Child pretend to drive a vehicle at a children's museum

Planning A Summer Road Trip With An Autistic Child

This blog post may contain affiliate links.

Neurodiverse children (e.g., autism & ADHD) with sensory sensitivities may be overwhelmed when traveling. With so many changes to their environment in a short period of time, it may lead to anxiety, making summer road trips extra stressful. During summer breaks, many families try to maximize their time by packing a lot of activities into their vacations. It is important to remember when planning an autism-friendly vacation that children with varying sensory needs may not be able to transition as quickly as other neurotypical peers.

Over the years, we have traveled extensively with our neurodiverse child—even including a cross-country move! These are some of my favorite tips for a successful road trip that will keep everyone happy and comfortable.

Summer Road Trip!

How To Prepare Your Neurodiverse Child For Your Road Trip

Effective preparation for a road trip with a neurodiverse child begins well in advance. Start communicating your plans at least a week before you travel. One reassuring strategy is to share a visual story with your child, which can be as simple as a small book with pictures of your destination. Additionally, showing your child videos or photos online can help them visualize the trip and reduce anxiety, giving you confidence in your preparation.

Another helpful tool while on the road is to allow your child to track your journey. This may include pinning stops on a map or creating a simple drawing of your trip with a few landmarks. This will help them understand where they’re going and how many more stops you will make until you reach your destination.

Keeping everyone safe while on the road is a must! Placing a sticker on the exterior of your car is helpful if you are in an accident. If you cannot communicate with emergency personnel, alerting them to your child’s medical needs is important. Also, placing emergency contact information in the glove compartment is important. You will want to include information on closest relatives, medical conditions, and any known allergies.

Packing Comfort Items

Before we travel, I ensure we pack multiple comfort items I know my child will enjoy. This includes weighted blankets, a weighted lap blanket, a tablet, noise-canceling headphones, fidget toys, chew necklaces, favorite plush toys, and a pillow.

Our SUV has a space between the backseats, and I place two folding storage bins between the seats. These seem to work best for us because they do not slide around the car and have sides that do not collapse like a bag. This gives Elizabeth more independence to find whatever item she wants without us having to retrieve something every time she wants something new, and we can focus on the road, making us feel secure and prepared.

The sun is brutal in the summer, depending on which side of the car you are on. Packing sunscreen, a sunshade for the back car windows, and UPF clothing are necessary. Nobody likes to feel like they’re baking in the sun for hours, so it is important to remember sun protection items.

Bring Safe Foods and Drinks

When we travel, we always bring our daughter’s safe foods (favorite foods) and drinks. My husband and I are pretty easy when we travel and are not picky eaters, but we must have some foods we know Elizabeth will eat on the go. We have a few fast-food staples that she will always eat, especially French fries, but while on the road, you never know if you will stumble upon a restaurant with her favorite foods. It is best to be prepared just in case. Nobody wants a hangry kid!

Also, you want to bring lots of drinks for the entire family. Summers seem to get hotter every year, so the whole family needs to stay hydrated. Bringing a cooler with your favorite beverages is always a good idea. You may want to consider getting some sports drinks, juice, and, most importantly, some caffeinated beverages for Mom and Dad! Remember any special cups or food containers that are easier to eat and drink out of in a moving vehicle. We always bring some insulated cups with a straw that folds to avoid spills as much as possible.

Cleaning Supplies On The Go

Speaking of spills…I always pack cleaning supplies for the road. We use tons of cleaning supplies to clean up any messes or disinfect after using rest-stop bathrooms. Our neurodiverse child can be a little fussy about messes, so we need to keep her hands wiped and crumbs to a minimum. If you are on the road for several days, you may want to consider bringing a small car vacuum. Sometimes, our child won’t get into the car until all the crumbs are cleaned on the floor (even though she likely made the mess!). A small handheld vacuum would resolve the issue quickly and get us back on the road.  

Taking Breaks!

Many children with autism and ADHD need movement breaks, so sitting in the car for hours can be very challenging. You may want to review your route, or when you stop for gas or the restroom, a quick GPS search may tell you where there is a nearby park. It may help reset everyone’s mood and give everyone a chance to recharge from busy traffic.

Also, being prepared for potentially gross restrooms is a must. I don’t know about you, but unfamiliar restrooms are really challenging for a neurodiverse child. There can be tons of people coming and going, loud toilets flushing, and the sounds of hand dryers can be overwhelming.

In my mom backpack, I am prepared for a variety of scenarios. I carry a small stack of sticky notes in my bag to place over the toilet motion sensor, giving us more time to get situated without toilet flushing. Then I bring my own large toilet seat covers and a folding potty seat since Elizabeth is still petite and some public toilets are very large. I always have a set of spare clothes for her, just in case, as well.

Road Trip Checklist

To Summarize, this is my must-have list of road trip essentials.

Time For Summer Fun!

With some of these tips, you can have a happy and safe summer road trip with your neurodiverse child! Have a great summer!

This blog post may contain affiliate links. If you click on these links and make a purchase, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products or services I use and believe will add value to my readers. Your support helps keep this blog running, and I appreciate your trust in my recommendations. Please note that I am not responsible for the content, privacy practices, or services of external sites linked within the blog post.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *