Navigating The Friendly Skies With Autism

Family in the airport
When was the last time you took an airplane somewhere? How about with your child with autism?
So many parents are fearful of taking their child on an airplane and putting them through the airport and air travel experience. Rightly so…
Think about it. It is a new experience. Lots of people. New and loud noises. Crowded spaces. A small airplane that you are practically stuck on once boarded until you reach your destination. Air pressure changes. New smells and noises on board. And on that plane, you don’t have much space to move around.
Sounds like a real treat, eh? I don’t mind flying but I am a seasoned-pro and I don’t struggle from sensory issues (or claustrophobia).
So what do you do when you want to take a vacation as we call it in the states (or a holiday as many of you call it across the pond :)?
You go for it and prepare your child to the best of your ability. When we asked for your input here are the tried-and-true tips that you shared have worked for YOUR children with autism:
  • Prepare your child. Some airports offer programs where you can do a “run through” or a “dress rehearsal” of what it will be like to travel to the airport, go through TSA (security), travel to your gate, and board the plane (including where you board – inside or outside?). You can find 15 airports in the US that offer programs and more resources here.
  • If you have a hard time preparing your child through a local program/if one doesn’t exist, try some of these other suggestions…
  • Explain what will happen and show it in pictures so your child has a visual of what the actual airport and airplane will look like. Talk about what they will see but also what they will hear. If you cannot go live, pull up youtube and find some videos to show your child of people in airports/on airplanes.
  • Read a story or watch a movie about traveling to the airport and taking an airplane to a new place.
  • Bring ear plugs, head phones, ear muffs/ear defenders,
  • Pack a carry on bag of your child’s favorite snacks and toys (electronics included…this is a GREAT time to break out the iPad!)
  • Think ahead. You may not have access to internet at the airport and/or on the plane. Download favorite TV shows/movies ahead of time so your child can watch them when needed, even if wifi is not available!
  • Have your child sit in the window seat so they are less visually overstimulated once on the plane. That seat will allow them to focus on YOU and help keep them calm and regulated on the plane.
  • Make a schedule for when you travel. Put on times for leaving and arriving at airport, boarding airplane, taking off, landing, etc. Keep in mind that you may need to change these times so leave that as an option on the schedule you make! 
  • Let the gate attendant and flight attendants know that your child has autism and whether or not this is their first flight. They will be able to assist you better if they know! They may be able to make some accommodations for you and your child as well (e.g., board first, deplane first, extra walks around the cabin, drinks/snacks once on the plane, etc)
  • Call ahead. Call your airline and find out what they can do to help. You may be pleasantly surprised! 
Traveling by plane can be a FUN experience. Prepare your child the best you can and enjoy your air travel. I am cheering YOU and your child on. You got this!

As promised here are some additional resources:

A new national initiative in the US via The Arc “Wings For Autism” 

15 Airports in the US that have a Autism “flying rehearsal” program

For you all in the UK: Manchester Airports resources for flying with autism

With Love & to safe and sucessful travels!