Children with autism like structure and predictability — two things that often fall by the wayside when you’re flying. With everything from travel delays to noisy airplane engines to contend with, you probably have a fair measure of concern if you have upcoming air travel plans with your child.
Fortunately, you don’t have to invent the wheel here. Families have been traveling with their children with autism for decades. They know where the challenges lie and what can help. What’s more, many airports and travel authorities like the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have taken steps to make air travel easier for people with autism.
To help you navigate your upcoming travel day, we’ve gathered up some of the best practices you can put to work for your family. Here are four things that can help to make air travel easier for your child and all of their travel companions.
Air travel brings in a significant amount of new stimuli and it’s highly likely that your child will get overwhelmed. To make this easier on them, it can be helpful to start with a short, direct flight.
If you know you need to go somewhere far in the future (say, for example, you’re visiting family across the country later in the year), consider booking a short getaway soon. This way, your child can get exposure to all of the newness of air travel in a way that might feel more manageable.
Help Them Know What to Expect
The unknown triggers fear in all of us, but it’s particularly heavy for kids with autism. Taking some steps to prepare them at home can go a long way. A few weeks before your flight, start talking to them about air travel. You might read books about airplanes or watch videos from airports. YouTube often has livestream videos running from airport terminals around the world.
If you live near an airport, you might even visit it before your travel date so your child can see what it looks like.
Getting some familiarity with airport/airplane environments can help your child feel much more comfortable on the day of your flight.
Explore Your Support Options
Many airports and airlines offer support for families with children on the autism spectrum. Some airports will let you take a tour of the airport so your child can learn more about what to expect before the day of your flight.
You can also contact TSA Cares and request support through the screening process.
On top of all of that, the Philadelphia International Airport has developed some Social Stories that can help you and your child prepare for the travel day.
There may be more resources at your departure and arrival destinations. Do some research to see what’s available to your family.
Bring Tools to Help
Earplugs or earmuffs can do a lot to help your child manage the high noise levels that come with air travel. Consider packing their favorite snacks and a couple of their favorite toys, too. Having things they enjoy with them can provide a welcome distraction if they get overwhelmed at the airport or on the plane.
Your child is more likely to have an enjoyable, calm travel day when they’re already working on social and coping skills. We can help. At Stride Autism Centers, we apply ABA therapy to help kids with autism thrive. To learn more, get in touch.