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2018 Autism Travel Guide

Traveling can be a challenge in some way or another for all families – particularly so for families with a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Unfamiliar places, frequent transitions, large crowds and loud noises are just a few things parents try to avoid when planning a vacation for a child with special needs.  

To help families best prepare for vacations, we created an Autism Travel Guide, packed with travel preparation tips, road trip tips, flying tips, and the most autism-friendly vacation destinations in the United States.

6 Travel Preparation Tips

When traveling with children who have ASD, it is important to consider how each child might react in new situations. It is important to include and prepare everyone in the family so that everyone can enjoy the vacation.

  1. Role Playing.
    An effective way to help children on the spectrum feel more comfortable on a trip is to role play what the trip might look like. Role-playing in advance allows kids to understand what to expect while on the upcoming vacation rather than being entirely overwhelmed by the new experiences.
  2. Pack the right gear.
    Make sure your child has access to preferred comfort items. Some useful items to consider bringing are:
  • Noise cancelling headphones
  • Sunglasses
  • Weighted blanket
  • Sensory toys
  • Forms of identification
  • Favorite toy/blanket
  1. Create an itinerary.
    By creating an itinerary and discussing it in advance, you minimize the surprises that might occur while on vacation.
  2. Create a visual calendar.
    These vacation-prep calendars should display how long the trip will last, along with main events and activities. This is an efficient tool to help children on the spectrum truly visualize and understand what the trip will entail.
  3. Collect photos of the places you will go.
    Another helpful way to make sure children are comfortable in new surroundings is to collect photos of all vacation destinations. Grabbing photos off the Internet of hotels or accommodations, as well as any planned events and day trips, is a huge help in reducing the anxiety that children on the spectrum might feel in an unfamiliar environment.
  4. Involvement.
    Make sure to involve your child in the planning of your trip, whether it is researching your destination together or picking out a new swimsuit. The more involvement before the trip, the better!

7 Road Trip Tips

Road trips are a fun way to bond with your family and give children an opportunity to experience different places; however, they can also come with another set of challenges. With the help of the autism experts on our clinical team, we have compiled a variety of tips to help reduce some of that overwhelming road trip stress.

1. Start with small trips. Before leaving for an extended amount of time, try working your way up to a longer trip by taking a few day trips.

2. Map your route and mark off where you will stop ahead of time to avoid any surprises.

3. Assign Seating. If you have a car full of kids that tend to disagree on where to sit, try assigning seats to avoid any uncertainty, while still keeping in mind the needs of each child.

4. Snacks. Snacks are key in making sure everyone stays happy on the road. Make sure to pack plenty of snacks that you know your child likes. Also, bring along water or any other favorite drinks to keep everyone hydrated.

5. Entertainment. Most road trips tend to take up a good chunk of time, so it’s critical to have a variety of entertainment options for the ride. It’s always easy to pop in a few DVD’s, but if you are looking for something other than a movie, below is a list of items to consider packing for your road trip:

  • Coloring books
  • Playlist of songs you know your child likes to sing along to
  • Your child’s favorite books
  • iPad with some favorite games
  • Fidget spinner
  • Sensory bracelets/squeezable items
  • Card games
  • Silly puddy
  • Chewy sensory necklace
  • Stuffed animals and pillows

5. Take Frequent Breaks.  It is important to take frequent breaks for everyone involved in a road trip. Try planning your break around areas where your child can learn something new or run around to release some of that energy from sitting in the car, but more importantly, make sure there is a restroom!

6. Leave in the evening. If possible, try planning your road trip around an evening departure time – that way, most of the trip is spent with the children sleeping and limited traffic jams.

5 Flying Tips

Flying with a child on the Autism Spectrum may initially seem like a tall order, but planning ahead with these flying tips will help ensure the smoothest ride possible.

  1. Plan ahead

Call the airport prior to booking the trip to see if they provide assistance for kids with special needs. Some airports provide possible walkthroughs or special boarding accommodations.

2. Book a direct flight

Limit layovers to reduce the amount of transitions in getting on and off an airplane. This also helps dial back the amount of time spent around large crowds with loud sounds.

3. Seat selection

If possible, choose a seat closest to the front of the plane to reduce the time spent getting on and off the place. Also, consider which seating arrangement will be most comforting for your child – aisle seats offer easy bathroom breaks, middle seats can offer a seat in between two familiar faces when traveling in groups, and window seats offer spectacular views that children might enjoy.

4. Bulk row seating can offer extra space to make sure no other passengers are affected by any stimming activities. It’s also best to avoid the seats closest to the restrooms with the most passenger traffic.

