Summer is coming which means it’s time for summer vacations. Many children on the autism spectrum have challenges when it comes to traveling, either in the car, trains, or flying. When traveling there are crowds, unpredictability, changes in routine/schedule, and new noises and sights. All of these factors can make the traveling experience difficult for the child and the family. Many of our parents ask us for tips for their kids traveling on the autism spectrum, so we wanted to share some of our tips with you!
Tips for Traveling
Vacation is supposed to be a fun time for families but often the traveling to and from can cause so many disruptions in a routine that it takes away from the trip. We know the struggles you feel while traveling, but we also know some amazing tips to help you when traveling on the autism spectrum! Whether you’re traveling to grandma’s house a few hours away or going on an airplane to another state, these tips for traveling are sure to help prepare you and your child.
When planning a road trip, be prepared for the bathroom breaks and long boring hours in the car. For any child, on the spectrum or not, sitting in the car for a long time can easily become unbearable. Help them along the way with these tips!
–Have Choices Ready– Pack lots of options for your child so that they always have something to do while traveling. A great option is to have them pack their own backpack and let them carry it. This allows them to feel in control because they packed their favorite things such as calming toys, their iPad, books to read, and whatever else they enjoy. Having these familiar and calming items with them will help them to reduce stress, and of course boredom.
-Keep Your Routine– This is the most important tip, always. Your child is so used to their routine so it’s important to do your best to stick with it. Be sure to bring some of their favorite things that will keep them on their routine- maybe it’s a coloring book they always do in the morning or nap time in the afternoon. Pack things that you can easily do to stay on routine.
-Reinforce Good Behavior– We encourage our parents to reinforce good behavior at home and this is no different when traveling! Positive behaviors when traveling include buckling their seat belt, sitting with their seat belt on, reading quietly, and sharing with their siblings. Giving them a high-five and telling them how great they are doing is a great way to encourage them, but you can also give them small items like stickers or small toys if those are more encouraging for your child!
-Visual Schedules– While it’s hard to plan exactly what you will do each day, do your best to create a visual schedule for your child. This way they can see what is coming next and they can better prepare. You can go over the the night before with social stories so that they can visualize it as well.
The majority of our driving tips will also apply to our flying tips- but there are a few special ones to keep in mind when flying!
-Contact Guest Services– Did you know that you could do this? We didn’t either until one of our pilot friends told us! You can do this with airports, train stations, and hotels for additional support. Depending on the company, they can provide advanced boarding times, special meals, and other travel accommodations.
-Practice– In addition to contacting guest services, some airlines even have practice flying programs so that you can take your child ahead of time and go through the big day with them. You can also review this social story ahead of time to prepare!
-Prepare for Sensory Overload– Between the crowded airport and the actual sounds on the airplane, there will be a lot of times when your child might start to feel uncomfortable. Be sure to pack noise cancelling headphones to help with the noises. Before boarding the plane, check with the gate attendant to see about boarding either first or last. This will help your child avoid most of the crowds and get seated quickly. It’s also a good idea to try and get seats close to the front of the plane!
How PediaPlex Helps
At PediaPlex, we work with a lot of children on the autism spectrum so we are familiar with helping parents and kids with preparing for summer traveling on the autism spectrum. If your child is in ABA therapy with us, or even just in speech or occupational therapy, we advise you to tell your therapist about your travel plans! When your therapist is aware of your travel plans they can incorporate new social stories into your child’s therapy to better help them prepare. We can even practice role playing different scenarios that they might encounter while on vacation.
At our Frisco PediaPlex location we have taken it one step further by setting up a mock airplane and airport for our ABA clients. This is a great way to prep our friends before any big travels that might include flying! Our airplane room features real parts from an airplane’s cockpit, seats, toy luggage, a runway, and images of the inside of an actual airport. This room allows for children to get familiar with an airport in a calmer setting so that they know what to expect before the big travel day. If you are planning to travel for the summer, let your therapist know! Our team of therapists at PediaPlex will be happy to help your family plan for the big trip so that it’s your best vacation ever!
-The PediaPlex Family
Special thank you to our friends at Air Salvage of Dallas for the amazing donation of airplane parts!
All photos were obtained with informed consent.