Friday 23 October 2020

Taking our autistic kids on long journeys

It's half term and, in the chaos that is my after school pick up routine, there were lots of cars loaded ready to go on a short staycation visit.  Some families are taking advantage of their ability to go away while they have the chance at the moment.  Our kids are used to going on long road journeys in the UK - my folks live on the north coast of Scotland - literally the other end of the country.  They are happy with driving and flying and all else involved like getting through the airport. But not all kids travel well, and if it's something new then some autistic kids like mine can need some extra support. 

1. Prepare the Kids 

Doing anything new, prepare your kids.  Some kids will be able to spot the routine that starts with going on a trip. David always starts getting excited and wandering about when we bring out the suitcases -he knows we are going somewhere.   Some autistic children prefer a structured routine, so they must be well aware of what to expect.  

We say we are going in the car to visit whoever it is and have found in the past that pictures really help this, especially if it is a journey with multiple stops - we've had David refuse to get back in the car because he thinks we are 'there' or refuse to get out because we've not stopped at the place he thinks is the end of the journey.  If you are travelling in a different vehicle, let them know this too! We let them know that they will be safe and although of course we present the journey as a fun experience, we always give facts like how long it will take or when we might arrive.

2. Plan the Route

The best thing to do is to get super organised and plan your route in detail. We know the route to my folks house really well but I'll still consider things like the weather and the latest info on the sat nav (that's just maps on our phone these days) before committing to the way we are going.   This means we know our options and how long things will take, allowing us to plan stops.

We think about what we need to do at stops - some kids need a movement break and will need to get out of the car, others need lots of time to visit the loo. Whether it's a walk to look at lorries or time to choose a snack, know what's likely to help your kids get through the day. 

3. Shorter Rides First 

Our kids are used to long journey's but we started off small.  We did shorter rides as practice beforehand. Once we'd identified what they did and did not enjoy about car rides, we were in a better position to make them feel at ease. Shorter car rides can help  autistic kids to get used to the experience especially if you ask them to do things out of the ordinary, like eat in the car or allow themselves to fall asleep in their seats. 

4. Bring Entertainment Items 

Some kids are happy to just look out of the car window for hours on end which is great but we know we need to provide the kids with entertainment.  You’ll know what works best for your autistic child, but here are a few general ideas if you’re unsure:

Try Audiobooks: Audiobooks are a great way to keep kids happy on car rides. We have a few favourite books and listening to stories they are familiar with in the car may help them feel more comfortable and less scared. 
A Kid’s Movie:  We always bring along an iPad for David with some favourite shows and movies downloaded for him to watch.  We also remember a power bank as losing power mid movie is a disaster worth avoiding. 
Cuddly Toys And Blankets: Familiar items can help kids feel comforted.  We take head rests and we used to take David's sleeping blanket so he felt like he could fall asleep when it was time too.
Magazines: Jane loves magazines for a car journey, they are usually full of activities and games to complete and she feel achievement when she gets it all done. 
Snacks: Not just for entertainment - we avoid anything different including new places or food so all eating is done in the car.  This means a giant bag of all their regular snacks provided in the same fashion so they are happy to eat.  Hungry kids are grumpy kids in our household. 

5. Safety Considerations

Of course, arriving in good time is an aim when it's a long car journey, but safety has to be the top priority. It's easy to forget it 10 hours into a 12 hour car trip - trust me!  But along with thinking safe when driving there are other things that can help.  We don't want to end a trip with an incident or having to speak with a qualified personal injury attorney ! So simple things:

Make sure the child locks are on in the doors you need them.  
Make sure car seats are fitted correctly and the right size for your child when you take the journey (it's easy to find they have grown out of the one they've had for a few years. 
Check none of the toys or snacks could be potential choking hazards.
Check you have things like a warning triangle etc 

Some other helpful ideas include a seat belt ID that could have your child's name or their condition on it (just in case) and parking pal magnets are a hand decal or magnet that goes on the outside of your car for your child to put their hand on while waiting at the car, to help them stay safe in busy services car parks. 

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