Wednesday 12 February 2020

Holiday options for our autistic and neurotypical family

Our autistic son in a cabin over looking a lake

Children with autism are all different and come with their own personalities and abilities. But there are some traits that they will share, such as thriving on routine, as most children do. Set schedules can be what helps them, so the thought of sending them off on holiday can be stressful as it is putting them in a situation completely out of their comfort zone.

We plan things a lot.  Just because some types of accommodation and activities are more suited to our needs doesn't mean we have to think small.  We didn't help our non-verbal kids zip line across the Canadian Rockies with a think small attitude.  And something that wasn't possible last year might work this year.  Here's some of the things and places we've tried if you're thinking about your holiday in 2020.

Choose Your Destination Wisely

In order to take a trip as a family, you need to make sure that you have a thorough understanding of your child’s needs. The transition of a trip can mean that there may be some difficulties, but choosing the right destination for your family it can make all of the difference.

What kind of transport works best for you?  Is it better to be able to drive all the way and then staying in Europe is the easier option.  We are now used to flying and getting our family through an airport but I will still consider flight times and changes and the impact they will have on the kids.

Children with autism can also be stress detectors and they can sense the stress of others. So if you chose a busy city break where you are more likely to be stressed, then it can make the whole thing stressful for everyone and more likely to lead to breakdowns.   On the other hand if your child loves bus and tram routes, this could work.

Think of the activities that your child enjoys. If they would enjoy a theme park then go and enjoy, but if they are likely to have sensory issues being on the beach like our son, then that wouldn’t be the best choice.

However, sometimes a destination like a beach, forest or a trip to the mountains can be a better option as the schedule tends to be much more relaxed. One of the best holidays we've had was to the Alps - everyone thinks of it for skiing but a chalet in the summer worked wonderfully for us.

Think about taking your pets 

Like many other autistic kids, ours, and our eldest in particular benefits so much from our dog. Going on holiday often means leaving the dog with family especially if it's going abroad.  We're fortunate to have family near by who can dog and house sit but that doesn't mean we haven't made the decision to take our dog on holiday with us and benefit from the full family time it provides.

We've been on Forest Holidays before. For us their cabins provide all us with all that we need to relax and enjoy being away from home.  We can eat when we want,  the cabins are safe for us with an enclosed deck and the kids love the sensory aspect of a daily dip in the hot tub.  They were also one of the first UK holiday resorts to use the sunflowers lanyards. We keep ours with all our travel stuff so we can take them anywhere with us.

We took a winter break to the cabins they have on the shore of Loch Long called Ardgartan Argyll.  It was stunning.  Anthony said it was beautiful there and he's seen some pretty great places around the world. We had walks in the nearby woods and hillsides and time along the beaches scattered around Loch Lomond that was only a five minute drive away.

We could take our dog on all of this.  Having her with us was another thing that made it feel like home. The daily routine of walking the dog could continue and this was really helpful.  Some families have specialist dog for their autistic family members and being able to take them on holiday would could be the difference between going and not.

We are going to Forest Holidays at the Forest of Dean this weekend.  And once again, we're all going - dog included.

Anthony at Formula One in Barcelona

Make a trip for a special interest

Anthony has had a few special interests in the past.  By organising a break around a topic he is interested in we can all have a good time. Just like considering what transport a child might enjoy, we focussed some breaks solely around what Anthony liked and had a great experience for it.

Probably our most successful version of this was taking the family to Barcelona for the Formula One testing. This frequently happens with the February half term break allowing us to have a holiday outside of the usually very busy times (like Easter and summer).  Unlike many of the Formula One races, the testing is relatively quiet especially during the first few days with grandstands fairly empty and parking available right up by the track.

This gives a relatively care free environment for us to spend time together and for Anthony to really feel appreciated and supported. 

We can't always prepare for everything on holiday but by thinking about a few things when we plan we find it helps us get more out of our breaks together.  Have you got any great tips?


  1. I love how helpful your articles are and the insight they give. #KCACOLS

  2. Really is great if you to share these ideas. It is so tough to bring up a child with autism and needs even more planning. Keep up the great work!

  3. Great post Ann, thank you! I do love the sound of a forest holiday. We're currently planning for a short stay away (only a day's drive from home) this spring, for a few days. We're going to watch a special show and I think you could see it as a 'special interest' related holiday. Fingers crossed it'll be a positive experience, in which case there might be more stays away to follow in the future...
    Thanks so much for linking up with #KCACOLS, hope you come back again next time! x

  4. I can very must relate to this post. I have a cousin with Aspergers and his dog is essential to him so holidays need to be dog friendly. #KCACOLS


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