By Shannon Taurozzi
For North Shore Pediatric
Going on a road trip requires a lot of preparation for everything to go smoothly. If you have a child with autism, going on a road trip will require a little extra preparation, but it should not deter you from taking a trip. A little bit of extra preparation will go a long way to ensure a stress-free enjoyable ride.
Road Trip Do’s and Don’ts for a Child with Autism:
Road Trip Do’s:
Prepare. Have an itinerary for the time in the car. Plan scheduled stops along the way for restroom breaks, meals, etc.
Know your route. This will help with any unexpected stops that may occur. Know where the rest stops are located and where you are planning on stopping to eat meals.
Bring your child’s favorite snack and toys. Be well stocked with a variety of snacks, beverages, and activities. Also buy some new activities that can be used if they lose interest in the other activities.
Find a social story about car trips. Even better write your own using pictures of various landmarks that your child will see on their journey. Read this story each day in the weeks and days leading up to the trip.
Prior to the start of your trip, take small shorter trips (in increasing length if necessary) to get your child used to being in the car for long periods of time.
Reinforce and praise appropriate car riding behaviors (e.g., give a preferred snack or access to a preferred toy). Or after a successful outing, stop at your child’s favorite restaurant for a reward.
If your child has difficulty using public restrooms, practice going to different restrooms before your trip.
Leave for your trip very early in the morning, or even drive overnight if possible so there will be less traffic and your child will be more likely to sleep for the first portion of the trip.
Prepare for the worst. Think of everything that could possibly go wrong and then come up with solutions for those situations. Of course you can’t plan for every possible scenario, but having a general idea of what to do when things go wrong will be helpful.
Road Trip Don’ts:
Don’t “wing it”. Preparation is key in having a successful road trip. When you are unprepared for the trip there is a bigger chance of something going wrong.
Don’t assume that just because your child does well in the car for an hour that they will do well with long trips. Prepare for the worst and have a plan in place if your child begins to get restless during the trip.
Don’t wait for problem behaviors to arise. If your child is doing a great job of riding in the car, let them know by either providing specific praise (i.e., “I love how you are sitting and playing so nicely.”), or give them a few bites of their favorite snack in addition to the praise.
Don’t show your frustration. Even in a very stressful situation, it is best to remain clam. If you child sees that you are upset, it is just going to make them more upset.
Whatever may happen, good or bad it is important to focus on the special moments that were shared with your family and all of the good memories that are created during the trip that you can reflect back on for years to come.