Travel tips for autism: It’s summer! The sun is bright, the day long, and the mood is ripe for vacations that will form lasting happy memories. Summer is when we get our travel done and discover new locales and experiences. For kids with autism, this can be equally exciting and frightening.
Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) prefer the familiar and struggle to adapt to new environments. They are most comfortable in their routine, feeling safe and in control. However, this doesn’t mean that kids on the spectrum can’t enjoy or don’t deserve the whimsy of vacation; they just need a little help that you can identify in the next travel tips for autism.
A particular source of stress for parents with children diagnosed with autism is traveling. Managing schedules, long car rides, or airport etiquette can be difficult, especially when traveling with someone diagnosed with ASD. One of the hallmarks of this condition is difficulty understanding and expressing emotions, which means they may act out when feeling overwhelmed. These difficulties can manifest as tantrums that aren’t born out of malice but out of an inability to express emotions positively.
At ABA Centers of America, we want your kids to experience the full range of possibilities and excitement of going on the road. Kids on the spectrum love vacations and can enjoy them when properly prepared for the expectations. This blog will include travel tips for autism to ensure your plans go off without a hitch and the whole family can enjoy their time away from home.
Why Do Children with Autism Struggle with Travel
There are several factors typical to the ASD diagnosis that can make travel a troublesome experience for children. These traits do not mean they are incapable of joining in and helping, only that it takes more planning and practice to get them on board.
Individuals with autism often experience sensory sensitivities or sensory processing issues. Travel environments, such as airports, train stations, or crowded tourist attractions, can be overwhelming due to loud noises, bright lights, unfamiliar smells, and large crowds. These sensory overloads can lead to anxiety, meltdowns, or feeling overwhelmed.
They also thrive in familiar environments, and travel disrupts daily schedules, usual playtimes, sleeping arrangements, and mealtimes. Travel invariably involves uncertainties and unexpected events, such as flight delays, cancellations, or plan changes. These unpredictable situations can be challenging for children with autism, who may rely on predictability and structure for their sense of security. In the following travel tips for autism, you will find how to deal with these situations.
Another significant difficulty of hitting the road with neurodivergent kids is their communication and social interaction difficulties. Traveling involves meeting new people and navigating unfamiliar environments, such as interacting with airport personnel, hotel staff, or fellow travelers. Traveling also brings many unfamiliar rules, such as sitting down during the takeoff and landing of an airplane or not kicking the seat in front of them. The need for verbal and non-verbal communication can be daunting, and they may struggle to express their needs or understand instructions.
It’s important to note that while some children with autism may resist travel, others may adapt well or even thrive in new environments. Every individual with autism is unique, and their experiences and challenges may vary. Understanding and addressing these challenges through careful planning, preparation, and support can help create a more inclusive and enjoyable travel experience for children with autism.
Travel Tips for Autism
What every parent hopes to avoid is the dreaded tantrum. In the ASD field, this is sometimes called a meltdown, which is different from a tantrum. Beforehand a meltdown, a child on the spectrum might start fidgeting, packing, asking repetitive questions, and trying to calm themselves down by rocking back and forth.
Preparation and compassion are the keys to avoiding this. The following are helpful travel tips for autism to prevent this challenging behavior and prepare your child for travel.
1. Plan Ahead
One of the key aspects of successful travel for individuals with autism is thorough planning. Start by researching your destination, accommodations, and transportation options. Look for autism-friendly destinations that offer sensory-friendly attractions, inclusive facilities, and accommodations with specialized services. Planning well in advance lets you anticipate and address potential issues during the trip.
Consider involving your child in your travel plans and make a fun experience out of it. If traveling by car, look up the route with your child and explain the areas where you’ll be driving, discussing the history and landmarks. Making them feel included and offering suggestions gives them control over their future.
2. Tell a Social Story
Storytelling and roleplaying are powerful tools to map out social situations. They allow you to dazzle, entertain, and fascinate your child while teaching lessons without them realizing it. With social stories, you can provide a step-by-step explanation of various situations, helping individuals with autism understand what to expect.
When streamlining the travel experience, create social studies addressing airport or train station procedures, hotel check-ins, and other relevant aspects. Remember to make the stories fun! Your child can learn to anticipate everything without feeling like they are receiving a lecture.
3. Prepare for Security Checks
Security checks at airports or other travel hubs can be overwhelming for individuals with autism due to the increased sensory stimulation and unfamiliar procedures. Familiarize yourself with the security process by visiting the airport’s website or contacting customer service. Notify the security staff about any special requirements. Consider obtaining a TSA notification card or a medical certificate explaining the individual’s condition to facilitate a more understanding and efficient screening process. Consider roleplaying check-in scenarios with your child.
4. Pack Sensory Comfort Items
Objects a child with ASD feels an attachment to can be immensely helpful during travel. These could include noise-canceling headphones, a weighted blanket, fidget toys, or other items that provide comfort and help regulate sensory input. Bring familiar snacks, toys, or activities that are an important part of their daily routine. Allocate time for breaks and rest to prevent sensory overload and exhaustion. Familiar items from home, such as a favorite stuffed animal or a specific scent, can also contribute to a sense of security in unfamiliar surroundings.
5. Inform Travel Staff
When booking flights, trains, or other means of transportation, inform the staff about your travel requirements and any specific accommodation you may need. Many airlines and transportation companies offer assistance for autism. These accommodations include pre-boarding, seat assignments, or additional support during the journey.
6. Identify Quiet Spaces
No matter the destination, it’s essential to identify quiet spaces where someone can retreat when feeling overwhelmed. Research the surroundings to find suitable calm areas such as parks, libraries, or less crowded attractions. These spaces can serve as a refuge during moments of sensory overload and allow your child to recharge.
You can’t plan for every contingency. No matter what happens, there will be unexpected delays and hiccups. Your child looks to you as a bastion of stability and joy; remain calm, and they will follow your lead. Following these travel tips for autism can ensure a wonderful autism-friendly vacation for all.
How ABA Centers of America Can Help
Living with autism can be difficult, and ABA Centers of America is here to help. Many of the principles described above have their foundations in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, the gold standard for improving the quality of life of kids diagnosed with autism. ABA therapy is backed by decades of research and results, proven to teach coping mechanisms that manage stress, anxiety, and life’s challenges.
ABA therapy teaches skills that make a difference in academic and interpersonal settings, giving those on the spectrum the tools they need to live happily and independently. Call 844-923-4222 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation and make a difference in the life of someone you love.