5. TSA Pre-Check

Kids ages 12 and under who have a parent or guardian with TSA Pre-Check are able to accompany them through the TSA Pre-Check line. This limits the amount of undressing and helps families get through those large security lines quicker.

14 Top Autism-Friendly Vacation Destinations in the United States

It’s always challenging to pick a vacation destination that pleases all family members – especially when trying to select a place with limited crowds and an understanding staff. Below is a list of some different autism-friendly places to vacation with your family.

California

  • Shared Adventures–  Located in Santa Cruz, California, Shared Adventures offers an array of summer programs for special needs children and adults. Some of their programs include assisted kayaking, canoe rides, and scuba diving.

Colorado

  • Crested Butte Mountain Resort in the Rocky Mountains- The resort has trained staff who work with the Adaptive Sports Center. These experts have decades of experience working with children on the Autism Spectrum, allowing families to enjoy activities like skiing, snowboarding, hiking, water sports, and more.

Florida

  • Tradewinds Island Resorts in St. Petersburg Beach- Staff has been trained specifically to work with kids with special needs, and each visit is customized to the specific needs of each family.
  • Crowne Plaza in Tampa- Staff members undergo a special training to work with children with special needs, including ASD. There are many sensory friendly activities to do as a family.
  • Disney World– For some families, Disney World could be a challenging vacation destination if their child has difficulties with large crowds and noises. However, Disney World does offer a special pass for kids who have special needs – the Disney Disability Access (DAS) program. This pass allows families  to skip those long wait times via fast access lanes.

Massachusetts

  • Edaville Family Theme Park– Located in Carver, Massachusetts (about an hour outside of Boston), Edaville Family Theme Park offers an extremely inviting atmosphere for kiddos in the autism community. The railroad-themed park is equipped with a quiet room, fidget spinners, weighted blankets, and sensory toys to accommodate the needs of all guests.

New York

  • American Museum of Natural HistoryThe museum offers ‘Discovery Quad Tours’ for families with children on the autism spectrum. Tours are available on select Saturday mornings before the museum is open to the public. Registration is required, so be sure to call ahead of time.

Pennsylvania

  • Elmwood Park Zoo– In early May 2018, Elmwood Park Zoo became the first zoo in the world to become a Certified Autism Center. With trained staff, Elmwood Park Zoo has become an autism friendly destination year round as opposed to offering autism-friendly options here and there.

South Carolina

  • Surfside Beach– In 2016, Surfside Beach in South Carolina signed a proclamation to make the area the first autism-friendly travel destination. The beach offers events ranging from sensory-friendly movies to fishing lessons, as well as group events at restaurants.

Tennessee

  • Dollywood– Dollywood is dedicated to providing all guests with an enjoyable and inclusive environment. The theme park offers ride accessibility and park accessibility guides to help families plan their trips. The theme park also created a social story of what to expect when visiting, as well as a calming room to help guests get an escape from any sensory overload.

Texas

  • Morgan’s Wonderland in San Antonio, Texas- Morgan’s Wonderland is a safe waterpark that was built specifically for kids with all different kinds of special needs, including autism. The water park holds special events throughout the year starting after Memorial Day.
  • Lost Pines Spa and Resort– This resort, located in Austin, Texas, is the perfect quiet getaway for a family vacation. The resort has special accommodations for guests with special needs, and offers a variety of fun activities, including a lazy river, evening campfires, daily games, and more.

Utah

  • Splore– Located in the greater Salt Lake City area, as well as the Moab and Canyonlands area, Splore offers a wide variety of adaptive adventure programs, like canoeing, climbing, and snowshoeing. Splore also offers adaptive outdoor sports and education programs.

Virginia

  • Great Wolf Lodge– Located in Williamsburg, the Great Wolf Lodge is an inexpensive way to please everyone on the family vacation. There are tons of free sensory-friendly activities, along with plenty of food options that are sure to make everyone in the family happy. There are Great Wolf Lodge locations all over the United States in case a different location is more convenient for your family.

At the end of the day, you know your child better than anyone, so you may find that some of these tips might need to be modified. Try them out in your own way to see what works for you and your family. Most importantly, have fun!

National Resources on Autism

CDC: New Autism Data

CDC: Autism Facts

CDC: Research

CDC: Autism Spectrum Disorder

Tips for Holiday Travel

National Institutes of Mental Health: ASD

The Autism Society

Autism Society: Travel Tips

 

RELATED:

18 Autism-Friendly Things to Do in Houston

Top 35 Autism Blogs in 2018

News, scientific research, and education on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are constantly evolving. Online autism blogs are a perfect venue for staying up-to-date on all things autism.

