Show with Children with Autism pin

 


Hello Margalit,

My name is Dondria, and I’m from New Orleans, Louisiana.
We are traveling to Madrid, Spain next month and my husband, and I were trying to decide on something. Our twin fourteen-year-old sons have autism. We have taken them places and done road-trips, and they have flown before, and we survived.
Now for this trip, they are older, and we think they will be able to cope even better. We were wondering whether we should take them to a Flamenco show or not since everybody that I spoke to seems to recommend it. Have you been to Spain? Did you go to a Flamenco show? I know so little about that country and the shows so I was hoping you could give me some tips and pointers.

Thanks in advance,

Dondria

Dear Dondria,

I’m so excited for you.
There is so much to see and do in Spain so be sure to read our posts. With the increase in the interest and popularity of Flamenco recently, there has been a new awakening to this art and dance form. About five years ago, it was declared to be one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. In fact, there are dance academies dedicated to teaching Flamenco all over the world.

Because of this, I have to agree with your friends. If you are going to be in Spain, you should try to go to a Flamenco show. It is authentic and a real cultural experience at the place where it all began.
I will share what I know and one of my personal experiences so it will be easier for you to make an informed decision regarding taking your sons along.

 

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Booking and Length of Time

As you can imagine, Flamenco shows are very popular with tourists visiting Spain – in particular for the first time.
Flamenco shows typically happen during the evenings and can last anywhere between two to four hours depending on if they include a dinner. The best show need to be booked ahead otherwise you will struggle to get in, especially during the holiday season.
I’m glad you mentioned the age of your boys since shows like that are not necessarily recommended for children younger than the age of 10.

Specific Autism Concerns

With that said, though, taking children with autism to shows, may prove quite challenging. Scheduling can prove to be difficult since no parent can know for sure how their child is going to feel on that day.

Given the nature of the performance, the show can be quite loud. You should consider this if one or both of your sons has any sensitivity to noise.

The shows can be quite pricey anywhere between 50 to 100 euros. You don’t want to unnecessarily waste that money by not attending as planned or by leaving because your children are overwhelmed by the sensory experience.

Another issue is the fact that many of the most up-scale venues require a dress code. This fact can be a difficulty with a person who has sensory problems and might not be comfortable wearing button-down shirts or even a jacket.

One of the shows we attended was four hours long.! The venue had very few food choices coupled with uncomfortable seating close to the dancers. The room itself was also somewhat crowded and dark. The tables were placed close together forcing people to sit close to one another. It was almost impossible to move or get up to take a break.

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Recommendations

Here are my recommendations for if you DO  decide to take your children.

Explain to them in advance what Flamenco is all about. You could show them a few clips on YouTube so that they can get an idea of what to expect.

Get a table that is not too close to the stage so that the experience is not as intense. Also, if you do have to leave early, it is easier and less disruptive to move.

Plan to go to one of the shorter shows. If they can sit through a movie, they will be able to sit through a shorter Flamenco performance.

Have a meal before attending the show. This way, the kids won’t get hungry or deal with food that they don’t want to or can’t eat.

I hope you have a wonderful time of making memories and that this will be the first of many good experiences for your boys.

Margalit

 

 

 

 

How Travel Helped with My Child’s Sensory Challenges

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Many parents to kids with autism cringe at the mere thought of traveling with their kids. They focus on how the kids’ routine will be altered which will lead to heightened anxiety and meltdowns. However, that may not always be the case. Traveling could also not only help educate kids but assist them in many unforeseen ways. For our son with autism, we found regular travel has benefited him with his sensory challenges as well as life skills. To encourage other parents to try traveling with their kids we decided to share some of the ways travel helped our son with autism.

Walking on the Beach

Our son dealt with many sensory issues when it came to beach trips. We decided to take a compulsory beach vacation every year to get him acclimated to swimming. It wasn’t easy the first time he had to walk on the sand! It was in Tulum, Mexico. Initially, he cursed, screamed, and stopped every minute to clean his shoes of sand and debris. We slowly worked on his sensory issues and eventually the persistence paid off for him and us.
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Feeling Confident to Swim

Our son reacted similarly to water every time we encouraged him to swim. Though our son knew how to swim, he had to be thrown into the pool every year to re-familiarize him with water.

