Tips for Traveling with a Child with Autism

February 28, 2020

For many of us, the thought of travel could be exhilarating. Going somewhere different to break the monotony of our day to day lives and experiencing something new is something many of us look forward to. However, for others, especially for individuals with autism, the thought of travel can be terrifying.

Angela Pao-Johnson

AnswersNow BCBA

For many of us, the thought of travel could be exhilarating. Going somewhere different to break the monotony of our day to day lives and experiencing something new is something many of us look forward to. However, for others, especially for individuals with autism, the thought of travel can be terrifying.

The day to day can be exhausting to navigate already. The thought of traveling somewhere more foreign can be anxiety-provoking. But there are a few strategies we can do to make the experience of travel more enjoyable. Since one of the most difficult times parents have reported regarding traveling is the actual commute to the travel destination, here are some tips on how to plan for successful plane/car travel. 

  • If traveling by plane, as special accommodations may be needed, please contact the airline and speak 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 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 https://www.autismspeaks.org/sites/default/files/Jet%20Blue%20teaching%20story%20final%209-23-19.pdf, 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-canceling headphones. 

  • Provide options of activities 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 in interesting activities. Bring favorite books to read, coloring books, and movies on tablets. The dollar store has a lot of great, inexpensive options for your child to engage in. Fidget toys such as squeeze balls, play-doh, and glow-in-the-dark toys can be fun and distracting. 

  • If traveling by car, plan pit stops every so often 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. at a park along the way, etc).

  • 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 on AnswersNow App to make a personalized plan for your child's needs.

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