The online autism community continues to flourish as more parents, teachers, and autism therapists create blogs to share their experiences. Many individuals who are on the autism spectrum themselves have also taken to the Internet to share their journeys with others.

Action Behavior Centers, a chain of Texas-based therapy providers for young children on the Spectrum, actively tries to raise autism awareness and educate both local and online communities on ASD.

After spending some time over the last year connecting with people from all over the world in the autism community, the ABC team has put together a list of some of the top influencers in the online autism world (in no particular order).

Top 35 Autism Blogs in 2018: 

The Autism Dad

People often think of parent blogs being dominated by the moms out there, but Rob Gorski, father of three boys with autism and other special needs, runs one of the most honest and heartening autism blogs on our list. Rob shares his experiences – the good, the bad, and the ugly – with raising his three boys as he figures out how “to do a job that sometimes requires superhuman abilities.” With over three million website visits from readers all over the world, The Autism Dad is well-respected in the autism community.

Autism Mom

Elizabeth Barnes, mom to the Navigator (the online alias for her son who is on the autism spectrum), left her full-time travel job to make sure she could provide her son with the support he needs. Her Autism Mom blog features articles with a variety of tips, resources, and personal experiences to help others along on their own journeys with ASD.

Autism Tank

Autism Tank is a blog run by Hailey, a teacher and Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) with years of experience working with kids with special needs. She posts lessons, resources, and tools to help educate others on autism and how to help kids with autism succeed.

30 Days of Autism

Leah Kelley is affected by autism in both her family life and career. As a K-12 Inclusion Resource Teacher and a mother with a son on the Autism Spectrum, she is a major advocate of autism acceptance and actively speaks at educational seminars and conferences. 30 Days of Autism offers many valuable resources, poems, and personal experiences with ASD.

Finding Cooper’s Voice

Finding Cooper’s Voice, run by Cooper’s mom, Kate Swenson, details the journey of parenting a young child with severe, nonverbal autism. Kate has a knack for creating content that truly speaks to people, with multiple viral videos and posts – one even crowning her the winner of a Jimmy Kimmel video challenge. Check out Finding Cooper’s Voice for an honest picture of what it’s like to raise a child with autism, joys and heartbreaks included.

Autism with a Side of Fries

Eileen Shaklee’s Autism with a Side of Fries blog has garnered nearly 800 followers and over two million page views. “Autism is a trip I didn’t plan on, but I sure do love my tour guide,” she writes of her son. Eileen writes with a laid-back, relatable voice (expect jokes and curse words from time to time). She keeps it real.

Just a Lil Blog

Jim Walter, one of the rarer dad bloggers out there, shares “the true life adventures of an autistic little girl, and her big sister.” Jim makes his Just a Lil Blog fun and humorous with the unique addition of creating his own Memes! Our personal favorite is The Pizza Spectrum Meme. Check them all out here.

Embracing the Spectrum

Run by husband-wife team Teresa and “The Manager,” Embracing the Spectrum covers the day-to-day achievements and struggles of those affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder. “From my perspective, a child’s diagnosis of autism does not necessitate devastating thoughts, nor does it negate a child’s potential,” Teresa writes. The blog welcomes contributions from guest bloggers to compile tips and experiences from all over.

I Love ABA

I Love ABA is a blog full of anything and everything related to Applied Behavior Analysis: tips, lesson plans, free resources, an ABA glossary, and autism red flags. Tameika Meadows, the BCBA who started the blog back in 2011, strives to share the ins and outs of ABA in a way that is “non-intimidating and simple to grasp” for anyone willing to learn.

Spectrum Mum

All the way across the pond, English blogger Catie gives readers “A Glimpse Into Our Autism” with a series of blog posts and weekly photos. Catie’s blog covers many important areas in the special needs community, from tips on plane travel and holiday trips to explaining autism to siblings. She encourages her readers to tell their own stories “because your voice is important and your story is unique.”

Friendship Circle

Friendship Circle is a non-profit organization that provides support to over 3,000 individuals with special needs. The Friendship Circle editorial team maintains its blog with the added support of guest bloggers. From therapy tips and parenting tips to expert-recommended products, books, and lessons, Friendship Circle’s blog is an all-encompassing resource for families in the special needs community.

This Outnumbered Mama

Kaylene G., homeschooling mama to three kiddos (two with special needs) and another on the way, was completely overwhelmed when her children were first diagnosed with special needs. “I held onto the words of my favorite bloggers to get me through the major transitions and to feel like I wasn’t so alone,” she writes. “That’s why I started blogging.” On This Outnumbered Mama, she blogs about parenting, special needs, and homeschooling.

