9 Surefire Road Trip Tips for Autism Families
Embarking on a road trip with kids can be tricky for any family but it can be even trickier for autism families.
There are so many factors to consider and so many potential sources of upset with long car trips.
- Your kids could have vestibular sensitivity and may be prone to motion sickness when in the car for long periods.
- They may struggle to sit still for hours on end.
- They may not be able to cope with the lack of space in the back seat.
- They might become overwhelmed by smells, noise, light and heat/cold due to sensory sensitivities.
- They may find it hard to cope with the change in routine.
- They might feel anxious and worried about going away.
- They may struggle with the thought of leaving home and everything they know.
While these factors can seem overwhelming (particularly when put all together like that!) all of them can be addressed with some simple strategies. It might take some extra preparation, but it’s possible to have a successful and enjoyable road trip as an autism family.
9 Surefire Road Trip Tips For Autism Families
Plot out an itinerary for your drive
It makes sense to plan as much as you can when travelling as an autism family, to limit surprises and unexpected mishaps (like getting lost!). Mapping out your route, including planned rest stops and overnight stays, serves a number of purposes. It gives you certainty as driver & navigator. It helps keep you on track, particularly if you are due at a destination at a specific time (to make check-in, etc.) It’s also a tool that can be included in a social story for your kids, visually showing your journey, where you’re going and how long it will take to get there.
Stop for regular rest breaks
Drivers should be resting every 2 hours anyway, so this presents the perfect opportunity to get everyone out of the car to stretch, have a pit stop and enjoy some space. Getting out of the confines of the car will lift the mood of everyone, especially squabbling siblings, and can be the perfect circuit breaker to combat boredom and fatigue. Planning stops along the way also gives you the chance to do more sightseeing which keeps boredom at bay. We found regular stops helped keep the peace, keep the calm and, more importantly, keep our sanity!
Break up long trips with an overnight stop
We always plan to stay overnight at the half-way point on long car trips. Sometimes it’s possible to undertake a trip in one big day but it’s easier on everyone to take our time and limit the daily driving burden to 5 hours max. This has worked well for us as it means we can leave home mid-morning and get to our destination mid-afternoon, with stops along the way. It also reduces the time we’re confined to the car and gives us the opportunity to go exploring along the way. I definitely recommend taking it easy and stopping overnight for trips over 8 hours in duration. Your family will definitely thank you for it!
Keep everyone entertained
Nowadays, kids have access to so many things to keep them entertained – mp3 players, smartphones, tablets, e-readers and handheld game devices, just to name a few. So use them to your advantage. Charge them up, make sure the kids have a pair of headphones (for obvious reasons!) and let them be for a couple of hours. Alternatively, take along books, music, games or activities to keep them occupied for a while. And don’t forget your needs too – load up some podcasts, audible books or classic road tripping tunes to keep you entertained as well!
Pack the essentials
If you’re heading out on any road trip, make sure you take the essentials with you. Take along food and drink, even if you plan to stop along the way. You know what your kids will and won’t eat and having stuff immediately at hand will make your life so much easier. Other essentials to take along on a road trip include tissues, wet wipes, sunscreen, a first aid kit, pain relief, device re-chargers and plastic bags (for rubbish and motion sickness). You might also consider packing a bag with spare clothes to avoid having to delve through packed suitcases in an emergency. It can happen.
Get your car organised
Consider investing in car organisation before heading off. Back seat organisers are great for storing water, food, devices, headphones, tissues, rubbish, books and toys. It means the kids can get to anything they need in the back seat and reduces the need for the front passenger to keep turning around to look for something or to hand something back to them. However you choose to store or pack your belongings, make sure you can easily access what you need. There’s no point packing food in the boot if you can’t get to when our child decides they are starving. Which tends to happen at the worst possible moment!
Use a social story to prepare your kids
Social stories are a great way to prepare your kids for travel. They answer the “why/what/where/how/when/who” questions for our kids and they have been the most successful strategy we’ve used when preparing our kids for travel. They are a great way to help reassure our kids and make them aware of what’s going to happen and how they should behave when on holidays. You can use a social story to talk to them about your destination and how you are going to get there. Knowing a little more about what’s to come will help them feel less anxious and better able to cope with the inevitable change in routine.
Get your car in working order
When was the last time you had your car serviced? If it’s been a while, book it in with your mechanic before heading off on any road trip. The last thing anyone needs is to be stranded in the middle of nowhere with mechanical trouble. Especially if you have autistic kids who are already stressing out about staying away from home. Make sure you have extra water in the boot, a working spare tyre, oil and coolant too. Up-to-date roadside assistance membership is also a must. A little preparation will go a long way to ensuring the success of your road trip.
Practice going for weekend drives
If your family is unused to travelling long distances in a car, why not do some practice runs before you leave? Pack your essentials and take your family on a test drive for a few hours. Having a test drive first will highlight any specific issues unique to your family so you can deal with them before the actual road trip. It will give your kids the opportunity to get used to travelling for longer periods, allow you to identify additional essential items for your trip and it will allow you all to explore places closer to home. Practice drives are a great idea if you’re unsure whether you’re family is ready to road trip.
We really enjoy heading out on road trips as an autism family. We hope these tips can help get you out on the road too!
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