Embarking on a family vacation is a time for creating cherished memories and bonding with your loved ones. For families with a child with autism, finding the perfect destination that caters to everyone’s needs might seem like a daunting task. These resources can make planning easier.
More vacation destinations than ever are prioritizing inclusivity and accessibility. From autism-friendly theme parks to sensory support on cruises, there are countless options for creating an unforgettable experience.
Here, we break it down and look at five vacation options that celebrate your child’s individuality while providing fun and relaxation for the whole family.
1. Autism-Friendly Travel by Plane
Wings for Autism is a program that helps families with children on the autism spectrum become more familiar with air travel. They offer airport “dress rehearsals” so children can experience the entire process, from checking in to boarding the plane, without actually taking off. This helps them become more comfortable with the idea of flying.
The program started in Massachusetts and has been adopted by more than 70 airports nationwide. JetBlue, Delta, American, and United are among the airlines that routinely participate in programs that support passengers with autism. Some airlines, like Delta, even have multi-sensory rooms in some airports — rooms with calming colors, sounds, and a small aircraft mock-up to let passengers get familiar with air travel.
2. Autism-Friendly Travel by Car
The car brand Chrysler recently partnered with the Autism Society of America to support the needs of travelers with autism. Chrysler now offers a sensory package option for the Chrysler Pacifica. This package includes noise-cancelling headphones, fidget toys, and a weighted blanket to help create a comfortable and calming environment for children with autism during car rides.
No matter what kind of car you have, you can create your own DIY sensory station with similar options. Other things to keep in mind when planning a road trip are to:
- Plan frequent breaks to allow your child to stretch and decompress.
- Create a visual schedule to help your child understand the trip’s timeline.
- Pack familiar items and sensory tools to help soothe your child during the journey.
3. Autism-Friendly Travel by Cruise Ship
Some cruise lines have begun offering sensory support for passengers with autism, including:
- Autism on the Sea: This international charity provides tailored cruises for autism families. Their teams manage these cruises, which take place across multiple cruise lines.
- Carnival Cruise Line: Carnival offers a variety of “sensory inclusive” activities, including modified youth programs and designated quiet spaces for relaxation.
- Celebrity Cruises: This cruise line offers accessible cruises and interactive initiatives for families. They train their youth staff in autism awareness. They also cover various developmental disabilities and offer priority check-in, boarding, and departure.
- Disney Cruise Line: Disney offers a number of services for guests with autism, such as priority check-in online and options for children who have trouble waiting in lines or crowds.
- Norwegian Cruise Line: They have a team of “accessibility coordinators” who support travelers with special needs. They work closely with families with autism, addressing their concerns individually.
- Royal Caribbean: Their “Autism Friendly Ships” program includes sensory-friendly films, toys, and modified youth activities to accommodate children with autism.
4. Autism-Friendly Theme Parks
Many popular theme parks have made efforts to accommodate guests with autism:
- Disney: Disney offers a Disability Access Service (DAS) pass that allows guests with autism to schedule return times for attractions, reducing wait times and providing a more predictable experience.
- Legoland: Legoland provides a Hero Pass for autistic guests, granting them the opportunity to bypass lines and access quiet rooms when needed.
- Sea World: Sea World offers a Ride Accessibility Program (RAP) that helps guests with autism plan their visit and enjoy attractions at their own pace.
- Six Flags: Six Flags has an Attraction Access Pass for autistic guests, allowing them to avoid long lines and access designated quiet areas.
- Sesame Place: Sesame Place is the first theme park to be designated as a Certified Autism Center (CAC) and offers sensory guides, quiet rooms, and noise-cancelling headphones for guests with autism.
5. A Staycation for You and Your Autistic Child
If you prefer to stay close to home, there are plenty of ways to create a memorable and enjoyable staycation for your family:
- Set up a backyard camping experience with tents, a fire pit, and s’mores.
- Visit local attractions, such as museums, parks, and zoos, that offer sensory-friendly hours or events.
- Create a themed week with daily activities based on your child’s interests — such as art, science, or nature exploration.
Planning an Autism-Friendly Vacation Can Be Simple
Autism-friendly destinations can make planning a family vacation less daunting and more exciting for all.
Focus on your child’s needs and explore autism-friendly places. Choose the best locations and accommodations for your family and your budget. A little thoughtful preparation can pave the way for a memorable and enjoyable trip for everyone involved.