Shall We Vacation?

Ah, you can see it now. The sand between your toes, the sun on your face, and the smell of the ocean filling your nostrils. The perfect vacation is just days away. This vision is something many families have in their heads this summer. Planning and enjoying a vacation can be a bit more complicated for those of us who are on the autism spectrum or have a family member who is. I must say, the uncertainty I’ve faced on vacations since I was a child has always been anxiety-inducing. I’m someone who needs to know what’s happening next and what the plan is for the day to feel relaxed. I can remember going on mission trips with the church and my leaders rolling their eyes in agitation when I would ask where we were going to volunteer next. There was no easy way to communicate that I needed to know to feel calm and at peace. I’m sure to the adults around me it felt like I was just asking too many questions. In the spirit of making the experiences of travel and vacation more relaxing for those who face similar challenges, I’d like to offer some tips that can make summer vacations a better experience for everyone involved.

1.       Include us in the planning phase. I had lots of ideas for where we could go on vacation as a kid, sure most of the places included mountains and no beaches, but I thought the ideas were fantastic! Even if you can’t plan the vacation where you want to go, it feels good to be asked what you would like to do.

2.       Go over the accommodations and sleeping arrangements. Not knowing where I was going to sleep on vacations was unsettling for me as a child and is unsettling for me now that I’m in my mid-twenties. If where you’re staying has photos, share them with your family. Explain where everyone will sleep. This will lead to fewer questions and less anxiety later.

3.       Explain the mode of transportation if it’s new. The best example I can think of is if your young family member is flying for the first time, explain what they can expect. It would be a great idea to find a youtube video that shows the proper procedure for boarding a plane. Give them a heads up about their ears popping as the air pressure changes. Bring gum for them and yourself to chew. The more information, the better.

4.       Tell your family member who’s going to be on the vacation. I get overwhelmed with large numbers of people easily on the best of days. I love seeing my large extended family; I just like to know what to expect so I can plan. Is Grandma joining you for a few days? Is Cousin Ted spending the whole week? Plans change but giving a rough outline of what your family member can expect on the company front will be appreciated.

5.       Provide options activity-wise. Not everyone is going to like every activity on a vacation. Those of us with sensory issues tend to like activities that can provide downtime after a high sensory activity. Letting us pick some of what we’re doing on vacation helps us feel empowered to self-soothe and regulate. It also helps us to understand that we’re valued, and you want us to have a relaxing vacation too.

6.       Provide options food and beverage wise. Those of us with ASD can be picky when it comes to food. If you know where your family would like to eat, let us know ahead of time. This way we can make sure that there’s something on the menu we’re able to eat and we feel prepared. It would also be a good idea to bring snacks and beverages that are “safe” for the neurodivergent individual. If you’re driving, bring their favorite soda or tea. If you’re traveling by plane, try to bring your favorite tea bags or coffee in your carry-on to have on the trip. 

7.       It’s okay if we opt out of some activities. I hated always being encouraged to participate in activities just because my siblings were. It’s great my siblings want to go walking on the beach. I would love it too if I could tolerate the texture of sand.

In closing, I want to encourage parents, children, and other family members not to give up on traveling with your family member who is neurodivergent. Activities might need to be adapted for us to feel safe and comfortable, but we want to be included. I cannot tell you how many activities on vacations I’ve opted out of because the anxiety leading up to doing said activity was too great. Walking and working alongside us to help you and me have the best vacation possible allow us to not feel alone. To my peers, younger and older, it’s okay to advocate for yourself. Accommodations might not always be possible but if you don’t ask you won’t know. You deserve to enjoy your trip and vacations just like every other member of your family. It might take a bit more planning, but you can find ways to enjoy and relax. 

It took me a long time to learn how to enjoy vacations. It took my family a long time to understand how to best support me. They understand if I need more downtime to recoup and that if I don’t do every activity with them, I still want to spend time with them, I just need rest. The time I do spend with them is richer and more rewarding. My parents communicate what can be expected. I’m grateful for all the support they’ve given me and that we can now vacation together in peace. 


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