What You Should Know About Traveling With an Autistic Child
Are you planning on traveling with an autistic child? Good—you and your family deserve a vacation together! We are sharing a few helpful travel tips for autism that will make your trip a little easier. Read on to learn the steps you can take to help create a memorable vacation for you and your child with autism.
Make a Plan
Preparation is essential when traveling with an autistic child. Your autistic child’s biggest source of stress and overstimulation on a trip will come from all the new experiences they’re having—that’s why it’s a good idea to start small in your hometown! Try a few short outings and trips before a big vacation, especially if it involves a method of transportation they’re not familiar with.
You can also set your child up for success by helping them visualize every setting you’re planning to visit. For example, if you’re headed to Alaska, explain what Alaska looks like, the activities you’re planning to do, and what potential challenges they may face. You can look up YouTube videos that show the place you’re visiting for a visual aid!
Along with each challenge, come up with a few solutions. That way, if a situation comes up, your child has a plan that tells them what to do next.
As best as you can, make a schedule for the vacation and talk your child through it. Let them know that their routine will change a little, but do what you can to keep certain things constant. You may not be able to bring their bed with them, but you can keep consistent wakeup and bedtime routines, and take their favorite blanket, too!
Even the best-laid plans can go awry. Learn some calming strategies to help your child through tough moments so you and your child with autism can continue to enjoy your trip!
Depending on your child’s age, you can pack up your child’s things with your child. That way, they can see what’s being taken as well as where everything is located. You can also pack up a comfort bag full of books, snacks, toys, and anything else that helps put your child at ease.
Remember to bring:
- Sensory toys
- A phone or tablet with games and movies
- Anything else that comforts your child
Even though your child has ridden in a car, they may not be familiar with long road trips. We recommend having your car looked at before the trip so you don’t experience any unexpected breakdowns.
Consider taking your car to the shop for the following preventative measures:
- Oil change
- Tire checkup
- Coolant check
- New air filters
- Headlight, turn signal, brake, and parking light check
You may also want to spend a few hours driving around with your child in preparation so they know what to expect from a longer car ride. Plan a short trip a few months ahead of your real vacation so they can practice!
Plan out your route so you know when and where you’re stopping for food, bathroom breaks, and sensory breaks. Feel free to include your child in the planning process—it’s fun to look at a map and decide where to stop together!
Flying is the quickest way to get to your destination, but it’s also a lot of stimulation for your child. Your child may experience crowded spaces, long lines, large security machines, and flight delays. The best way to prepare your child for these events is to explain them. Don’t overwhelm your child with the problems that may crop up all at once—talk through one at a time until they feel comfortable.
Show your child pictures and videos of airports so they get an idea of what they’ll see and hear. You may also want to look into the TSA PreCheck service to skip some lines.
Consider a Practice Run
Practice makes perfect! As helpful as it is to show your child pictures of an airport, it’s even better to take your child there in person. Even an airport lobby can be a lot for a child on the spectrum, so you may want to bring them in to experience it for themselves.
You can also contact your local airport for an official practice run. Some airports offer special services for people with autism. The TSA may allow parents to bring their child to the airport to practice going through security. If your airport is okay with it, there’s no substitute for the real thing!
Now that you know this travel advice for parents of autism, remember that you aren’t the first parent to experience this! Our Facebook community is full of people who have made the same vacation plans as you—and gotten to the other side with wonderful memories that will last a lifetime. Chat with them and learn their firsthand tips and tricks to meet the challenge head-on. Also, join the Ability Travel Club for socialization opportunities for your kids!