While some venues may be inappropriate, families with autistic children can have fun family outings too! A little advanced planning and the right attitude are all you need. Set yourself up for success, and know when to admit failure. Picking the right activity is the first step. There are four important aspects to consider when making your plan. Then try some or all of the ideas below.
First, consider the cost. Cheap (or better yet, free) activities are best. High prices create high expectations. You want to have fun, not worry about getting your money’s worth.
Second, consider the atmosphere of the proposed location. Balance any sensory issues your child has against the benefits of a little noise and commotion. A behavioral outburst, or even the “happy noises” of an autistic individual, will be less stressful on the family at a baseball game than in an opera house. There is never a reason to be embarrassed by an outburst, but it is nice to take a day off from explaining.
Third, consider the flow of the day physically. A long drive, followed by sitting still to watch a show, followed by a long drive home will make everyone antsy (and “flappy”). If an autistic child or adolescent will have to sit still, make sure to schedule time for a good long walk first. A good long walk during the activity may be necessary, too, which leads to the fourth and final consideration—an escape route.
Finally, be willing to cut your losses. Enjoy as much of the day as you can while things are going well, and then go home without pushing anyone past their limits. Keeping the cost down helps here too. Always make sure no one is invested too much, financially or emotionally, in the success of the day. If the tide turns against you, abort mission!
Consider the ages and interests of everyone in your family, and then try some of these:
1. Minor league baseball games. Cheap tickets, shorter lines for food and bathrooms, and seats closer to the action all add up to an easy day out. However, you may want to avoid the mascot or leave early if there are going to be fireworks after the game. This tip can also be applied to any unpopular professional teams from any sport in your area. Did your NBA team lose 60 games last year? Then buy your tickets now!
2. The zoo. To make it worth your while, get there when it opens. The crowds will be smaller and the animals find a shady place to sleep by lunch time, anyway.
3. Music, music, music. Concerts in the park, arts and crafts festivals with a stage for bands, or holiday sing-a-longs all offer free music and a fun day or evening out. Check out all the houses of worship around your area, too. Denomination doesn’t matter if they have choral performances, tree or menorah lightings, or children’s shows. Also keep in mind local orchestras and even high-school musicals. Pick a seat near the door if you are worried about causing a disturbance.
4. Chain restaurants. Sounds silly, but some national chain restaurants can be like a one-day trip to a theme park. (“Would you like a tropical rainstorm every half hour with that burger?”) The bigger chains have the largest menus, which is good for finding one of the approximately four foods a typical autistic child will eat. They also have the most corporate training for helping customers with dietary restrictions and special needs.
6. Beaches, lakes and pools. Find a public lake front or a friend with an extra guest pass to their pool. Always be safe, though. Consider how many good swimmers and not-so-good swimmers you have. Look for someplace with a life guard. Also, if you pick the beach, remember kids in general do not always understand why they can not swim straight out from the shore indefinitely. Pools have walls.
7. Amusement parks. Ever spun in a tea cup with an autistic kid? While the rides may be a hit, you should consider that this can be an expensive outing. Also, large amusement parks tend to have great open spaces with little shade. A lot of walking (miles of it at some parks) on a hot day can ruin everyone’s fun.
One last tip: think about picking someplace all kids love to go, and then go on a school day. What could be more bonding than playing hooky as a family? Now, get out of the house, already.