The breakthrough came in Ixtapa, Mexico when he had to swim in a deep pool to play with dolphins during a dolphin experience. He first panicked and held on to the side rails not wanting to let go at any cost. We pointed out that he could try holding on to his life jacket instead (just to give him some confidence) and it worked well. Soon he played with the dolphins and forgot he was in deep water.
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Masks on His Face

Like many other kids with autism or sensory integration disorder problems, our son did not agree to wear anything on his face for a long time. This fact finally changed when we started visiting the Caribbean Islands, and he saw his dad and brother snorkeling.

The first year he opted not to wear any mask on his face and therefore he couldn’t go snorkeling. The following year he asked to try and go snorkeling in the open sea. This year, after experiencing Seatrek, he asked if he could take scuba diving lessons. So over time we gained a lot of ground, but it did take a lot of time and patience.

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Wearing Hats and Mittens

Our son is particularly temperature sensitive and for many years refused to wear any jacket or even long sleeves. It was quite a challenge to travel with him during winter months. On some trips when the temperature frequently dropped below zero, it was especially difficult.

We’re glad to say that nowadays he has gotten used to wearing coats, hats, and even mittens. This fact makes it easier for all of us to travel to many places with colder climates.

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Tolerating New Smells

Tolerating smells was exceptionally hard for our son in Asia since many of the dishes use pungent spices that our son had never smelled before. Like everything else, we focused on exposure and desensitization in small increments. So now when he experienced a  new odor, he wants to explore and discover what it is rather than try to avoid it.

 

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Tolerating Noises

Tolerating noises has been one of our top issues while traveling. It was especially challenging whenever we stayed in hotels or on cruise ships. After a decade of traveling it is only recently that he has gotten better about falling asleep even if he hears minor noises that he’s not used to.

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Touched by Strangers

As frequent travelers, we pass through airports at least once a month, so the TSA was an ongoing issue for our son. Even though we always explained his diagnosis to the agents, it became exceedingly difficult. We ended up getting the Global Entry pass to help him with his anxiety. This year the breakthrough we were waiting for came.Our son now reacts better to strangers touching him, if necessary, not only at the TSA but in other public places where crowds are typical. These areas include theme parks, museums, malls, and in particular countries where proximity between people is the norm.

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Crowds

As a rule of thumb, we have tried the best we could to avoid going to places that have crowds. However, sometimes it is unavoidable. We’re happy to say that although our son is far from being comfortable in a group, he is now handling it much better.

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Lines

When we first started traveling as a family, standing in a line, even a short one, was pretty much an impossibility. With time this has become a little bit better. Nowadays we can stay in line for up to twenty minutes, especially if it is for an item or attraction in which our son has an interest.He sat in the sweltering sun for over half an hour to get the coveted autograph of a character in Hogsmeade.

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Trying New Foods and Textures

Like many other kids growing up, our son preferred fast food items to regular food. However, all that changed once we started traveling and he got introduced to new dishes in the various countries we visited. Now our son is probably the most adventurous eater out of the entire family. Our son always wants to sample new items that even we, his parents, and other seasoned travelers might find a bit unappealing.

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Travel is a great way for kids with autism to get exposed to new sensations. It is also a great way for parents to help teach kids how to handle certain situations. Parents need to focus on the big picture without short-term setbacks discouraging them. Bottom line, persistence pays for both parents and their children, particularly when they have special needs.

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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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Planning

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.

Tips to Booking Guided Tours for Families with Autism train

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.

Tips to Booking Guided Tours for Families with Autism stairs

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.

Tips to Booking Guided Tours for Families with Autism seat

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.

Tips to Booking Guided Tours for Families with Autism rail

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.

Tips to Booking Guided Tours for Families with Autism menu

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.

Tips to Booking Guided Tours for Families with Autism arch

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.

Tips to Booking Guided Tours for Families with Autism street

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.

Tips to Booking Guided Tours for Families with Autism bus

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.

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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?

 

Six Tips for Traveling in South America with Family

Six Tips for Traveling in South America with Family pin

South America is a fascinating continent to visit especially for families from Europe and the States. Although most of the South American population originates from Europe and has similar traditions like the United States and European countries, we as Americans did notice some things that were surprisingly different. Here are six main things we suggest those traveling to South America should watch out for when visiting with family.

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Recycled Plastic Water Bottles

Some countries like Uruguay recycle bottles multiple times. This fact is great for the environment but less for the customers since after a while the bottles don’t open well. When we bought a bottle and could not pry it open even after hitting it against a tree, the vendor did not want to replace it. We ended up throwing it in the trash. Parents should open any water bottles they plan to buy in the store before they finalize payment to avoid paying for a faulty product.

