Air travel can be difficult for seasoned adult travelers and even more taxing for children. For kids with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), who bring their own unique sensitivities to airports and flying, the experience can be even more difficult.
At Marcus Autism Center, we understand the special needs of children with autism. Use these tips to help your family plan for a successful air travel experience.
Help your child prepare for air travel as soon as you know your family’s plans.
- Check flight schedules for the best times of day for your child to travel. If she can sleep on a plane, naptime may be a good time to fly.
- Plan ahead for your seats. Consider requesting bulkhead or aisle seats, particularly if your child likes to kick his or her legs or move around. >
- If possible, visit the airport ahead of time to help your child get used to the crowds, sights and sounds.
- Kids with autism benefit from knowing what to expect, especially when faced with changes to routines. Some airlines offer desensitization tours for their customers. Contact your airline’s disability assistance department for more information.
- Create your own social story to help your child walk through specific events she will experience at the airport and on the airplane. Some airlines provide their own social story you can use or build on. Contact your airline’s disability assistance department to see what resources they have available.
- Make a list of trip rules, and include rewards for positive behavior.
- Incorporate time for snacks, meals and bathroom or other necessary breaks into your plans.
Packing the right items to support your child’s needs can make a world of difference when traveling.
- Don’t forget to pack necessary coping or treatment items in your carry-on bag, like a change of clothes and medicines.
- Bring items to keep your child entertained. Be sure to pack your child’s favorite toys, books, snacks, headphones and plane-safe electronics. Keep in mind that there will be times when electronics may not be used on the plane.
- Have contingency plans for possible flight delays.
Ask for help
Many airports and airlines have supportive resources and staff. Don’t hesitate to ask for the help you need.
- Learn where you can find resources at the airport, such as customer assistance desks, quiet rooms, family-friendly bathrooms and sensory-friendly rooms.
- There are many support staff within the airport to assist your family. Ask for support or accommodations if and when you need them.
Whether your family travels by plane or by car, preparation and communication are key.
We recognize that every child is unique and that the content of this article may not work for everyone. This content is general information and is not specific medical advice. We hope these tips will serve as a jumping-off point for finding the best approach to helping a child with autism. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the health of a child. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away. Some physicians and affiliated healthcare professionals on the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta team are independent providers and are not our employees.