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  • Writer's pictureLaKeshia Y. Wells, M.Psych, BCBA, LBA

Navigating the Skies: How to Make Air Travel Easier for Children with Autism

Updated: Dec 29, 2023

Traveling with children can be challenging, but for parents of children with autism, air travel can be especially daunting. The unfamiliar sounds, sights, and routines can cause sensory overload and anxiety for children on the spectrum. As a result, parents may avoid air travel altogether, missing out on valuable experiences and opportunities. But with a little preparation and planning, air travel can be made easier and less stressful for children with autism.


Understanding autism and its challenges

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can impact one’s communication, social interaction, and behavior. Children with ASD may have difficulty with sensory processing, which can cause them to be hypersensitive or hyposensitive to sounds, sights, touch, taste, and smell. They may also have difficulty with transitions and changes in routine, which can lead to anxiety and behavior challenges. It's important to keep these challenges in mind when preparing for air travel.

Preparing for the flight

Start preparing for your flight well in advance. Make a checklist of all the things you'll need for the trip, including any medications, sensory tools, and toys your child may need. Consider contacting the airline ahead of time to discuss any special accommodations or requests you may have.


Pack a carry-on bag with all the essentials, including snacks, water, medications, and sensory tools. Bring along noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs to help reduce the impact of loud noises. You may also want to bring along a weighted blanket or compression vest to help your child feel more secure. If your child has a favorite toy or comfort object, make sure to bring it along as well.

Choosing the right airline and flight

When choosing an airline and flight, consider the specific needs of your child. Some airlines offer special accommodations for passengers with disabilities, including pre-boarding and wheelchair assistance. You may also want to consider the time of day and length of the flight. For example, a red-eye flight may be more difficult for a child with autism who has difficulty sleeping. A shorter flight may also be less overwhelming for a child who is sensitive to sensory stimuli.

Understanding autism and its challenges

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can impact one’s communication, social interaction, and behavior. Children with ASD may have difficulty with sensory processing, which can cause them to be hypersensitive or hyposensitive to sounds, sights, touch, taste, and smell. They may also have difficulty with transitions and changes in routine, which can lead to anxiety and behavior challenges. It's important to keep these challenges in mind when preparing for air travel.

Tips for a smooth air travel experience

  1. Arrive early: Give yourself plenty of time to check in, go through security, and get to your gate. This can help reduce anxiety and give you time to address any unexpected situations that may arise.

  2. Use the TSA Cares program: The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) offers a program called TSA Cares, which provides assistance to passengers with disabilities. This can include assistance going through security, pre-boarding, and additional screening if needed. Contact the TSA Cares helpline ahead of time to discuss your child's needs.

  3. Use the sensory tools and toys you brought: Provide your child with the sensory tools and toys you brought along, such as noise-cancelling headphones, weighted blankets, or fidget toys. This can help provide a sense of familiarity and comfort during the flight.

  4. Be prepared for sensory overload: If your child becomes overwhelmed, try to find a quiet space on the plane where they can take a break. This may mean walking up and down the aisle, or finding a space near the back of the plane.

  5. Ask for help: Don't be afraid to ask for help from airline staff or other passengers. Most people are willing to help and support families traveling with children with autism.

Conclusion

Airports are busy places, and often chaotic. That's why it's important to know what to expect and essential to have some tips in your think tank. With these strategies in mind, you're well on your way to creating memorable and enjoyable travel experiences for the whole family. And remember, if you would like a downloadable PDF with these tips, we've got you covered!


Happy travels!

Download:

Air Travel for ASD Tip Sheet ESABA
.pdf
Download PDF • 6.53MB





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