Flying with Autism
Traveling by air is fast and convenient but it can also be stressful. The large crowds, strange noises, unusual smells and long wait times are enough to stress anyone out. Then you have the occasional delay that puts everything behind schedule and causes tensions to build. As a result, tempers may flare as travelers become tired and annoyed, making the process even more stressful.
Now, look at it from the viewpoint of a child with autism. Having autism adds to the stress of flying no matter where you fall on the spectrum. Many parents choose to avoid air travel in fear of having to deal with a meltdown in the airport or on the plane. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to ease your child’s fears and make flying a little more enjoyable so you can enjoy as many Autism-Friendly Vacation Ideas as possible.
Flying with autism tips for parents that really help:
- Research the airports – Airports offer different types of services. For example, some airports offer priority boarding while another may provide assistance with luggage and someone to help ensure you reach your boarding gate on time. Once you know what each facility has to offer, you can choose the best airport based on your personal needs. Even if there is only one airport in your area, you still need to know what services they provide so you can plan accordingly.
- Talk to a representative – Once you know what services are available and determine which airport to use when traveling it’s time to call and talk to a representative. Discuss your child’s special needs and any behavior problems that require attention. For example, does he make strange or loud noises, rock back and forth when excited, does he have food allergies or require a wheelchair? Make all special arrangements for your child as far in advance as possible.
- Discuss the trip with your child – You can help put your child’s mind at ease if you talk to him about the trip in advance. Discuss the process in detail from going through security to getting off the plane. Explain when you’ll be leaving, the flight you’re taking and when you plan to return home. Having a guideline laid out that lets him know what to expect during your flight and an idea of when his world will return to normal could go a long way in alleviating fears.
- Arrive at the airport early – Normally, children with autism don’t get in a hurry and rushing them causes stress and anxiety that could easily be avoided by arriving early. Give yourself plenty of time to get inside, check-in, go through security and make it to your boarding area.
- Pack the carry-on bag with sensory items – Keep your child busy by packing some sensory items in your carry-on luggage. He can listen to music or play games on your phone, tablet or other mobile devices. You may also want to bring other things to keep him occupied such as pen and paper for drawing, coloring books, and crayons or a book to read.
- Don’t forget the snacks – It’s also a good idea to have a few of your child’s favorite snacks and something to drink in your carry-on bag, especially if he’s a picky eater. You’ll be glad you have these items if your flight gets delayed or the airlines don’t have anything your child will eat. Do check with the airlines in advance to find out what you’re allowed to bring. The rules for carrying food and beverages onboard are strict and maybe a little different depending on where you’re traveling to and from.
- Pack essential documents – In addition to having your child’s medication on hand, you may also want to take along any documentation that show’s your child’s diagnosis, the type of medication he’s taking and why it is needed. You never know when you might need to present this type of information to the airline personnel and having all of your paperwork on hand will make it easy.
If your child has never been on a plane before, make your first trip a short one. It will help him get used to the process and give you a chance to evaluate his behavior on the trip. You can use this information to determine if your child is ready for a long trip and to help you prepare better for your next flight.