As a parent or caregiver, we are always looking for ways to minimize travel anxiety. The best way to do that is to identify one’s child’s anxiety triggers before, during and after travel and then seek to find suitable accommodations or solutions to eliminate these triggers. Here are some factors and questions to consider before booking the next family trip.
Generally speaking, people with autism find adhering to routines comforting, and they resist changes of any kind. Parents should over their regular schedule, ask what they will be missing while they are gone, and consider accommodations to help them adjust.
What Will They Hate to Miss While They’re Gone?
Ask your kids ahead of time whether there is anything they will miss while they were gone. If it is things like homework or a favorite TV show, parents can make arrangements to get it to them via e-mail or online.
Are They Used to Dining at a Specific Time or Eating Specific Foods?
This one is a bit trickier, especially when traveling across time zones. Parents should carry snacks for kids. They should also try to plan meal times similar to the ones they are used to.
Since every child is different and those on the autism spectrum have varied responses, the parent or caregiver needs to determine the specific triggers for their child.
Do Certain Smells Bother Your Child?
Parents should make sure seats on the airplane are away from toilets or galleys. Dining in ethnic restaurants or visiting attractions that involve animals like zoos, farms, and even Disney’s the Animal Kingdom might not be the ideal place for children with smell sensitivities.
Does Your Child React Adversely to Certain Lighting?
Parents should call up any shows or attractions to check what lights they use and choose to avoid going there or not accordingly.
Is Your Child Sensitive to Noise?
Parents can pack a set of noise-canceling headphones to use at theme parks and during fire drills. Also, they can map out quiet places in theme parks and request a quiet room in hotels and airports if they are available.
Does Your Child Have Temperature Sensitivities?
Some children are incredibly temperature sensitive and can’t tolerate heat, direct sun or wind blowing on them for prolonged periods of time. Parents can pack items like umbrellas or fans to help children cope.
How Does Your Child Cope with Crowds?
If crowds distress them, parents might want to take advantage of the airport lounge or avoid visiting a theme park on weekends and holidays.
Is Your Child Comfortable with People Touching Them or Their Belongings?
Parents should notify the TSA agent ahead of time of their child’s diagnosis and have a doctor’s note ready for any problems that may arise.
What Clothing is Your Child Comfortable Wearing?
Many kids on the spectrum aren’t able to wear certain types of clothes like button-down collar shirts or long pants. This fact might be problematic in some locations where a specific dress is required such as in restaurants or formal nights on cruise ships. Most places unless it is a formal gala will forgo the dress requirement if parents call in advance explain the situation. Parents should pack clothing that kids have worn before and found familiar.
Can Your Child be Confined to a Small Space for Long Periods of Time?
Parents should plan on splitting the flight into shorter segments or taking longer breaks during a road trip to accommodate kids.
Navigating the Unfamiliar
Children with autism need to feel that they are in control of their environment. Unfamiliar surroundings frighten them and stress them out.
Are They Used to Sharing a Common Space?
Parents should consider their child’s familiarity with sharing common spaces when booking lodging, as conflict might arise.
Is Your Child Used to Sleeping in an Unfamiliar Bed or Room?
If kids have never slept anywhere else but their room they might become anxious when they travel, especially the first time. Parents should try to get them used to different environments by having them sleep at a friend’s or family member’s house first. Moreover, In additionparents should also pack their favorite toy and blanket to help them adjust to new places.
Is Your Child Comfortable Sitting Next to Strangers?
Parents should opt to book window or aisle seats on planes and trains for their child. That way, they can sit next to a family member or caregiver instead of strangers.
Does Your Child Fear Parental Separation?
Most children have separation anxiety whether on the autism spectrum or not. Parents of children who are verbally communicative should teach them to identify staff and ask them for help whAlso, equipping the kids with a phone or walkie-talkie in advised.
If they are not verbal, parents should have them wear a special tag on their clothing or a GPS device that can help track their exact location if they wander off.
Degree of Flexibility
Many children on the autism spectrum are obsessed with certain habits and show inflexibility when parents try you change them. Parents should try to work with them and accommodate their needs rather than stress them out and risk a meltdown.
How Well Does Your Child Transition?
How Does Your Child React to Schedule Changes?
Parents should research their travel plans thoroughly at booking and before actual travel. That way, sudden changes to schedule don’t catch anyone by surprise. Moreover, they should check both flight schedules, and theme park rides the day of travel since plans can change last minute.
How Does Your Child Cope with Standing in Line?
Whether it is waiting in lines to board a flight or lines in the public restrooms; waiting for a table in restaurants, or even waiting for their food, children with autism seem to have a problem with occupying themselves during free time and that in turn stresses them out. Parents should inquire ahead of time for line accommodations to avoid waits wherever possible. They should remember to bring entertainment like coloring books, building blocks or cards to occupy them.
How Successfully Can Your Child Follow Directions and Rules?
The ability for a child to follow direction affect many aspects of travel like buckling up seat belts, using a public swimming pool and visiting theme parks. Parents of children who experience difficulties with these tasks should stay in close range at all times to provide cues.
The most important thing is for parents to be available and willing to discuss situations with children and prepare them ahead of time. Knowing that someone is there for them is the most reassuring thing kids can have, and a comfort for when they are feeling fears and anxiety.