Holiday Travel, Disneyland, and Autism: Avoiding the Meltdown For My Son

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The Holidays are stressful, to say the least.  There are lots of people you don't normally see during the year that visit and occasionally stay, there are shopping trips, decorating chores, moving furniture, and big stints in the kitchen cooking meals and lots of fatty goodness.  All this extra stimulation is compounded when traveling. 

Now, I love to travel, as does my wife.  We spent a lot of time on the road, and both of us have flown enough times to know that the flight and a long haul on the road can be stressful for everyone.  That goes especially for those children with Autism. 

Now, this is not meant to be the one answer for all children with Autism, as each one is different.  This is what works for my son, so I thought I would share it.  If it's any help for anyone else, by all means, you are welcome to it.  But if your son doesn't respond to this type of travel or these travel tips, hopefully it will help you identify what might help. 

We have taken my son on both an airplane and in the car to San Diego, and he has handled both methods with stellar success.  It all comes down to how we get him to focus his mind, and how to keep his attention on those things he can control so he doesn't have to worry about those things he can't control. 

First off, we find A toy, not many toys, that he likes and will use the longest.  In the past this has been the water pen and tablet tools, or the magnetic stylus and slates.  Both are great because he can practice his letters and numbers, work on his writing, and it keeps his mind off the close quarters of both the car and plane.  Now we use the iPod Touch and the various apps he likes on that.  It's like having 20 different toys for him in one location, and each application we have for him is geared to help him learn something. 

Next, we have some snacks for him, usually fruit snacks.  Anything he will eat is fine, and he loves fruit snacks as a finger food (cottage cheese gets a little messy ^_^).  Finally, we make sure he is comfortable.  We sit with him, talk him through the experience, and walk him through each step as it comes up so he is prepared with what he needs. 

Now, Autism and Airlines have not gotten along in the past.  Southwest infamously forced a family with an autistic child off their planes and stranded them.  And people can be very, um, intolerant with children in general.  As such my wife and I have seen flying as a second option over driving. 

So we purchased a large enough vehicle to fit the family and a few extras for luggage, toys, food, etc.  I'm not saying it will work best for you, but it may work overall.  If you drive, keep in mind that children need to get out and stretch their legs.  Don't eat through the drive-through, but rather get out and eat if you can.  If you can't eat at the establishment you chose, look for a city park or something similar and have a picnic.  The exercise and open spaces can help reduce the stress of close quarters for long periods of time. 

As an example, my wife and I spent the last week in California at Disneyland and in San Diego.  We chose to drive, as we have a very fuel efficient vehicle for it's size.  It took us 12 hours to drive from Salt Lake City to Anaheim with all the stops for eating, changing the kids, and letting them run around for exercise. 

Disneyland was great, particularly because of a special pass available for anyone who is unable to stand in long lines for long periods of time.  It's called an assistance pass, and was definitely helpful for our son.  Instead of waiting for 40+ minutes in line, we were able to go right up to the ride.  For those rides with Fast Passes, it would work as a fast pass.  For those rides without a fast pass (i.e., the new Finding Nemo ride), we would enter through the accessibility entrance, and get placed as soon as possible. 

To get the pass, enter City Hall there at Main Street, and explain the disability your child has, and what would happen if they were to wait in long lines.  The distribution of the pass is not based on disabilities, but rather the results of the disabilities when waiting in long lines.  If you do get one, though, don't abuse it!  We want this pass to remain available for all children with Autism, so make sure you use it judiciously.  We chose to use it only on a select few rides, as our son could manage a 20 minute wait (just not 25, it turned out). 

Well, I hope this ends up being helpful.  If anyone else has any good recommendations that you don't see listed, feel free to post them!