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    The ultimate guide for travelling with neurodiverse kids

    The ultimate guide for travelling with neurodiverse kids

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    Travelling with neurodiverse children can feel quite overwhelming if you’re unsure of where or how to get started – especially if it’s your family’s first overseas holiday. Personal travel manager Melanie Whyte has worked with neurodiverse families for many years, with much of her expertise drawn from her experiences travelling with her own children, both of whom have autism.

    “Kids can learn so much from seeing the world, but I’ve had numerous parents tell me it all feels too hard. It breaks my heart to think that neurodiverse children miss out on amazing travel experiences when the reality is that it is absolutely possible.

    It just takes a little extra time and effort to understand what will make their holiday safe and enjoyable, then using those insights to put the appropriate measures in place. Travelling together can add a whole new dimension of joy to family life, help children learn to build social relationships and improve everyone’s quality of life.”

    With that in mind, we asked Melanie to share her top tips for planning a holiday with a neurodivergent child/neurodiverse children:

    1. Choose a travel advisor who truly gets you

    Trust is an essential part of any relationship – even more so when you need to find the right personal travel manager to oversee your family’s travel needs. It’s the little unseen details that will make all the difference, which is why you need to feel comfortable about being open and upfront with your travel advisor about your goals, needs and concerns. The right advisor won’t make snap judgements when they hear the term neurodiversity – they will ensure that you feel accepted and understood by asking questions and listening to your responses. They will pay close attention to the smallest details and warn you of any potential triggers.

    They will also understand that a family’s needs are likely to change as young children grow up. Every new holiday is an opportunity to reset expectations and celebrate the confidence and experience your older children have acquired from their travel experiences.

    If you choose to work with a Certified Autism Travel Professional like Melanie, you can feel confident that they understand what’s required to create a positive travel experience for your family. Maybe they need to find you a small hotel in a quiet location with guaranteed blackout blinds in every room. They can also help you to create a social story that explains what to expect at the airport, on your flight and throughout your holiday.

    2. Favourite destinations for neurodiverse families

    Your choice of holiday destination plays a significant role in providing your family with a successful, happy travel experience.

    • Fiji is one of Melanie’s personal favourites, especially if your family is just getting started with international travel. It’s a relatively short flight from Australia, English is widely spoken, the pace of life is well suited to kids who prefer to operate at their own speed, and the Fijian people have a warmth and gentleness – the famous Bula spirit – that helps to create a sense of security and safety.
    • Club Med is another popular choice – Melanie cites the endless dining options and vast range of activities and facilities as positive factors. Family members can choose to be involved as much or as little as they like, and there are lots of quiet spaces where they enjoy a little downtime when it’s needed.

    For inexperienced travellers, Melanie suggests avoiding destinations where challenges include longer plane journeys and heightened sensory environments (for example, busy streets, strong aromas and crowded beaches). Regardless of which destination you choose, an experienced personal travel manager like Melanie will make it their personal mission to take care of the finer details that will make all the difference to your family’s holiday.

    3. What to look for when choosing a hotel, airline or supplier

    The sunflower lanyard is an international symbol to identify people with hidden needs: wearing one makes it easier for suppliers to identify travellers who may need additional support. You can check online for locations that recognise the sunflower symbol before your holiday begins.

    the sunflower symbol at the airport - travelling with neurodiverse kids

    The Sunflower is a globally recognised symbol for non-visible disabilities

    A lot of major airports now have helpful online resources like social stories and sensory maps to support travellers with neurodiverse needs. Staff undergo training so they know how to provide appropriate assistance for travellers with hidden disabilities. For example, they will be aware that some people with autism are not good with direct or intense contact, that they made need extra time to process information or that they may have trouble interpreting some social cues.

    From hotels and airlines to cruise ships and theme parks, there are many suppliers that are extraordinary at supporting guests with specialised needs. However, even if a supplier claims to be autism-friendly, it’s a good idea to ask your personal travel manager for more details.

