Traveling can be a stressful experience for anybody. However, it can be especially tricky for autistic people. New environments, loud noises, and strangers can all be difficult to manage, and the unpredictability of the journey can make the experience pretty scary.
To make travelling with an autistic child as stress-free as possible; planning, preparation, and methods of distraction are all essential.
Travelling with autistic children can require a lot more planning beforehand. If all or part of your journey involves public transportation, try to avoid rush hour times. The hustle and bustle and close proximity to strangers can be frightening. Sounds like overhead announcements on a bus or train may also panic a child who is prone to overstimulation.
Planes can also be scary, especially during boarding, take-off, and landing. Many larger airlines have support staff and measures in place to help travelers with special needs, with companies like Delta Airlines offering seating accommodations and assistance throughout your trip. Check the airline’s services and contact them in advance to secure this assistance.
If you’re going on vacation, call ahead to organize different parts of your trip. Asking staff for assistance with planned visits to theme parks, swimming facilities etc., and contacting the hotel before you travel can help your child to get the most from these new experiences. You’ll also feel more at ease knowing the level of support that you’ll have available.
Before the Journey
In anticipation of the journey, you should consider what steps you can take to minimize disruption and anxiety during travel. Every child is different, and your planning should take this into account.
Many autistic children will find experiences outside of their normal routine challenging. If possible, try talking to your child about the trip in advance. If you’re going somewhere unfamiliar, you could show them travel brochures and design your own social stories (trademark of Carol Gray, 1991) to help them develop the skills and attitude necessary to cope with the changes. A social story is a learning tool designed to encourage communication and improve learning experiences, while preparing the child for specific events like bus journeys or crowded areas.
Although they may react negatively at first, discussion really is key to preparing your child for what’s ahead. This will result in a more enjoyable trip for the whole family.
After your travel plans have been finalized, the next step is the journey itself. Here are some of our top travel tips to help autistic children:
- Make sure that you’re completely prepared before leaving. By taking the necessary steps in advance, you will be able to focus on providing much-needed emotional support. Rushing can panic your child, so this should be avoided whenever possible.
- Bring a selection of your child’s favorite toys and books to distract them and keep them occupied throughout the journey. Mobile sensory equipment like our portable sensory backpack is excellent for autistic children prone to under-stimulation or overstimulation, fulfilling their sensory needs on the go and providing a distraction from strange environments.
- Regularly reassure your child and keep them informed. Some children may also be motivated by incentives, which are a good way to prevent tantrums.
- Consider an autism awareness card so that commuters and staff are aware, and they can act appropriately. If you’re traveling abroad, you could order the card in the country’s official language. Another option is to purchase a lanyard and create your own, as long as it is easy for people to understand.
We hope that you and your child will have a fantastic journey together!