Every family is different, which makes spending time together all the more exciting. For families managing Special Needs, the prospect of holidays away from home can be daunting.
Melanie Whyte, personal travel manager, Travel with Kidz specialist and mother of two children who have Autism, urges all families to take the plunge in order to reap the rewards. “Yes, you may have to modify what you want to do,” Melanie says. “But the thing that I want people to know is it’s not impossible to go on holiday with a child with special needs.”
At the end of the day, Melanie says it is all about choosing the right conditions and recognising what is best suited to the individual child. Here are Melanie’s top five family and Autism-friendly destinations:
Fiji is Melanie’s favourite holiday hotspot hands-down. Fijian people are “welcoming and loving and inclusive” and famously adore children.
“They don’t want to see anyone miss out,” says Melanie, speaking of a time her children were gently invited to join a ball game in a pool despite not signing up to the Kids Club. “Their way of life is very relaxed and low-key. Nothing is a problem.”
The beaches and pools are also handy for calming kids down and tiring them out, and there is plenty to do. “They’ve got colouring books at the restaurants for kids who struggle with waiting. Kids can go off to play in the sand and climb trees. The energy is contagious and the kids pick up on that.”
2. Royal Caribbean Cruises
An alternative option if you’re outward bound is to jump on board the Royal Caribbean Autism-friendly cruise line.
“They’ve implemented a different check-in area,” says Melanie. “When you’re checking in, there are fewer people around and they have the lights a little lower and it is a bit quieter.”
For children with Autism who may rely on preparation to allay travel anxiety, the online instruction sheets are also a blessing. “On their website, they’ve got a Social Story that you can print off weeks in advance, running through the check-in procedure, the safety demonstration and so on before you go.”
3. Melbourne Zoo and Melbourne Aquarium
Stick closer to home and you’re just as likely to find treasure. According to Melanie, Australia is in fact “leading the way” when it comes to Autism-friendly attractions. “I’ve never once not been able to find something that suits both of my kids and what they need,” she says.
Melbourne is a favourite of Melanie’s family. “Melbourne Zoo is fabulous because they’ve got little wagons to take your kids around in.”
Melbourne Aquarium also caters to a range of needs and interests. “It is very interactive for the kids,” says Melanie. “They can also go up close and watch the fish which is really calming.”
4. Aussie World and other theme parks on the Sunshine and Gold Coasts
Melanie was pleasantly surprised by Aussie World on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. “Picking the time that we did,” she says, “there was hardly anybody there. It was just stimulating enough for the kids to have a totally fabulous day. But there was enough room between all of the attractions to keep it nice and calming.”
5. Australian beaches
“If you can get the kids out to the ocean, that brings instant calm,” says Melanie, spouting the praises of any of the beautiful beaches “all up and down the coast of Australia.” Her kids love swimming, and she finds that watching the waves helps centre them if they experience sensory overload.
Melanie Whyte is an accredited Travel with Kidz travel manager. For more information, great deals and booking advice, contact Melanie here.