Autism Resource blog:

Tips for Traveling with a Child with Autism

Feb 28, 2020
Angela Pao-Johnson
child on a plane
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The day-to-day can be exhausting to navigate for parents of children with autism. The thought of traveling somewhere more foreign can be anxiety-provoking. But there are a few strategies we can take to make the experience of travel more enjoyable.

  • If traveling by plane, special accommodations may be needed, so I'd recommend contacting the airline and speaking to an agent. This can help to ensure that the airline is familiar with your child’s needs and helps them to prepare in advance to make sure your flight is as seamless as possible. You can also speak to a flight attendant while on your flight to communicate any symptoms of stress your child may exhibit and let them know how they can assist to help your child better cope.
  • Familiarize your child with what to expect. If possible, role model the experience with them so they know exactly what will happen. You can reference this in advance as well as the day of travel.
  • For flights, review with them expected behaviors at the airport, while boarding the plane, on the plane, and departing from the plane - as all of these may be novel or unfamiliar experiences for them. This can be done by using social stories such as this one, by viewing videos of the process online, and by talking your child through the steps - even by going to the airport in advance to get your child adjusted to the new environment. 
  • Planning is essential! Consider what may be sources of stress and anxiety for your child and what are effective coping mechanisms. Ensure these coping mechanisms are available before traveling. For instance, if your child is soothed by a favorite blanket, give ready access to this blanket during travel. Or if your child is sensitive to loud noises, bring noise-cancelling headphones. 
  • Provide activity options that your child can engage in during the journey. Requiring children to be seated for long durations of time can be particularly difficult, especially if they are not engaged. Bring some of their favorite books to read, coloring books, and download several movies on a tablet or iPad. The dollar store also has a lot of great, inexpensive options like fidget toys, squeeze balls and play-doh. 
  • If traveling by car, plan recurring pit stops in advance. If travel is particularly long, it may be a good idea to research places where your child can stretch their legs (e.g. parks, rest stops or other child-friendly locations).
  • If traveling by flight, allow your child to request for a short walk up and down the aisle (or do so before they ask, if they seem particularly wiggly!). 

Traveling can be particularly hard for our children with autism due to breaks in routine and familiar environments, but through planning and preparation, traveling can become so successful as possible. Start a chat today with one of our BCBAs and visit to learn how you can start personalized care for your child.

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