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 booked our summer holiday (a different part of Cornwall) at the beginning of the year and organised a trip abroad for December at the same time.
We also planned a few days in Norfolk at Easter.
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 prepared for our first trip to Norfolk:
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.
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. Look at the website and YouTube to get a feel for the place. Alternatively, you could make 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.
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.
Take a few things that will keep the kids occupied, but avoid packing too much. For our train/Thomas-loving boys, we took 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 also helped to keep them occupied when we ventured out to a pub 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 plan a trip.