A trip out of town can be a refreshing and rejuvenating experience for many. A family trip to a foreign place can be a great way to create lasting memories. For individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), travel presents a variety of challenges. It can be difficult for individuals with autism to navigate unpredictable situations and new sights.
Families with ASD members do not have to stop traveling. Planning ahead is a great way to make travel easier, whether you are considering flying or opting for a COVID safe road trip.
Although traveling with an autistic child may seem daunting, there are many benefits to the trip for all family members. A trip to a different environment can help the autistic family member push beyond their comfort zone and increase confidence. It is also a great way to develop social skills and interact with others in unfamiliar situations.
Sensitivity may be improved by moving to a new environment. Travel offers an opportunity to discover new coping strategies to reduce anxiety. Everyone must be prepared to travel with someone with ASD. Gradual exposure practices such as practicing new experiences ahead of time can be very helpful. If your first time with ASD, you might choose to travel a shorter distance.
Family vacations offer unique bonding opportunities. Parents also need to take time for themselves and unwind from the stresses of daily life.
Common Problems and Solutions
Problem: Your child must leave home and be in a familiar setting. Solution: Make a countdown calendar so that your child doesn’t get surprised when it is time for you to go. Talk to your child about the details of your trip so that they are familiar with what to expect. You can share pictures with your child about the places you’re going, how you plan to get there and where you’re staying.
Problem: Routine change
Solution: Find parts of your child’s routine that you can keep, such as the same breakfast food or the same evening schedule. So that your child is ready to participate in the planning of the new routine, discuss any changes that may be made while on the road.
Solution: Don’t overbook your vacation. If you’re in an area that has high sensory stimulation, make sure to take breaks. A child with ASD shouldn’t be exposed to too many things at once. It can overwhelm them. Allow them to enjoy a few activities each day, without feeling overwhelmed. If possible, avoid places or activities that are too crowded.
Problem: Unexpected plan changes
Solution: It is crucial to stick to your plan when managing your child’s expectations. To help you prepare your expectations, make reservations as far in advance as possible. Avoid activities that are dependent on the weather. Avoid over-packaging your schedule to ensure that you don’t miss an opportunity.
Solution: Discuss with your child the importance of making backup plans for activities that are scheduled. Use words like “might” and “hope to” to show that you have considered the possibility of bad weather.
Problem: How to keep track of your child
Solution: You might consider putting an ID tag on the bag or shoelace of your child. They will also have your contact information in case you are separated. So that your child is aware of what to do in case you are separated, it’s a good idea to discuss the details beforehand.
Situations of emergency
Solution: Bring a letter from your doctor and any other documents that could help you understand the needs of your child. If something does happen, research the area you are planning to travel to and find out what nearby care facilities.
Problem: Perceptions of behavior
Solution: It is important to be open about the needs of your child when you travel. This will make it easier for employees and others to accommodate.
Problem: Noisy restaurants or lodging
To reduce noise and prepare your own meals, rent a vacation home instead of a hotel room. Call the hotel to discuss your child’s needs before you arrive. Ask for a room near the elevators and at the end of the hallway.
Problem: Consider a future trip
Solution: Log everything that went well and what needs to be improved for next vacation. Ask your child about their past experiences and the challenges they faced.
Everyone can travel stress-free if they plan ahead.
It can make all the difference to have the right things with you. These are some essentials for traveling that can help your child with sensory issues.
- Bring familiar snacks and food: If your child is sensitive to textures and flavors, you can bring their own snacks and food to ensure they are able to eat.
- Weighted blanket: Discuss with your child’s occupational therapist or care provider how a weighted blanket might help reduce anxiety, especially when flying.
- You can travel loudly with noise reduction headphones. A pair of noise reduction headphones can help reduce a child’s sense of overload, particularly on a noisy plane or car ride.
- Entertainment: Select items that suit your child’s interests, such as coloring books, play dough, and fidget toys.
- In the event of an accident, or loss of luggage, change clothes.
- Favorite toys and portable activities: Bring along familiar toys or activities for your child to keep them entertained on the trip.
Talk about the details with your child before you go. Give them plenty of time to prepare. A child with ASD can be helped to adjust to changes in their routine by being prepared.
Social stories can be used to help children visualize the changes that will occur when they go on a trip. Give your child an opportunity to ask questions about the trip. To ensure that they fully understand the trip, have them repeat the plan.
You might create a story about waiting in line at the airport. Talk about the events and their timeline to help them know what to expect. When they are flexible in a situation, give them positive reinforcement. These conversations should be held with parents in the weeks and days leading up to the trip. Regular conversations about the trip can help you to address any anxiety they might have and work together to reduce stress.
Safety in your car is important. During this pre-trip stage, make sure to check that your auto insurance policy is up to date. Finding the best car insurance can significantly reduce stress on a road trip, especially if your child experiences ASD. Reviewing your car insurance policy before a trip may also give you a chance to explore other options and get the cheapest car insurance to fit your coverage needs.
Making friends with people from other countries and cultures
It doesn’t matter if you are visiting relatives or friends that you haven’t seen in a while, or are worried about large crowds, you need to prepare your child for these new experiences.