    Melanie’s tips for choosing a hotel:

    • Look for options that offer dedicated, quiet check-in areas.
    • Ask for rooms that are equipped with dimmer lights and are located well away from elevators and ice machines.
    • Find out whether staff have received specialised training.
    • If your neurodiverse family members have a specific request or requirement, such as a hotel room with tiled floors or a muted colour palette, ensure that your personal travel manager knows about it.

    Ask your personal travel manager about airlines that recognise the DPNA (Disabled Passenger with Intellectual or Developmental Disability Needing Assistance) code in their booking systems. It’s a discreet way of alerting airline staff that your family members may need a little extra care and attention, from priority boarding to preferred seating.

    It’s important to remember why we describe neurodiverse people as being “on the spectrum.” Neurodiversity is not linear, and there is no one-size-fits-all checklist that will ensure your neurodiverse family’s needs are ticked off. One family might need a hotel room that overlooks a peaceful park, while another family might need to know where to find the nearest McDonalds in case of an emergency chicken nugget run.

    4. Top tips for packing

    Start with what you already know about what’s needed to ensure your children safe and comfortable. Unfamiliar food (and especially airline food) can be a challenge for kids with specific eating habits, so be sure to pack a good supply of their favourite snacks in your carry-on luggage. Side note: remember to check whether any of those snacks (such as dried fruit or honey) are restricted items that need to be declared or disposed of before clearing customs and immigration at your destination.

    Give your kids a sense of control, regardless of where in the world they may be, by bringing comfortable and familiar elements of their usual environment with them. A long haul flight can be made more enjoyable by packing a selection of favourite games or fidget toys, plus a set of noise-cancelling headphones and a few hours of a beloved TV show downloaded onto a device. Packing cubes are also a useful tool for maintaining a sense of order when you’re living out of a suitcase.

    If your kids have sensory issues, you could also pack a special pillowcase or blanket to make bedtime feel more familiar. Anything that helps to create a sense of familiarity in a new space will help to minimise the risk of feeling overwhelmed.

    5. The golden rule

    Regardless of individual needs, there are three useful keywords to keep in mind when planning your family’s holiday: routine, rest and interest.

    Routine: most kids, whether neurodiverse or neurotypical, thrive on routine, and this becomes even more important when you’re in unfamiliar territory. You can empower your children to cope with the more unpredictable or unfamiliar aspects of their holiday by maintaining the structure and safety of regular bedtimes, mealtimes and other aspects of their everyday world.

    Rest: this goes hand-in-hand with routine – regular downtime is an essential element of any itinerary. Even amidst the noise and colour of an immense theme park, there will probably be designated quiet, low-sensory spaces where families can go to reset.

    Interest: choose destinations and activities that appeal to the entire family – after all, it’s your holiday too! Even if you’re designing a holiday around your neurodivergent child’s very specific area of interest, it’s important that the rest of the family also has an enjoyable time. The ultimate goal is a fun, enriching, rewarding holiday that strengthens family relationships and ends with everyone feeling excited to do it all again.

    6. Other useful tips

    • Travel insurance is a must for any holiday – it’s an essential safeguard for those unforeseeable moments which can impact even the most meticulously laid plans. Be sure to discuss any pre-existing conditions with your personal travel manager to ensure that you have the best possible protection.
    • If you’re thinking about a cruise holiday, ask your personal travel manager which cruise lines provide special assistance for neurodiverse passengers. From priority boarding to reserved seating for live shows, there are numerous small measures which you can take advantage of throughout your cruise.
    • If your neurodivergent child struggles with transitions, talk to your personal travel manager about planning an itinerary that minimises these.
    • Find inspiration in social media by following the accounts of other neurodiverse families who are sharing their travel experiences (and associated learnings) online.
    • There are invaluable resources available online that are dedicated to providing accessible travel advice for specific destinations. They provide helpful advice and information such as which venues offer quiet sessions and which attractions have sensory triggers to be aware of.

    To plan a holiday for your neurodiverse family, we recommend that you to speak to a Certified Autism Travel Professional like Melanie Whyte who understands and accepts the challenges you may face. They will work with your family to ensure that every aspect of your travel experience is tailored to the individual needs of your family.


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