Tips for Summer Travel with a child on the Autism Spectrum — Plan and Succeed!

girl in white blue and green floral dress on beach during daytime

Summer is almost here, a time many families decide to pack up the kids and visit somewhere new. Travelling can be a hurdle for any family, but it can be even more challenging when you have a child with an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis.

Even the idea of traveling can be overwhelming for parents. Routines are altered, new people, different sounds, unusual bed and sleeping environments, unpredictability and so much more can make a family vacation very tiring for an individual with autism and their family. With a little bit of planning traveling can become possible and less tiresome to think about.

Autism Speaks compiled a list of 10 things to keep in mind when planning a road trip, plane, or train ride.

1.Practice makes perfect!

Use social stories or teaching stories to teach what to expect on the plane or train. Also, become familiar with what different sounds or sights may be seen during the trip. You can do this by looking at videos, pictures, or listening to different sounds.

2. Contact guest services in advance.

To me this is an absolute must. Many parents and caregivers don’t know that guest services at hotels, plane companies, and trains can provide accommodations. These can include pre boarding times, pre-registration of service animals, specialized meals, rental equipment, and so much more!

3. Provide Choices.

Helping your child with autism feel like they are in control of their environment and situation can help calm nerves and decrease anxiety associated with travel. A really great suggestion from is to have your child pack their own special backpack with calming toys, any electronic devices (such as an iPad or Kindle), books, and snacks for the trip. This can be taken out and used during travel times or and long waiting times. Having their own special travel pack can provide your child with something they felt responsible for and allows them to choose the items that are comforting to them.

4. Prepare for sensory concerns.

When in a new environment there will be many unfamiliar and new sounds that can be intimidating or stressful. Having earplugs, music players, or noise cancelling headphones on hand can help reduce the unknown noises. Other sensory concern to remember are crowds, unfamiliar people, or standing in lines. You can always ask a gate attended to board early to get settled in your seat or board last to avoid waiting for a long time before departing. Another tip is when on a plane or bus think about getting a seat closer to the front, this can help your child feel less cramped as they may in the back.

5. Safety first.

Having safety plans when traveling are extremely important. If your child tends to wonder make sure you have a current family wandering emergency plan with you. You may also want to considered wearable ID’s as well when traveling.

6. Prep your environment.

If you are staying in a hotel, call ahead and try to get a quieter room. Many times, corner rooms are the way to go! If your child has a special diet, make sure to find a hotel with a fridge in the room to store food. You may also want to give the front desk a family wandering emergency plan if your child tends to wander. Finally, call and explain your child’s condition. This can help know about any other accommodations the facility may have or know of.

7. Family watch system.

To reduce stress, it is helpful to have one family member be assigned to provide one-to- one supervision. Rotate this position throughout the trip so your child continues to be safe, and you have a peace of mind.

8. Reinforce good behavior.

Having a simple reward system shows your child you are acknowledging when they are doing a great job. Maybe they boarded the plane and went right to their seat or they successfully made it through an entire train ride. It can even be as simple as they put on their seatbelt independently or sat and looked at a story.

9. Keep your routine.

It is hard when traveling to stick to your typical routine but having as much of a normal routine as possible can be really helpful. Think about bringing along some items they may like to use during different parts of their day, this may help your child feel their routine is more like home.

10. Create a schedule.

Having a schedule can help create some predictability for your child. There is so much uncertainty to the day during a trip and schedules can provide a routine and expectations.

Plan ahead and your trip can be a success!

Here at ABA Autism Therapy, our ABA therapists can assist you and your family navigate the daily challenges faced by individuals on the autism spectrum. We offer Applied Behavior Analysis therapy services throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Connecticut. Contact us today to discuss how we can help you!