Preparation

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Planning a skiing holiday is exciting. However, if you have a child or other relative with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) a trip away may involve extra organising and preparation. This guide will help you prepare.

The word 'child' is used throughout this section, but the information provided may also be applicable to adults.

Once you have decided on a holiday with Skiing4all, it is advisable to tell your child about the trip. Individuals on the autistic spectrum find change difficult, and this may lead to high anxiety and possible challenging behaviour. However, by preparing your child as much as possible, any fears will hopefully be kept to a minimum.

You could compile a booklet about the holiday, including pictures from our website gallery. These visual supports will help your child to understand where they are going and what it will be like when they are there. However, be careful if your child's understanding is very literal, as they may be upset if the exact setup is not the same as the pictures in their booklet.

You could create a timetable of what you will be doing on each day. You could start with the times that you will have breakfast and dinner and add information about our daily program activities available from our Free resources for children with special needs. How structured this timetable needs to be will depend on your child and how much they rely on routine. Design the timetable according to your child's needs. You may need to be quite detailed: describing what activities you will be doing every day. Alternatively, your child may be happy with: 'explore the resort on the first evening’, 'go skiing' on the second day and so on. Sticking to some sort of routine each day should benefit everyone.

If your child has not travelled on a plane before, or you are going from a new airport, or on a bigger/smaller plane, you may like to visit the airport before you go on holiday. This will help your child to understand what the airport is like, as well as allowing them to experience the journey to the airport before you go. You could contact the airline directly, and explain to them that your child has an ASD. You may need to provide some general information about the condition, as well as some details on your child's particular needs and habits. This will help the airline staff to support your family. For example, you may want to explain if your child hand-flaps.

Many airlines/airports are able to organise tours around an aircraft or on a simulator to help people with disabilities or those who might be nervous about flying. This may benefit your child as it provides some impression of what being in an aircraft might be like.

Practical considerations

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Check-in. Discuss your check-in arrangements with the airline. Perhaps they could arrange a time for you to check in, so that your family is able to approach the check-in desk straight away, and your child does not become anxious due to the wait in the queue. They may be able to provide a quieter area of the airport where you could wait with your children. They may be able to let you board first or last, depending on what would be most beneficial for your child, and perhaps seat you on the airplane either in the front or back row of the plane, where there is often more room. The back row often has space behind the seats where your child could walk about, if this might be helpful. However, please remember that this area is often the location for toilets; this means that there may be a high level of activity which could be distressing for some people with an ASD. 

Special requirements. Remember to give the airline advance notice if your child has any special dietary requirements, particularly if they are following the gluten or casein-free diet as this may take longer to organise. (You will also need to let Skiing4all know so that we can serve the appropriate meals and snacks during the day and pass this information to your hotel.) To be on the safe side, it may be a good idea to take your own meal for the flight. It’s advisable to ask the airport you are going to about the security measures which are in place in regards to taking food to your destination and if you need to provide any evidence (e.g. a doctors letter) as to why you need to take this.

Please note that you will receive a detailed Booking Form from Skiing4all around 4 to 6 weeks before your holiday so that you can let us know about any of your special requirements. If your child has particular medication needs, please discuss this with your GP before the holiday and remember to take all the medication that your child will require for the length of your stay.

Delays. Even the most well-planned holiday may be affected by unexpected delays. Your child may find it difficult to deal with these unplanned aspects of the trip. Having a favourite toy/activity with you to engage your child in while waiting may help. As a part of your preparation, you could write a Social Story to explain that delays can occur. 

Flying time. To help your child cope with the aircraft noise, particularly during take-off and landing, you may consider using some sort of headphones. Some individuals on the autistic spectrum like to listen to music. Perhaps your child might like to listen to a familiar piece of calming, reassuring music while in the airport or during the flight. There are also headphones which have been designed to shut out all surrounding noise, including the sounds of aircraft engines. 

There may also be other items which would keep your child occupied and happy while travelling. These might be favourite toys or objects they like to fiddle with. You could bring your child's pillow for comfort during the flight. You may even like to pack bed linen or a sleeping bag as sometimes the familiarity of items from home can help a person with an ASD to feel more relaxed and calm in a new environment. Remember also to bring any such items which are used as comforters at home and may relax your child while away. 

 

Behaviour

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At the start of the holiday you may like to establish clear, simple 'holiday rules'. These should tell your child about your expectations and should be positive. Write these down if your child is able to read. Use clear language as a reminder: "We don't do that on holiday." Once you have decided on these rules, stick with them and to be consistent. This will establish boundaries for the holiday.

Look out for any behavioural changes. For some individuals with ASDs, when they are on holiday a regular behaviour pattern disappears and new behaviours emerge. This may be due to the change of environment and routine. For example, they may communicate being tired, bored or stressed in a different way to when they are at home. 

Please remember that any change in temperature might also affect their behaviour. Some children may feel irritated by the heat or cold and need time to adjust. They may need explanations and reminders to change their clothes, especially when they need to change from their usual clothes to ski clothing, ski boots, helmets and gloves. You may want to discuss this change in clothing before going on holiday, perhaps connecting each season with a particular type of clothing on your calendar at home. 

 

Language problems

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While on holiday you may want to tell others about your child's difficulties. This might be fellow holidaymakers or hotel staff, as well as others. Below, there are some useful phrases in German for use in difficult situations. It may be helpful to write these onto small business-style cards and carry a stock with you. 

My son is not being naughty. He is a child with autism/He is autistic. Please show some understanding.
Mein sohn ist nicht frech. Er hat Autismus. Bitte zeigen sie etwas verständnis und mitgefühl. 

My daughter is not being naughty. She is a child with autism/She is autistic. Please show some understanding.
Meine tochter is nicht frech. Sie hat Autsimus. Bitte zeigen sie etwas verständnis und mitgefühl.

 

Recommended reading

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Debbaudt, D. (2001). Autism and airport travel safety tips: a guide for parents and carers. SATH. Available here.  Focuses on travel within the USA but has some useful tips. 

Manchester Airport, with the help of the NAS, has produced an information guide entitled Airport awareness: Travel advice for parents and carers of children on the autistic spectrum to help adults travelling with children with autism. The free guide uses images to show what to expect on a journey from arriving to checking-in, to going through security and returning home. It is available to download from the airport website.

The Autism Helpline is able to provide leaflets on autism and Asperger syndrome, as well as an information sheet called Guidelines for airline staff. Please contact the Autism Helpline on 0808 800 4104 if you would like this information sheet. 

Adapted from the National Autistic Society information sheet.

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