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Traveling with children with autism

Traveling with children with autism


Traveling with the family can often be enjoyable even though the preparations and journey can be stressful.

Children are more impatient than adults and often get bored on a journey and they can become irritable.

When these children suffer from a Pervasive Development Disorder (PDD) you need to realize that certain events can cause them greater stress so you need to plan well to make your adventure as enjoyable as possible.

There are many types of PDD and no child is the same. Below we give you some useful tips on how to make the journey more enjoyable and pleasant.

First of all you need to ensure your child's safety with a suitable child restraint system which they are unable to open or manipulate easily.

When you first start going on trips we recommend an adult travels with them in the back. That way you can calm your child down if they start to get anxious without having to stop the car, which is always dangerous.

It's also important to talk about the journey with them beforehand as they don't like surprises. They'll be better prepared if you let them know you're going on a journey and what to expect a few days in advance. Depending on the child and their cognitive ability you can use a different type of system to explain the journey, such as pictograms or mentioning each day that you're off on a trip.

It's important to TAKE YOUR TIME. You may have to stop more often or stops may be longer than planned but what counts is reaching you destination and that the journey is as stress-free as possible for everyone involved.

Once you're in the car you can tell your child once again what the plans are or if need be you can put up some pictures so the child understands what's happening.

Even though most children are used to traveling by car, if you child isn't such a seasoned traveler it's a good idea to start off with short trips to get them used to the car well before your long journey. This helps less any anxiety the child may feel in a new situation.

You should also remember that autistic children often find it harder to control their emotions. It's therefore a good idea to have an external stimulant handy should they start to get distressed (a keyring, an anti-stress ball or a cuddly toy).

For older children it's a good idea to pack some activities (drawing materials or games) to keep them entertained during the journey.

Finally, to create a calm atmosphere in the car and also elsewhere, it's good for your child to associate a certain type of music with relaxation. This can also help them control their emotions.  It doesn't have to be a specific type of music, just some that they like and that puts them in a good mood.

By following these recommendations the journey should be more comfortable for everyone and you'll al be happy to repeat the experience.

Paloma Méndez de Miguel

Psychologist at the Hospital Quirónsalud San José

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