Taking a family vacation can be stressful when you have a child with autism.There are not a lot of autism friendly vacation destinations. There are the usual factors to examine before deciding to take a family vacation. Can you afford it? Can you get time off of work? If the answer to these two questions are yes, then you’r ready to plan your vacation. The first thing a family with a child with autism has to decide is whether or not to take the vacation as a complete family or find someone to watch your special child while the rest of the family goes on vacation. For my family, it is all or nothing. A family vacation for us is all of us or none of us.
To help other families who feel the same way, I have compiled a list of different vacation destinations that are autism friendly. I have not been to each one of these places myself, and am relying on the information provided by their public relations personnel. Some are special opportunities offered at different times of the year, while others are available year round.
Kid Friendly Vacation Spots
1. Sesame Place, a theme park based on Sesame Street that’s located near Philadelphia in Langhorne, PA, only 90 minutes south of Manhattan. www.sesameplace.com. You have to be a member of Philadelphia Chapter of Variety – The Children’s Charity to attend their special Autism week event.
2. Challenge Aspen is a non-profit group based in Snowmass, Colorado. Challenge Aspen has year round programs specifically designed for kids and adults with special needs, with the focus on including families in these experiences, regardless of financial limitations. http://www.challengeaspen.org
3. Disney World offers special front-of-line passes for autistic guests. You may need a letter of diagnosis from your child’s doctor. I have been to Walt Disney World with my family. I did not have a problem getting a pass for my son, and did not need a doctor’s letter. I believe this was because it was obvious that my son has a disability. I believe that it is better to be safe and prepared, and recommend that you go ahead and get a letter from your doctor to take with you.
4. Busch Gardens offers special front-of-line passes for autistic guests You may need a letter of diagnosis from your child’s doctor.
5. Sea World offers special front-of-line passes for autistic guests. You may need a letter of diagnosis from your child’s doctor.
6. Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari in Santa Claus, Indiana offer Riding Board Passes for special needs. You need a letter of diagnosis from your child’s doctor. This is stated on their http://holidayworld.com/access.html#pass page.
7. Vacation Home Rentals http://www.discovervacationhomes.com is one source of for acquiring a rental home for your vacation. This might be preferable to your family than staying at a hotel.
8. Smugglers’ Notch Resort in northern Vermont offers an adaptive program throughout the year called SNAP, Smugglers’ Notch Adaptive Program. “Most families visit Smugglers on the Club Smugglers’ Advantage Package in Winter and the FamilyFest Package in Summer. Both offer many inclusions to run the gamut of activities, entertainment and amenities. While our three mountains attract skiers and snowboarders in Winter, our eight pools and waterslides attract water lovers in the Summer! At Smugglers’ each member of the family can truly enjoy their own interests as well as come together as a family in activities that yield special vacation memories.” Their website is www.smuggs.com.
9. Surfer’s Healing, organizes surf camps for autistic children: www.surfershealing.org Based in San Diego, 2009 camps will be held in California (several locations); Virginia Beach, VA; Wrightsville Beach, NC; Belmar, NJ; Montauk, NY. – This is one that I would love to do, and have heard of from different mothers and from the news.
10. Autism on the Seas http://www.alumnicruises.org/Autism/Autism_Home.htm – You can book a special Autism Package that allows you to prepare the cruise staff for meeting your child’s needs, including a special GFCF diet if needed.
11. Leaps…n…Boundz – ” ‘Community Adventure Weekends’ are offered 4 times throughout the year and are intended to introduce families to new experiences within the state of California (at least thus far). The weekends are designed to be spent as a family, amongst other families and staff volunteers in an effort to show families they are not alone, allowing them to socialize, network and experience vacationing with their special needs child.
The weekends include
-tickets for all activities planned
and much more”
12. “Finger Lakes Wellness Center and Health Spa (in conjunction with Hickory Hill Family Camping Resort) offers week-long retreats in June, July, August, and September. In addition to providing a fun-filled week for children with “special needs” and the opportunity to interact socially, the purpose of the Wellness G.I.F.T.S. Retreats is also to give parents, caregivers and siblings a chance to replenish their spirits and rekindle their energies.”
“Friday, June 19, – Sunday, June 21
Friday, July 24 – Sunday, July 26
Friday, August 28 – Sunday, August 30
Friday, September 25 – Sunday, September 27
Traditionally, the September retreat has been for children with Tourettes, but that might change this year to allow other children in as well. “
For more information about the G.I.F.T.S. Retreat, contact Chris Sproul, Director of the Finger Lakes Wellness Center & Health Spa at email@example.com or by calling (607)776-3737. You can also visit www.giftsretreats.com for specifics about costs.
Finger Lakes Wellness Center & Health Spa is located at 7531 County Route 13, Bath, NY. 14810
13. Amy Fleischer the Public Programs Coordinator at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota, FL contacted me and said that “We would welcome the opportunity to host these (Autism) families and determine how to best serve them.” Their website is www.mote.org. If you are a member of an Autism Support Group, you can contact her for information about scheduling a visit, firstname.lastname@example.org is her email address.
Now you have a list of some vacation destinations that are autism friendly. I am sure that there are many others. Also, do not assume that a vacation park doesn’t have special assistance for children with autism just because it is not posted on their website. Most of the big parks do not have it posted but they do have a policy in place for meeting the needs of all children with special needs, including Autism.