We all love a holiday (well most of us). Those stunning summer breaks where the weather is a little more predictable than the UK. Or a winter getaway on the slopes in the picturesque mountains of Northern France. Going on holiday with an autistic child however is something a little different…
For the last 9 years, sunny Caribbean islands have been replaced with caravans in Hastings or bournemouth. Before you feel sorry for us though, they were platinum caravans and one even had a hot tub… Winning!
Seriously… Some of these caravans were better equipped than most houses and once I got used to not falling out of the 2ft bed every night, I was loving life. Why was I in a 2ft bed you man ask? Well we will come on to that in a second once we’ve covered off the first challenge of going on holiday with an autistic child.
The journey with an autistic child
When Jake was just 3 years old, and with our knowledge of his differences at a minimum, we booked a UK break that was a 3 hour drive on a good day. This was not a good day! 4 hours in, pitch black and to say we were relieved to get there was the understatement of the century.
Jacob was more distressed than we had ever seen him and took until the next day to really calm down. Since then we have tested the longer journey again at the age of 6, with the same outcome. This has left us accepting that an hour in a car is about his limit unless we really want to cause him uncontrollable anxiety and stress.
At home, Jacob does not go to bed alone. A good night will be one of us laying outside his room, so he and his brother (5) can see us as they go to sleep. Our youngest son Josh is asleep within 5 minutes without fail. Jake on the other hand, regularly needs us to lay in his bed to drift off.
In a caravan, the thought of him sleeping in the same room as his brother is absolutely out of the question. Apart from the fact he doesn’t do that at home so he cannot adjust, there is also nowhere for us to lay if both the beds are taken in the same room. This means each bedroom in the caravan has 1 adult and 1 child in it. See you in a week, Linz!
Adjusting to new surroundings
No matter where we go or how nice the accommodation is, Jake will spend the first 2-3 days wanting to go home. He will vocalise this regularly throughout the day in between the meltdowns and crying. It’s a process we have learnt to accept as one he has to go through to adjust.
To try and help him transition, we take as many home comforts as we can. Duvets, pillows, games, pictures, teddies and so on. Even with these things, the transition period remains a 2-3 day process that we accept is going to happen. After that, he starts to enjoy the holiday a little more.
Days out with an autistic child
As nice as caravan parks are, there is only so much you can do without leaving the site. So very often, days out are a must to ensure you make the most of your holiday. You may think waiting until you get there and simply exploring the local area is an option… Not with an autistic child it isn’t.
Prior planning is essential if you want your autistic child onboard with limited anxiety about what’s about to happen. For us, it was important we knew the days out we wanted to have, where they were, how far from the caravan they were and how long we would be there. And we needed to know this weeks before we actually went on holiday!.
When you’re there, a plan is critical to ensuring everyone enjoys the day as best as possible. Knowing where you’re going, what parts your autistic child really wants to see and in what order. Knowing when lunch will be and what they are eating. Ensuring that even when they are doing something on their own, you are in view at all times so they can see you.
At the end of the holiday…
Despite the fact it took 3 days to settle, by the end of the holiday, Jake now struggles to say goodbye to the caravan he has made home for a week. The feeling of never seeing it again can become so overwhelming that he is inconsolable for a while on the journey back.
Going on holiday with an autistic child can be hugely enjoyable once you know what you can and can’t do. Yes, you need to be prepared and ‘winging’ it will certainly cause you and your autistic child a lot of anxiety and stress. If you can create positive habits around the preparation however, the experience can be so rewarding for everyone.