This article was contributed by Danielle Wright and Nicole Johnson, who both recently graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with master’s degrees in Speech-Language Pathology and have accepted jobs in public schools. They created a travel resource guide for families affected by autism and have generously shared it with us. To read and download the guide, click here.
We bonded in the first few stressful weeks of graduate school and learned that although we come from different worlds – Southern California and small-town North Carolina – we actually had a lot in common. We share a passion for making a difference in the lives of children and our interest in children with autism.
For the past year, we’ve been creating this resource to complete the requirements for our capstone project. Around the time we needed to set a topic for the project, we found ourselves sitting at Caribou Coffee talking about Disney, a typical conversational topic considering Nicole worked at Disneyland during undergrad. She was expressing her concerns that so many people, including those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), were not aware of the resources available to them at places like Disneyland. We quickly realized that raising this awareness was a good starting point for our project. From there, we decided to make a resource guide full of tips for parents of children with ASD. Our original plan was to focus on theme parks, but our supervising professor encouraged us to expand to other types of travel.
Even though we have never personally tried to travel with a child with ASD, we understand that it can be a daunting task. For children with ASD, everyday tasks can be challenging. Changing a routine and trying something new can be completely overwhelming for the child and the family. What we want people to realize is that this doesn’t mean that traveling or vacations should be impossible. This resource is intended to make this process easier. As we researched travel tips, we saw that a significant amount of information is already available online, but no one place compiles all of this information. In creating the resource guide, we combined ideas from parents and professionals with firsthand experience, the information and knowledge that we have acquired over the years through our studies of ASD, and current research from journal articles to support several kinds of tips and resources. With this wide variety of sources, we hope that this resource will be helpful to the greatest amount of people for their specific needs.
The resource guide contains five main sections:
- airports and flights
- water safety
- road trips
- theme parks
Each section outlines a number of tips and ideas, resources, and a social story that can be personalized. Many of the tips revolve around gradually exposing children to things that they will see and experience while traveling. Others include tips such as reminders of essential items to bring and how to educate the child about safety concerns. Flight rehearsal programs, swim lessons specifically for children with special needs, and camps for families of children with autism are examples of resources discussed in the guide. Also included are copies of a card families can give to people that explains a little bit about ASD and why they may be seeing certain behaviors.
We’re so excited that our project has this opportunity to be used by people who will actually benefit from the information. We hope that our resource will help you and your family see the world from a different angle.