I have been on three visits to New York, one without the kids, one with the kids and one slightly less successful one with the kids that lasted half a day! On the half day trip, I had no plans and was completely unorganised which, in hindsight, was a terrible idea that ended in disaster and a flight straight back out of there! The time I took the kids for a week though, was amazing and I couldn’t be more pleased we went. In this article I am going to share some of the things I did right that made the whole trip to New York with an autistic child more manageable.
Firstly I planned and I planned and when I had everything planned, I planned some more! I knew where we were going every day and I knew how best to do each attraction and when they were the least busy. This is so important as New York is such a big, busy city that wandering around aimlessly can easily become overwhelming. I picked the attractions and sights we wanted to see and that I thought were manageable, and then I researched how to do that.
Consider staying outside of Manhattan
Now this goes completely against all advice I was given for visiting New York, as most people want to be in the middle of things, but I decided to book an Airbnb in Queens and it turned out to be a great idea. It gave us somewhere quiet to escape to, away from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan so when things got too much and we needed a break, we had somewhere to go. It also meant we had the ability to make our own food and we had a private space to chill out if we needed it.
Hire a car
Again, this goes against “normal advice” but we hired a car and drove into the center of Manhattan everyday and it wasn’t that bad! There are car parks that offer good deals if you book online and get there at a certain time and in the evening there is on the street parking. We were able to drive around and see some sights from the car window and we could escape back to our Airbnb easily when we needed to. Let’s face it – who wants to take an overwhelmed kid on the verge of a meltdown on a crowded subway across one of the busiest cities in the world? Having a car also enabled us to travel to places to eat out of town that were quieter and less expensive.
Make use of central park
Walking through Central Park, it doesn’t feel like you are in the middle of the city and it is a great place to escape to. There are walks, play areas, places to run around, buskers to watch and even a zoo. Central Park for us was a middle of the day escape and re-charge place.
Research the attractions
Plan to visit attractions that are good for autistic children and plan to go when they are quietest. We loved the Intrepid museum which has hours of entertainment and things in place for autistic children. We also enjoyed our visit to the 9/11 museum as we went at a quiet time.
Consider smaller, less usual attractions
Two of the places we enjoyed the most weren’t places that normally spring to mind as must sees in New York. We loved the Pinball museum which had a collection of old and new pinball machines. You pay for your time and can play the games as many times as you like during your time slot. We went in the evening. It wasn’t busy and was a great hit with the kids. We also enjoyed Ripleys Believe It Or Not.
Avoid Times Square
In the words of my son “I don’t know why so many people all want to go to the same place and look at adverts”! We went, we looked for five minutes at the pretty colours and lights and then we left to find somewhere quieter because it was crowded, noisy and there was simply too much going on.
Do consider going to Liberty Island
This was a great trip out for us. The beauty of the trip is the boats are limited to how many people they can take so we found Liberty Island to be a lot quieter than the rest of Manhattan. We also went on the last boat which meant we were the last people into the Statue of Liberty and the only people on it.
Consider visiting the One World Trade Center instead of the Empire State Building.
The view is equally amazing but it is a lot more autism friendly and great for sensory seekers. Our experience of the Empire State building was one of long queues, crowded lifts, lots of steps and an outdoor platform. The One World building, in contrast, had lifts any technology fan would love, screen shows, interactive floors, and snacks, drinks and toilets available at the top – which had the bonus of being indoors.
Remember Manhattan is huge
You aren’t going to want to walk from one side to the other, believe me, we accidently tried. Instead, plan your activities based on where they are and try to visit things near to each other. Also, it is tempting to try to do everything but plan rest time and breaks and aim for one, and at the most two, attractions a day to explore.
Try to go for a few days
To give yourself time to explore and also have enough down time not to get too overwhelmed, it is better to spread your visit over a number of days. We did four days and probably tried to do too much.
Consider getting a tourist pass
Prices to tourist attractions in New York can add up fast, especially if you end up needing to make a quick exit from anywhere. There are a variety of tourist passes available that allow you to pay in advance and then visit a variety of attractions. The price of the pass will be far less than paying for the attractions individually. You can find out more about New York City tourist passes here.
Planning a trip to New York with an autistic child is definitely more complicated but it isn’t impossible. If you treat it more like any other holiday, have somewhere quiet to stay and escape to, plan regular breaks and research attractions before you go, you will have a better time.
You can find links to more detailed posts about some of the attractions in New York here. Each post includes pictures and useful information for taking autistic guests.
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