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5 Tips To Help Your Child With Autism When Traveling

With summer in full swing and the COVID-19 pandemic behind us, parents everywhere may be looking forward to visiting new places with their families. For parents that have a child with autism, this can be particularly challenging. Read on for five tips on how to help your child with autism while traveling.

Tip #1:
Have a Plan and Share It

Whether you’re vacationing in another country or taking a bus to the town over to visit a relative, traveling can be unpredictable.

According to an article titled Autism Spectrum Disorder and International Travel in the International Journal of Travel Medicine and Global Health, “The desire for predictability and maintenance of a fixed routine may be difficult to satisfy during international travel, especially where the travel itinerary itself is uncertain.”

Before leaving for the trip, spend a few hours with your child going over the full itinerary. Talk about any potential road bumps that may come up, and if you have enough time, try to prep them for any new things they may not have experienced yet. If they’ve never flown on an airplane, try watching a video about what it’s like or attending a sensory-friendly flight/airport simulation.

Regardless of how much pre-planning you do, there is always the possibility that your child can get overstimulated. Bringing a favorite toy or snack can help bring some familiarity and comfort to a stressful situation. Sometimes, though, it may be possible that your child gets so stimulated that they have a meltdown.

Check out this blog for tips on how to communicate with a child having a meltdown.

Tip #2:
Familiarize Yourself With Sensory-Friendly Airports

Has your child with autism ever been to an airport? Air travel can be stressful for anyone but can be an exceptionally nerve-racking experience for neurodivergent children. Still, there are times when your family may not have a choice but to travel by air.

Luckily, several travel companies have implemented programs to increase accessibility for neurodivergent travelers, and many airline employees have gone through additional training to provide caring support.

For example, at Pittsburgh International Airport, security officers were trained to tell the difference between neurodivergent behaviors from security risks.

Such needs can include stimming—or repetitive, self-stimulating behavior—such as hand flapping, tapping or rocking, clearing the throat, and various other movements or vocalizations.”

Also, there are several airports throughout the country (and internationally) that have made lounges that can act as a safe space for neurodivergent people that include things like dimmed lighting, comfy chairs, and adjustable sinks in the bathroom.

Over time, we will hopefully continue to see more airports around the world make these kinds of additions.

Tip #3:
Subscribe to TSA Precheck

Subscribing to TSA PreCheck, which lets travelers keep their shoes on and their bag untouched, can also help relieve some of the stress and chances of overstimulation while going through airport security.

Haley Moss, a lawyer, writer, and artist who was diagnosed with autism at three years old, explained how much of a difference it is for her to get TSA PreCheck for her.

“It meant I could keep my comfiest shoes and clothes on, and not mess up the organization I did while packing by taking out liquids or my laptop. It also reduces the amount of time I spend in line because most airports have a special line for PreCheck passengers, which in turn makes me feel less anxious and more confident.”


Tip #4:
Keep Your Plans Flexible

Regardless of your plan, there are many different factors that may mean a change to your itinerary. If your child with autism becomes overstimulated, make sure that there is a safe place for them to go, like a quiet hotel room or a sensory-friendly space. Be patient and understanding if plans must change and discuss with your child some fun, backup options that align well with their interests.

Buying traveler’s insurance or having flexible ticket options may also be a good backup option in case things don’t go according to plan.

Tip #5:
Consider Meeting with a Certified Autism Travel Professional

Did you know that there are people specifically trained to provide support and travel-related services to children with autism and their family? Meeting with one of these professionals can help ensure that every aspect of your trip is as accommodating and personalized to your child with autism as possible.

The autism travel professional can offer recommendations on anything from selecting the perfect destination to what kind of things to consider bringing with you on vacation.

This site can be an excellent place to find an autism travel professional in your area.

What It’s All About

Ultimately, travel can be both a rewarding and challenging experience. As people in the travel industry continue to become further educated about neurodivergence and how to make the experience smoother for children with autism and their families, the better the experience will be for all.

Sources Cited 

Moss, H. Autistic While Traveling: Haley Moss’ Top Tips for a Successful Trip.

Neo, W. & Flaherty, G. Autism Spectrum Disorder and International Travel.

Rowello, L. How Airlines are Making Travel Easier for Autistic Passengers.

TSA. TSA PreCheck.

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