Mother-of-three and founder of Magical Storybook Travels and Spectrum Travels, Nicole Thibault is no stranger to the ins and outs of planning family holidays. It is lucky that her boys, one of whom is on the Autism Spectrum, have developed just as much of a taste for seeing the world.
Together, the US-based family have snorkelled in the Dry Tortugas National Park, gone caving in Rio Secreto and crossed most of Florida’s theme parks off their list. They are big fans of Walt Disney World and spend a lot of time exploring National Parks around America. Last year they took a cruise to Mexico on Autism-friendly cruise line, Royal Caribbean.
“We’ve made travel a huge priority,” says Nicole, who strongly believes in its therapeutic capacity for children with Autism. “We wanted time away from all of our appointments and obligations, time together as a family.”
Handling unfamiliar settings was difficult when Nicole’s son was first diagnosed with Autism and experienced more sensory meltdowns.
“My thought was that if we started travelling when my son was young, he would eventually get used to the sights and sounds of the airport, shuttles, hotels and new places. Each time we travel, my son’s comfort zone is stretched more and more, enabling him to experience new things more easily. Now every time we come back from a vacation, my sons have so much to share with friends, family and teachers.”
A ‘social story’ video produced by the Thibaults about Universal Studios:
Nicole urges families with a child with Autism to consult Special Needs Travel Agents. “They are familiar with appropriate destinations and can help with vacation preparation, to get your whole family ready for travel,” she says.
“Alert the airline that you are traveling with a child with Autism,” recommends Nicole. She always checks in at the service desk to request early boarding and a seat at the front of the plane so her son can disembark quickly after landing.
She also makes the most of the ‘Wings for Autism’ program that has been introduced in several American airports and most recently in Perth, Western Australia. The initiative helps prepare children on the Spectrum for the process of check-in, boarding, take-off and landing.
For a child with autism, preparation and managing expectations are key to an enjoyable outing. For this reason, Nicole has become a certified Autism Travel Professional and has worked to produce a series of ‘Social Stories’ with her son. These short videos include virtual tours, instructions for kids and parents, and reviews of attractions and accommodation. They are designed to minimise travel anxiety by familiarising kids with new places ahead of time.
Nicole and her son show you around the Quiet Room in a Social Story about LEGOLAND Florida:
Check out more about Nicole’s initiative at Spectrum Travel Social Story Videos, or watch the social stories on Youtube. You can also visit the website of her travel agency, specialising in family travel and travel with special needs, Magical Storybook Travels.
Read about her thoughts on LEGOLAND Florida here.