Traveling can be hard on families and children with or without autism. For those with children on the autism spectrum, traveling can feel daunting, and downright impossible at times. So here are ten helpful strategies we use when traveling with our autistic children.
Inform and Advocate:
When going through any security, don’t be afraid to inform people that your child has Autism and may react a certain way. They are more likely to be accommodating if they know from the beginning what they’re up against.
Pack an “emergency kit”: Not your typical band aides etc. but things that can occupy, distract, and calm your child. If your child has that one thing that will always help them whether it be a toy(s), a special blanket, or cup. You never know when you will to need to put out a fire quickly!
Amusement Park Accommodations:
Request a Stroller as Wheelchair accommodations. If your child is young enough to ride in a stroller, many places like amusement parks will allow you to use the stroller as a wheelchair enabling you to have it with you. Learn more about park accommodations and our 5 Tips for Visiting Amusement Parks with your Autistic Child.
Bring Sensory Equipment
Don’t forget your sensory equipment! I know, especially when flying, somethings you can’t bring your weighted blanket or weight vest but think of the other types of sensory tools (body socks, fuzzy pillows, hat, noise canceling headphones, sunglasses, etc.) that your child enjoys and see how they can be incorporated in your bags/on your trip. Read more about How to Use Sensory Equipment to Calm Autistic Children, and The Best Sensory Products for Autism.
Communication and Pictures Cards
Picture cards (if applicable): If your child uses any type of picture communication you will want to bring that. However, if it is big and bulky, pull out one page and fill it with pictures that will relate to your trip.
Let your child tell you what they need:
Ask your child what they must bring to keep them calm (if applicable). When getting ready to take a child with autism for a trip away from family, I asked the boy what he might need in different parts of the trip to feel calm and safe. He was able to not only come up with a list of tools to bring, but it also was a great way to help him to plan the trip and feel in control.
Include your child in planning or use Social Stories:
Don’t wait until the last minute to prep your child. Depending on the child, talk about the details of the trip with them as early as a month before the actual trip. Talk through any areas of stress you think they might have (if appropriate) and keep them in the loop on any changes as they happen.
Think about safety: Some Autistic children love to open and close zippers for stimulation and unfortunately, there have been times when important items such as medicine have fallen out of a bag because the zip was left open. If you know this to be the case with your child, then perhaps consider getting luggage without zipper. These bags close with a combination clip lock which is more secure in general and is far less likely to be fiddled with by your child.
And if you are going on a long car trip, think about if you have to stop at a checkpoint or other security measure. Your child may be asked something by the staff, so consider getting a sticker or a magnet like one of these for your car or seat belt wrap that states this is a child with autism. They even have some that say “Child with autism. Does not speak.” We never expect it to happen, but it is better to be on the safe side. Plus they are easy to bring with you if you rent a car. Another safety measure should be on your luggage.
If going on a long drive, try and plan pit stops with activities. We all know we must stop for gas and food but make sure there are opportunities for your child to get out of the car and walk around. Better yet if they can get engaged and tired out. Easy pit-stop idea: Trampoline Parks. They usually are priced by the half hour so you won’t feel like you are wasting money and the kids will love it.
Don’t forget to be in the moment. As overwhelming as it can be to travel with a child with Autism, find those small opportunities to sit back and say “we did it” or “Who knew my child could/would act like this” or “Look at how much fun they are having.” This will make it very rewarding and possibly less stressful on you, the parent, the next time you are thinking about travel.