Six Tips for Traveling in South America with Family bottles

“Weeds” Everywhere

Many places in South America do not garden the same way as in European or North American locations. Plants in many areas are allowed to grow freely and untrimmed, even in city parks and urban areas. As a result, travelers need to be aware of cracked sidewalks due to tree roots and weeds everywhere. There is also a risk of allergies, especially during the spring season. Parents should pack plenty of allergy medication, especially if anyone in the family suffers from allergies to plant pollen.
Six Tips for Traveling in South America with Family weeds

Cabs

Cab drivers in many countries often overcharge their customers when they realize they are tourists. Cabbies can take passengers for a long unnecessary ride to beef up the meter cost, as many tourists don’t know the area. They will also use the tourist’s ignorance to their advantage by switching between the Argentinian and Uruguay dollar. Parents should negotiate a fixed price for their taxi, especially if their driver either doesn’t have a meter or refuses to turn it on during the trip.

 

Six Tips for Traveling in South America with Family cabs

Pickpocketing

Old-fashioned pickpocketing has taken a different turn in places like the Argentinian capital Buenos Aires. There, thieves work their act in pairs. One person spills some form of liquid on the victim while the second jumps to help them wipe it off. In all that hoopla, the victim’s wallet magically disappears.

The best thing is for parents to wear a money belt under their clothes. This way, the money is not readily available to quick hands. They should also bring along another set of clothes to change into on a day trip, so they don’t have to stay in dirty clothes for the rest of the day. Also, travel vests like scottevest can be helpful and safe and offer hidden inside pockets to keep passports and wallets or cash.

Six Tips for Traveling in South America with Family train

Peddlers Walking on Freeways

The first time we visited Rio de Janeiro, it shocked us to see sellers walking freely along the freeways, sometimes in the middle of the highway, selling merchandise. Especially during rush hour time when the roads get congested and the traffic stalls, this can be quite unnerving. According to a friend of ours, this is pretty much standard practice.

Those planning to drive in certain countries in South America should prepare themselves to not only see things like that but to make sure that all doors are locked, and the family remains safe in the car with valuables out of sight. They should also be careful when driving to make sure they don’t accidentally hit a pedestrian on the freeway, a risk that travelers from the United States often don’t need to consider.

Six Tips for Traveling in South America with Family peddlars

Torn Banknotes

Most tourists travel nowadays using a combination of credit cards and cash since the era of traveler’s checks is coming to a close. Unfortunately, the majority of visitors don’t know that torn bills of any sort, especially American dollars, will not be accepted in most stores. Parents need to take only crisp and untattered bills and make sure that they lay flat in the money belt.

 

Have you visited any of the South American countries lately? Do you have any tips to share with our readers?

 

Tips for Families Cruising with Autism

Tips for First Time Families Cruising with Autism pin

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.

Thanks,

Marco Di Carlo
Baltimore

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.

Tips for First Time Families Cruising with Autism port

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.

Tips for First Time Families Cruising with Autism water
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.

Tips for First Time Families Cruising with Autism pool side

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.

Tips for First Time Families Cruising with Autism towel

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.

Tips for First Time Families Cruising with Autism quad

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.

Tips for First Time Families Cruising with Autism director

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.

Tips for First Time Families Cruising with Autism food

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.

Tips for First Time Families Cruising with Autism show

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.

Tips for First Time Families Cruising with Autism golf

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.
Tips for First Time Families Cruising with Autism arcade

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.
Tips for First Time Families Cruising with Autism show

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.

Tips for First Time Families Cruising with Autism club
I wish you a fantastic first-time family cruise! Bon Voyage!

 

Tips for Choosing Hotels for Families with Autism

HOTEL TIPS PIN

 

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.

Choosing a Hotel when Traveling with Autism minions

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.

Choosing a Hotel when Traveling with Autism beach

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.

Choosing a Hotel when Traveling with Autism water

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.

Choosing a Hotel when Traveling with Autism food

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.

Choosing a Hotel when Traveling with Autism chair

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.

Choosing a Hotel when Traveling with Autism soap

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.

Choosing a Hotel when Traveling with Autism pans

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

Choosing a Hotel when Traveling with Autism bed

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.

Choosing a Hotel when Traveling with Autism disney

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

Choosing a Hotel when Traveling with Autism shower

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.

Choosing a Hotel when Traveling with Autism bed

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.

 

 

Choosing a Hotel when Traveling with Autism room

 

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.

 

 

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