Planning a family holiday with an autistic child

Holiday With An Autistic Child

Until this year, when it came to planning holidays, J and I always had the same approach. We left it to the last minute, booked a few weeks before and never went to the same place twice.

Sometimes we booked accommodation, often we didn’t. When the Bears came along, little changed except we organised where we were staying.

It wasn’t really a problem until Big Bear started school but last year when we were booking our summer holiday for August in June, we realised we had to change our ways. There was little choice available and everything was really expensive.

Luckily we managed to get a cancellation on a brilliant working farm in Cornwall and all was fine but this year I vowed to be more organised.

As a result, we have already booked our summer holiday (a different part of Cornwall) and organised a trip for the end of the year.

We also have an imminent few days in Norfolk planned, which is where our main focus is right now.

Organising and packing for holidays with young children is always stressful, involving lots of lists, packing all sorts of equipment and sorting out umpteen changes of clothes for all kinds of weather (at least in the UK).

Add in two children with additional needs, including at least one on the autistic spectrum, and the preparation required to go away reaches a whole new level – particularly when going somewhere new.

For lots of children with autism, the new is to be avoided at all costs. They thrive in the predictable and known, making exploring somewhere new quite tricky.

It leaves us wondering, as parents, are holidays and autism incompatible? For some families dealing with complex needs they may be, but for many, a little bit of tweaking can make a big difference.

Here’s how we’re preparing for our first trip to Norfolk:

Outdoor space

Choosing a destination with lots of outdoor space, like a beach or a farm, is really important for us. It means there are fewer bad sensory triggers, such as lots of industrial noise, loud music, crowds and bright lights. We need places where the Bears can run around freely and safely and make their own noise.

Self catering

Booking self catering accommodation means we can live by our own rules and have more space and flexibility.


Big Bear likes to know exactly what he’s letting himself in for so seeing photographs of where we’re staying is really important. You could make it into a scrapbook or social story, incorporating the inside and outside of the accommodation, along with pictures of who is going and any activities planned. It will give them peace of mind and hopefully avoid the meltdown of an unprepared child.

Visual timetable

If you have a long journey and an anxious child, consider breaking down the journey into a visual timetable. You could include in-car activities, service station breaks, meals and snacks. Velcro the different elements onto a piece of laminated card so the child can peel them off each time a task is finished.

Pack smart

Take a few things that will keep the kids occupied, but avoid packing too much. For our train/Thomas-loving boys, we will take a wooden train track that packs into a fairly small bag, with a few trains. Having a familiar toy makes them feel safe and secure in a strange environment. The trains on their own will also help to keep them occupied if, heaven forbid, we should venture out to a restaurant for a meal.

Also don’t forget to take their special cups and cutlery as well as a favourite teddy.

The most important thing is not to overthink it, take the plunge and just go. The more times you go away, the more you will develop your coping mechanisms that work for you. When you get home, make a list of things that did and didn’t work. It will come in handy the next time you go away.


  1. I’m on a mission to change the world, well the world of opinions of some who need to change. People do thing that whena person has autism that wha tthey can do or where they can go is limited. I’m of the thought that its not, you can go virtually anywhere a neuro-typical child can go. I love reading other posts and info on disabilites, especially autism – so I wanted to leave a post and say thanks. Regards

    • Thank you so much. I agree. We try not to restrict where we go but we do have to adapt things to make them a success sometimes. Having the right gear, like ear defenders, on hand makes a huge difference too. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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