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

Tips to Smooth Air Travel Easier for Children with Autism

Updated: Dec 29, 2023

Traveling by air can be a daunting experience for anyone, but it can be especially challenging for children with autism. However, with some simple tips and tricks, parents and caregivers can make air travel easier and less stressful for their children with autism. Let's take a more in-depth dive!



Tips for a smooth airport experience

· 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. · 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.

Boarding the plane and in-flight strategies

· Pre-board if possible: Some airlines offer pre-boarding for passengers with disabilities. This can help reduce anxiety and give you more time to get settled before the other passengers board. · 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. · Consider the seating arrangement: If your child is sensitive to noise or other stimuli, consider choosing a seat near the front of the plane or away from the engines. You may also want to choose a seat that allows for more legroom or space to move around.

During the flight, it's important to be flexible and prepared for unexpected situations. Here are some in-flight strategies to help make the experience smoother:

· Use distractions: Bring along books, movies, or games to help keep your child occupied during the flight. This can help reduce anxiety and provide a sense of normalcy. · Use the sensory tools and toys you brought: Continue to provide your child with the sensory tools and toys you brought along, and encourage them to use them as needed. · 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.

Sensory tools and toys for the flight

Sensory tools and toys can be a valuable resource during air travel. Here are some ideas for sensory tools and toys to bring along:

· Noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs · Weighted blanket or compression vest · Fidget toys or stress balls · Chewelry or other oral sensory tools · Visual timers or schedules · iPad or other electronic device with calming apps or games

Dealing with unexpected situations

Despite all the preparation and planning, unexpected situations can still arise during air travel. Here are some tips for dealing with unexpected situations:

· Stay calm: Children with autism can be sensitive to the emotions of those around them. Try to stay calm and positive, even during stressful situations. · Use your sensory tools and toys: Provide your child with their sensory tools and toys to help reduce anxiety and provide a sense of familiarity. · 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.

Arrival and post-flight strategies

The end of the flight doesn't mean the end of the journey. Here are some arrival and post-flight strategies to help make the transition smoother:

· Take breaks: Allow yourself and your child time to take breaks and decompress after the flight. This can help reduce anxiety and provide a sense of normalcy. · Stick to routine: Try to stick to your child's routine as much as possible, even in a new environment. This can help reduce anxiety and provide a sense of familiarity.

Celebrate successes: Celebrate each successful step of the journey, no matter how small. This can help build confidence and create positive associations with air travel.


Conclusion

It is important to remember that air travel can be a daunting experience for children with autism. However, with the right preparation and support, it is possible to make the journey smoother and less stressful. The tips mentioned above, such as arriving early, requesting special assistance, and bringing comfort items, can make all the difference. It is also important to communicate with airline staff and other passengers about your child's needs and any potential triggers. With patience, understanding, and a little extra planning, air travel can be a positive experience for children with autism and their families.

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