How to Help Your Child with Autism Sleep on Vacation


Sleeping and staying asleep while on vacation can be a challenge for many children, but it can be especially hard for children on the Autism spectrum. Vacations can still be fun if you prepare your child for the adventure ahead. Many places will go out of their way to help your family have a good time by providing accommodations.

All you need to do is ask! Take your time, prepare your child with social stories, and be sensitive to your child’s particular challenges. As always, keep your child’s safety as a priority especially if your child has elopement issues. Traveling with your child with Autism can be a fun a memorable experience that includes being able to get a good night’s rest even in an unfamiliar place like a hotel room.

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I’d like to address two common questions from parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder:

  • How do you travel with an Autistic child?
  • How do you make a good bedtime routine for your child with Autism?

Traveling with children who are on the Spectrum can be a fun and rewarding experience. You just need to take time to think ahead.

10 helpful tips from parents of children on the Autism Spectrum

1. Practice the vacation process with your child through the use of social stories.

2. Have a safety plan for children who struggle with elopement.

3. Call ahead for travel accommodations such as special seating on a plane.

4. Make hotel staff aware that you are traveling with an individual with disabilities.

5. Give yourself and your child lots of extra time for breaks while your family is traveling to your destination.

6. Charge all of your devices, bring chargers, and download entertainment directly onto tablets instead of relying on WiFi.

7. Bring a duplicate of a comfort item such as a blanket or toy. Don’t bring your child’s only comfort item if possible in case the item becomes lost while traveling.

8. If your child does not sleep well without white noise, plan to bring a noise machine or fan to your hotel room or arrange to have one shipped to your destination.

9. Stick to a routine even while on vacation or order to facilitate a good night’s sleep.

10. Bring noise-canceling headphones for children who struggle with noise sensitivity.

Implementing these tips can help you and your child have a wonderful vacation even when there are a few bumps in the road. One of the most important things you and your child need while on vacation is rest. Here are some pointers on how to use these ten tips. The goal is to have smooth travels and a good night’s sleep so you can enjoy your fabulous destination!

Traveling and Sleeping While on Vacation with Your ASD Child

Traveling can be very stressful and anxiety-inducing for a child on the Spectrum, especially if your child has challenges with communication. If they already have an idea of what lies ahead of them, knowing the plan greatly reduces their anxiety and stress.

One way to help children to understand what they will do while they are traveling and on vacation is through social stories. This is a step by step story that shows a child what it is like to do an activity. Plan to start reading about a week ahead of time. Talk to your child about your vacation. Show them pictures of where you’ll stay such as a hotel or a cabin.

This will relieve a lot of anxiety for your child about being in an unfamiliar place. Be sure to include a demonstration of where and how you will be going to bed. Make sure your story includes going to bed in your hotel room, cabin or other accommodation and how it’s going to be different from going to bed at home. Lots of pictures are helpful. If you don’t want to make your own story, there are fill-in-the-blank stories such as these that are ready-made, customizable, and quick to download.

Some children on the Autism Spectrum struggle with the concept of danger. They can elope or run away. In an unfamiliar environment, such as on vacation, this can be a dangerous situation. However, there is a lot of support available for both children and parents.

There are specialty GPS devices for individuals with special needs as well as custom harnesses for children and adults who need that extra help to remain safely with their caregivers.

Also, it would be a good idea to have a laminated card or bracelet made for your child to carry with them that states their medical condition, their guardian’s name, and your phone number should they become lost.

If your child does tend to elope, an extra lock or an alarm on your hotel door that your child cannot reach (even on a chair) or cannot undo without the alarm going off would keep them from leaving the hotel room without your knowledge.

As you’re planning your vacation, call ahead to ask for accommodations for your child. Alert airlines, hotels, and other places you plan to visit that you’ll be traveling with a child with disabilities. There are multiple accommodations for families with special needs.

Some common accommodations include special seating on an airplane for more legroom and shorter lines for boarding. Additionally, if you let the hotel staff know that your child has a disability and could wander off, they can keep a photo of your child with your number to call if they see them unattended.

Noise sensitivities can be a particular challenge for children on the spectrum, especially in loud places like airports or amusement parks. Noise-canceling headphones can relieve stress for children with this sensitivity so that they can enjoy the trip without becoming overwhelmed and overstimulated by their new environment.

With a little planning, you and your special needs child can have a wonderful vacation! Just remember safety first and take it slow.

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