Atypical Familia

Lisa Quinones-Fontanez became a prominent blogger in the autism community with her award-winning blog, AutismWonderland. In 2014, she decided to start her current blog, Atypical Familia, since she no longer felt like “Alice” lost in Autism Wonderland. Autism is still a big part of her life, and she is working on a memoir to document her experience as an autism mom in the Bronx, New York.

Faith Hope Love Autism

Lisa Reyes created the Faith Hope Love Autism blog to offer the world writing from the perspective of someone actually on the autism spectrum – her son Philip. Philip writes about his life experiences, poetry, and answers questions submitted by readers. The blog offers a wonderful firsthand perspective of an individual on the spectrum.

Embracing Imperfect

Embracing Imperfect, owned by Gina Badalaty, takes readers through the ins and outs of raising girls with autism – a disorder that is much more prominent in males. In addition to parenting tips, autism resources, and advice on coping with an autism diagnosis, Embracing Imperfect offers content on healthy eating, family travel, and tech & play.

Autism Adventures

Melissa has taught moderate to severe special education classes for years. Her blog, Autism Adventures, outlines academics, behavior basics, communication, and all of the techniques she uses to be successful in her special needs classroom. One of our favorite posts is her Calm Down Kit, which helps kiddos work through their emotions on the more frustrating days.

Autism and Oughtisms

Way over in New Zealand, Linda, mother of two sons on the autism spectrum, runs the Autism and Oughtisms blog. Her message is simple – autism parents must let go of what they “ought” to do as parents and, instead, find what works for their child. Each child on the spectrum is unique, and there’s no “one size fits all” approach to parenting.

Stories About Autism

Meet James: autism blogger, business owner, and dad to Jude and Thomas. Part of why he started his blog was to become the best parent he could be, as well as wanting to help out others in the same boat and spread autism awareness. Stories About Autism is full of honesty and cute photos – what more could you want?

Awesomism Mom

Lynne, mom to Peyton, an 18-year-old on the spectrum, loves using her blog as an outlet to connect with other autism parents. Since Peyton is 18 years old, Lynne has worked through many of the struggles that parents to newly diagnosed children have millions of questions about. Amazingly, Lynne is also launching the Awesomism Quilt Tour to help spread the world about the high unemployment rate for autistic teens and adults.

Raising Autistic Kids

Writing under the pseudonym of Kate M., San Diego-based mom started the Raising Autistic Kids blog after leaving her corporate lifestyle to have more time to raise her son. On parenting, she writes “I’ve had twelve years of practice, I’m still a rookie mom because with ASD children, the milestones don’t apply.” Raising Autistic Kids is also sustained by plenty of volunteer guest bloggers.

The Autism Vault

The Autism Vault is a wonderful resource for teachers working with students with autism. Liz, a Special Education teacher and BCBA from New York City, helps readers understand ABA and how to run a successful special education classroom. Liz believes “any special education teacher can make a difference with a little ingenuity and behavioral science.”

The Art of Autism

The Art of Autism is a space for all individuals in the autism community to connect with others through art, poetry, writing, video content, and music. The organization’s vision is to “foster independence, self-esteem and artistic expression.” The Art of Autism certainly brings a bit of color and beauty to the online autism world.

The Mom Kind

Alicia Trautwein feels her life’s purpose is to bring awareness to autism and teach neurodiversity. She enlightens her readers about ASD and neurodiversity, with the added benefit of a free autism parenting resource library. Plus, if anyone’s looking for posts on recipes, homemaking, and saving money, Alicia’s got it covered.

The Journey Through Autism

The Journey Through Autism is one of the most special autism blogs on our list since it’s actually written from the perspective of someone on the autism spectrum. Teenager Ethan Hirschberg was diagnosed with high functioning Autism at the age of two, and says his diagnosis has not kept him from reaching his goals. Ethan aspires to go to an Ivy league college and dedicate his career to being a special education attorney or BCBA.

The Sensory Spectrum

The Sensory Spectrum is the go-to place for all things related to the senses: sensory toys, books, fine and gross motor tools, auditory tools, and feeding tools. The mom behind the Sensory Spectrum, Jennifer, has two kiddos with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Exhausted from scouring the Internet for sensory resources, she decided to create an all-encompassing resource herself.

Running Through Water

Jaycee Kemp, social worker and mom of two sons with varying levels of developmental disability, maintains the Running Through Water blog. Jaycee takes her readers through the A-Zs of Autism – Coping and Haircuts to Pediatricians and Therapists. She also provides a list of personally recommended resources in the special needs community.

