Traveling with your kids can be exciting and fun but also seem daunting. This may be especially true for kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD or autism). Factors connected to travel can be stressful for your little one since it’s a change in routine, an unfamiliar environment, and lots of sensory stimulation. Today we’re coming at you with tips and tricks when traveling by car or plane when you’re bringing your child with autism along. Not all our tips may suit every child with autism, but go ahead and try anything that might work with your cute kiddo.
BEFORE THE DRIVE
1. Know your route: identify rest stops, parks, or other enjoyable waypoints along the way.
2. Schedule breaks: you know your child best! How long do they sit successfully through car rides? Planning for frequent breaks can break up the discomfort of a long ride and help your little one get that energy out.
3. Pack a bag: Pack comfort items, preferred snacks + drinks, and anything else to reduce your child’s anxiety. Consider packing special treats or toys to offer periodically throughout the trip.
4. Plan entertainment: What car-friendly toys, games, and activities can you have available in the car? Breaking out different activities throughout the drive can help fight that inevitable boredom.
5. Communicate with your child: The unknown can be scary, even for adults. Talk with your child about the purpose of your road trip, where you’re going, how long it’ll take, and show them to stops along the way. Keep it positive so they have something to look forward to!
DURING YOUR DRIVE
1. Keep your child updated: find little ways to show your child how long until the next break or to your destination. You can use timers, move a picture along a map, or use tablet apps to show your child the progress of your drive. Timers also help them see how much longer they must wait to get out of the car.
2. Practice safe driving: We know this one is obvious, but it’s incredibly important when traveling with a child with autism. Following the rules of the road and taking your time driving will help keep everyone in the car calm + help prevent accidents on the road.
BEFORE THE FLIGHT
1. Create a social story: create a picture story with your child that goes over the air-travel process. Include pictures of security, the terminal, the airplane, baggage claim, takeoff/landing, and “ear popping.” This will help your little one become familiar with and add predictability to an unfamiliar process.
2. Do not wash comfort items before travel: having favorite items that smell like home can be soothing in an unfamiliar environment. Hang onto those blankets and plush toys!
3. Pre-pack meals + snacks: if your child has dietary restrictions or is a picky eater, it’s helpful to pack a variety of snacks and mini meals for them. Also, pack chewy foods like fruit gummies or a bagel for children who seek sensory stimulation orally.
4. Exercise before departure: Before being quiet + sitting still for a long period, help your child relieve bottled-up energy before getting to the airport. Running, jumping on a trampoline, or any other 20-minute activity would be ideal.
1. Accommodations: TSA has established a protocol that allows for accommodations for travelers with disabilities. Check them out and see if any of them could benefit your kiddo.
2. Do a practice run: Contact your local airport to see if TSA will allow you and your child to do a practice walk-through of airport security. This may help your little one become familiar with the process before it’s game time on travel day!
3. Role-playing: If your airport does not allow for practice runs, you can role-play what security is like at home. Take turns pretending that you or your child is the TSA officer and the other is the person traveling. Make it as detailed as possible!
ON THE PLANE
1. Boarding: Let the gate attendant know that you are traveling with a child with autism and you will be allowed to board early OR board last depending on your preference.
2. Ear-popping: To avoid discomfort in the ears during takeoff and landing, encourage your child to suck on a piece of candy or chew a piece of gum. If your child is unable to safely suck on candy, a chewing toy can also be effective in reducing ear-popping. Or just snacking in general.
3. Watching the time: Bring a digital clock or count-down timer with you and place it in front of your child. This may help them know how much longer he/she can expect to be on the flight for.
4. Entertainment: Bring a good travel bag with books, coloring books, toys, an iPad, or good headphones that can connect to in-flight entertainment. You could also bring play dough or putty if your child benefits from tactile stimulation.
BONUS: AT YOUR DESTINATION
1. Enjoy your family time together! Remember that not everything has to go perfectly.
2. Plan to limit activities. Try scheduling a manageable number of activities per day. Keep an eye on your child for any signs of overstimulation or tiredness.
3. Keep morning + bedtime routines consistent. It’s not easy when traveling but you’ll thank yourself for trying to keep your routines as consistent as possible to how they usually work when at home.
4. Customize the plan. Remember to keep your child’s interest on the agenda during your trip so they stay excited and engaged!
Family trips don’t need to be a daunting task, especially for your child with autism. You can make it through a long drive or a short flight. Use these tips to help you prepare for your next family trip. Oh and as a last tip: don’t forget to pack your matching family swimmers. You never know when they’ll come in handy!
Kortni + Team