To give your child a chance to imagine where they will be, show them photos and videos. Consider taking a field trip so you can practice ahead of time. You might be able to visit the airport before you leave or stop at a public rest area before you depart.
Talk about the family members you will be visiting to make your child feel more at ease, especially if they are staying at someone else’s place. You can also discuss your relationship with people visiting your home and schedule a video conference to allow your child to meet them.
These are some strategies that you can use to make it easier for your child with Autism to ride in a car.
Begin by looking for triggers in your car that could cause ASD symptoms. In such a small area, many sensory issues can be magnified. Find the best volume for music, and any genres that might soothe or agitate your child. Before you leave, let your child create a playlist. You can also make your child uncomfortable by the smells in the car or on their clothes. Make sure to plan for snacks and foods that aren’t too ominous.
A timetable is helpful for autistic people to be able to plan their day. You can also create a schedule that includes stops for food and toilet stops. Also, estimate your arrival time. Use visual and verbal cues such as a map showing the stops or a countdown clock counting down to each rest area. You can also make a hotel reservation along the route to help you avoid having to look for rooms while you travel.
Remember to let your child know that you will need to prepare them for any changes in their schedule. You can communicate with your child if you encounter heavy traffic, and they will adjust your map and timer accordingly.
For individuals with autism, stopping at restaurants and restrooms is an essential part of the journey. A few minutes of silence can provide a mental break on a road trip, where there is a high chance of being overstimulated. You can make each stop as relaxing and enjoyable as possible by visiting familiar places such as fast-food chains that look the same no matter where you’re at. Everyone in the car should have an opportunity to stretch and walk around. Before you set out on your journey, research rest stops and areas you may like to stop. Share photos with your child.
Remember that good nutrition is crucial to a successful trip. Research shows that nutrition issues can amplify problematic behaviors. You must ensure that your child is getting the right nutrition, including food and supplements, if your doctor recommends.
A familiar soundtrack can make it easier for autistic children to travel in the car, and help them adjust to the new environment. These are some tips to make your road trip smooth.
- A car organizer is a great way to keep everything within reach of your child.
- You can make activity bags. Fill your bag with puzzles, lap books, and ball mazes to keep your child entertained. Split the items up into multiple bags so you can spread them out during long car rides.
- Use headphones to soothe your child.
- Preload a tablet. Download your favorite games and some new ones to keep them busy without having to use WiFi.
- Brainstorm family games: Every trip requires some form of group game such as I Spy or bingo. If you are going to play a new game, make sure to practice with your child.
It can be daunting to experience a first plane ride. These are some tips to help you manage each step.
Airports can be noisy, crowded, and confusing. You are not always in control of your seat or the time you have to wait in line. To help your child prepare for their trip, you can use social stories. Practice together how it will feel to pass through TSA. Practice together by showing videos.
According to the TSA, travelers with autism can be screened with a companion. Talk to the TSA officer before you arrive to discuss the best route to take your child through security. You can speed up the process by filling in a TSA notification form, which communicates quickly your child’s current condition.
Make use of all resources available at your airport. For example, Pittsburgh International Airport has a sensory room called Presley’s Place. The room recreates an airplane cabin and offers soundproofing, privacy, and other calming activities.
Make sure that you are able to choose seats together. Budget airlines may charge an additional fee for this service. Pay the fee if you are able to afford it so your child can enjoy the service. Be prepared to provide sensory experiences for your child. Your doctor may recommend medication or other treatments for motion sickness. To avoid ear popping, bring candy or gum to chew.
It is important to have entertainment in flight. You should choose things that will keep them entertained and can fit into your carry-on bag. You can keep your child entertained with coloring books, music and games downloaded to their phone. A blanket or favorite blanket is a great idea, as airplanes can get cold. Make sure to bring snacks so that you don’t have sensory issues. Before you board the plane, make sure to talk to the flight attendants to discuss any special needs.
These are some additional tips to make your family’s flight as enjoyable as possible.
- Avoid flying on the busiest days. Weekdays and early morning flights tend to be the most busy. However, you can still call the airline to make a booking and inquire about the best times and days to fly.
- You can visit the airport ahead: Find out if there is a tour program at your airport or make your own (at minimum up to the TSA checkpoint).
- TSA Precheck can simplify security screening. Your child will be able to pass through the checkpoint easily by wearing simple shoes and layers without complicated zippers or buttons. If you’re eligible, apply for TSA Precheck to reduce the wait time and make security easier.
- Make trip rules. This includes a description of the rules, such as wearing a mask or keeping their seatbelts on. Reward positive behavior with appropriate rewards
- Schedule breaks: Tell your child when you expect snacks and breaks.
The bottom line
While travel may be different for someone with ASD, it does not necessarily mean that they are out of the question. You can tailor solutions to your child’s needs by thinking about their specific needs. Talking to your child early is crucial and encouraging communication.
To ensure your family is prepared for anything, create a checklist. This will help you make sure that your children are comfortable. Although it takes more time and effort, your whole family will benefit from this new experience that creates lasting memories.