Full Spectrum Mama

Full Spectrum Mama is a colorful blog representing a “Colorful Family.” Full Spectrum Mama writes in a refreshingly honest style with beautiful rainbow illustrations that accompany her posts. It’s one of the most unique autism blogs on our list.

The Never-Empty Nest

Marguerite Elisofon doubles as an author and mom to Samantha, a young adult on the autism spectrum. Samantha’s diagnosis has not kept her from achieving great things – in fact, she earned a nomination for best actress at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival. Marguerite publishes weekly blog posts, many of which zero in on the unique issues of adult women with autism.

Teach Love Autism

On Teach Love Autism, Jenn shares tips on creating schedules, work tasks, and anything that she’s had success with in her own classroom. She makes autism teaching products available for readers, including task cards, worksheets, and visual charts.

Bacon and Juiceboxes

Meet the “Bacon” family: Mr. Bacon (Jerry), Mrs. Bacon (Jo-Ann), Sister Bacon (Anna), and “the star of the show” – Eric. Mr. Bacon is a Police Captain and actively works to bridge the gap between police and individuals on the autism spectrum. In fact, Bacon and Juiceboxes hosts a free webinar on the 7 things first responders want people with ASD to know.

Autistic Not Weird

Chris Bonnello, also known as Captain Quirk, is a former primary school teacher turned to professional writer and speaker on autism issues. He’s on the spectrum himself, but wasn’t diagnosed with Asperger’s until the age of 25. He encourages everyone else on the spectrum to see themselves for their strengths rather than their weaknesses.

All About Boog

Amanda shares her experience of parenting “Boog,” her son who is on the autism spectrum. To those wondering what autism really means, she clarifies “It simply means he is a bright, loving, energetic little boy who happens to be on his own path when it comes to development.” She helps spread knowledge on ASD, language delays, therapies, and more.

The AWEnesty of Autism

PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified) is one of the diagnoses under the Autism Spectrum umbrella. Kate’s son Ryan was diagnosed with PDD-NOS at age 6, and Kate writes, “Most days I’m in awe of autism and the hold it has over the inner workings of my son’s mind.” Her blog shares the experiences of her family’s journey through the world of autism.

Dr. Mary Barbera’s Blog

Dr. Mary Barbera, a BCBA and mother to a son with autism, is a huge advocate of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy to help children on the spectrum reach their fullest potentials. Her blog is full of valuable information about ABA therapy, with the added personal touch of video blog lessons she creates herself.

Support for Special Needs

Julia Roberts and Dawn Friedman co-founded Support for Special Needs, which produces a wide variety of content on special needs, health, relationships, food, crafts, and DIY projects. Support for Special Needs acts as a medium for exchanging “wisdom and ideas among one of the most powerful group of people we know.”

 

Blog winners – feel free to share the distinction on your blogs with the code below!

Action Behavior Centers

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Parents’ Interactions with Babies May Ease Signs of Autism as Toddlers, Study Finds

Over the decades, ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapy has proven itself as an effective treatment option for the severe developmental delays seen in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Moreover, the scientific research suggests that the earlier a child begins early intensive therapy with ABA, the more gains are made in critical areas like communication, social skills, and day-to-day living skills. In a study of over 1,400 children and adolescents with ASD, researchers from the University of Missouri found that children who received more intensive therapy at younger ages saw greater advancements in communication and social skills.

It’s important for children to receive the earliest possible therapy because these early experiences play a critical role in brain development. According to a report by the National Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (NECTAC), Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child says “high quality early intervention services can change a child’s developmental trajectory” and “intervention is likely to be more effective and less costly when it is provided earlier in life rather than later.”

Parents also play a key role in a child’s success rate. In fact, a recent 2017 study found that parents’ interactions with babies at high risk of autism may help to ease the severity of autism symptoms at age three.

In the preliminary part of the study, conducted back in 2015, parents received individualized training sessions on how to respond to their baby’s facial expressions and gestures. Then, the parents worked these teachings into their interactions with their 9-month old babies over the next five months.

At the end of the five months, researchers measured early autism signs using the Autism Observation Scale for Infants, as well as the quality of parent-child interactions. The data showed that babies in the treatment group showed fewer early signs of autism and better interactions with their parents.

The 2017 follow-up study assessed these same children, now at ages 2 and 3, with the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS). Even years later, the quality of parent-child interactions was better among those who had received early parent training, and the toddlers showed less severe autism features.

 The researchers stress that larger studies are needed to confirm these results. However, they argue that “preemptive” therapy among infant populations can help parents address the early signs of autism and potentially ease the features of ASD during later development. This research solidifies just how important of a role parents play in the very early development of their child.