It is never too early for parents to start preparing their special needs child for any future vacation.
In fact, the sooner parents begin to practice the tips below, the more equipped they will be to travel and the more enjoyable their experiences will be. For those who might be unsure how to start the process;h ere are our tips for preparing to take a child with autism on a flight.
Prepare your kid
Parents should print or download a social story about flying from the internet to read to their child. Nowadays many airlines and airports have useful links including printable social stories to refer to on their websites. These stories can introduce the kids to the topics of airplanes and airports in a straightforward and fun way.
For kids that like watching Youtube channels, parents can look for videos online showing the particular airport they will travel from along with any eye-catching and funny airline safety commercials.
Study the airport layout
Families should download a map of their local airport and clearly mark on them the play areas, restaurants, and restrooms. In addition, travelers can check the airport website to see whether it offers any family TSA lines or disability accommodations.
Some airports offer free mobile apps that parents can download on their phones to use when they travel. Having the app ready on their phone can aid parents in finding the different areas in the terminal faster as well as come up with alternate plans if they encounter unforeseen delays or changes.
Find places to relax
Many airports have areas for families to regroup and relax.
US airports like Minneapolis and Boston offer secluded sections with rocking chairs for those who feel stressed which are perfect for kids with autism.
Another option for families is to obtain access to airport lounges. Some lounges offer access as a credit card benefit, while for others day passes can be purchased. Depending on the frequency of travel, parents can decide whether it is a good idea to apply for a credit card that offers lounge privileges or not
Know the different routes to the airport
Parents need to familiarize themselves and their kids with the different ways to get to the airport whether by private car and public transportation.Those planning to go by car should drive there at least once ahead of any planned trip to know exactly where to park and how to get to the different terminals.
Likewise, parents planning to arrive at the airport by bus or light rail should take a ‘dry run’ practice trip to know which station to get off and how far they would need to walk to get to the different airport areas.
By familiarizing themselves with the route, parents will not only know what to do if something goes wrong on the actual day of travel but help their kids with autism be less stressed since they will be able to recognize the different spots.
Try the airport’s program for autism
Parents should call their home airport and ask whether they have programs for autism.
Some programs allow visits within the airport terminal, checkpoints, and inside a parked aircraft. Others like the one in Minneapolis airport even lets autism families explore the stores and different food venues in the terminal.
Moreover, to help their children remember the different places they see on tour, parents could take pictures and create a social book for them to use as a reference when traveling.
Get medical paperwork ready
Even if they have no plans to go anywhere, parents should still keep an updated printed copy of their child’s medical papers ready to use when necessary. The documents should detail the child’s diagnosis, medicines taken along with any special accommodations they might need.
When signed by the child’s physician, these papers can be useful in communicating with the TSA, the airlines as well as mitigate misunderstandings with the flight crew while traveling.
Apply for Global Entry or TSA pre-check
Parents wishing to go through a shortened TSA line with no hassle can apply for Global Entry or TSA pre-check. Though the initial vetting can take 3-4 months to complete, the good news is that once approved the card is valid for five years. Participants in the programs are allowed to keep their clothing and shoes on, and there is no need to take out the various electronic devices and 3 oz liquid bottles at the checkpoints which is helpful for families with autism.
Are you thinking of flying with your special needs child? What special preparations are you making?