Top 3 Travel Tips for Parents with Kids on the Autism Spectrum
Let’s face it, traveling can be stressful. And for parents navigating the world with kids on the autism spectrum, it’s a whole new level of stress with busy airports, new noises, and tons of traffic. It can feel like a sensory whirlwind, but here’s the thing: you and your family shouldn’t miss out on creating those unforgettable memories. So what do you do? Whether you’re traveling by plane, train, or car… the secret is preparation!
3 Simple Ways to Help Your Child Feel Safe & Comfortable During Travel
1. Talk to Your Child About the Trip
Seems obvious, yes, but the secret is in the details! Leading up to the trip, talk to your child about what will happen during the trip. Creating visual aids is always a plus- this will help your child see the process step by step. You can also practice some of the steps with your child. For example, if you’re going on a plane here are a few things you can discuss and practice:
How you’ll arrive at the airport and what the airport looks like inside.
Explain that you’ll need to wait in lines, maybe also share photos of TSA agent uniforms so they are more at ease when it comes to checking in.
Practice going through a ‘metal detector’ and having to put their favorite toy or iPad in a bin to go through the X-ray machine. This will help them understand that they will get their items back after they go through the machine.
If your child is receiving ABA Therapy, this is a great opportunity to incorporate your team of therapists! Together, you can create a task analysis and program to help your child prepare for upcoming travel. At InBloom Autism Services, we provide caregiver coaching sessions where the child’s BCBA, RBT, and caregivers get together weekly or biweekly to discuss the child’s progress and any new changes or opportunities for learning. Click here to learn more about our coaching sessions and ABA Therapy programs.
2. Bring Reinforcers and Highly Preferred Leisure Items
We’re talking snacks, games, headphones, tablets, fidget toys, puzzles, blankets, etc. You want to make sure your child is comfortable throughout this journey and having those familiar and favorite items will help keep them relaxed. If you’re going on a road trip, be sure to bring extra batteries and/or toys for your child. Snacks or food are also something to consider, if your child will be snacking during the drive then think of options that will be easy and safe for them to eat while sitting in the backseat.
If you’re taking a plane then remember the 3-1-1 rule for liquids. Only 3.4 ounces or less of liquids is allowed in your carry-on bag. However, you are still allowed to bring solid food and snacks onboard! So don’t rely on the airport stores to have your child’s favorite snacks, bring them yourself.
3. Plan, Plan, Plan
This may go without saying but making sure you are prepared is just as important as making sure your child is prepared and sticking to a routine while traveling. Research shows that children on the autism spectrum benefit from routines and planning, and yes- this is still possible even while traveling. For example, if you’re driving, look up the rest stops (with restrooms) in advance and plan to make frequent stops. Not only to relieve yourself but to maintain a sense of structure in your child’s mind. Plus, these rest stops allow them to stretch their legs and maybe even let out some extra energy. For more on how to maintain routines and structure despite current disruptions check out this blog.
Bonus tip: You can even turn this into a fun visual or puzzle for your child. If the next rest stop is an hour away, you can divide it into four 15-minute intervals on a clock. As each 15 minutes go by, you can color in a clock so they can see how much further until the next stop. You can do this on a dry-erase board or even on the car window with a dry-erase marker!
If you’re traveling by airplane or train, be sure to ask for screening assistance. At the airport, you can request a TSA Passenger Support Specialist who can help travelers requiring assistance or special accommodations at the airport. Call the TSA Cares helpline up to 72 hours ahead of travel for more information at 855-787-2227. Amtrak also provides some assistance for special needs travelers, you can learn more about it here.
Also, bear in mind busy travel days! If you’re looking for a more subdued airport or road trip, then try booking your flight during the off-season. Or if you must travel during peak times then consider an earlier or later flight. The important thing here is to always do what’s best for your family.
At InBloom Autism Services, we specialize in early intervention ABA Therapy, which means our Learning Centers and teaching approaches are created specifically for children 5 and under with autism. Our Learning Centers allow children to engage with their peers in a safe and fun environment! Learn more about our services.