With summer around the corner, many families are getting excited and planning a fun-filled season. This might look like mini adventures or a large trip, but both of these mean one thing is certainly true. It’s time to start planning! Traveling with young children is a rewarding family experience and is a time to create lasting memories. While the fun possibilities are endless, you might be considering how to best prepare for some of the challenging moments that accompany travel with young children, especially if you have a child with autism.
Most young children have difficulties adjusting to changes in their routine or being in new environments with different social rules. These challenges are often increased for autistic children, in addition to difficulties with communication. However, with careful planning, preparation, and consideration of everyone’s unique needs, traveling with autistic children can be a fulfilling and memorable experience.
Action Behavior Centers has compiled a list of tips that are helpful to families that plan on traveling with autistic kids. Whether you are planning a road trip, a flight, or a vacation, these tips can help reduce stress, making your travel experience a more enjoyable one.
- Plan ahead: Create a detailed itinerary, including information about the travel process transportation, accommodations, and activities. Create and show your child visuals of what to expect (who, what, where, when) via social stories, online photos, or virtual tours. Partner with your Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) to help prepare your child.
- Choose autism-friendly destinations: Research destinations that are autism-friendly and have facilities and services that cater to the needs of individuals with autism. Some places offer sensory-friendly attractions or quiet spaces for reading books about autism.
- Pack comfort items: Bring familiar and comforting items such as a favorite toy, blanket, or snacks that your child enjoys. These familiar items can provide a sense of security and help them feel more comfortable in new environments.
- Use noise-canceling headphones or earplugs: Traveling can be overwhelming due to the loud or different noises in these environments. Noise-canceling headphones or earplugs can help reduce the noise and provide a more calming environment for your child. Partner with your BCBA to see if your child might benefit from practicing the use of headphones or earplugs.
- Maintain routines and predictability: Try to stick to your child's routines as much as possible during travel. This can help them feel secure and minimize anxiety. Bring familiar snacks, toys, and comfort items to maintain their daily routine.
- Consider sensory needs: Adjust and plan for your child's sensory sensitivities. For example, if you will be out in the sun, but your child may not prefer sunscreen or clothing that better protects in the sun, find options that your child will prefer or practice wearing these things before the trip. This is also another great opportunity to partner with your Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). Communicate with travel providers: Inform airlines, hotels, and other travel providers about your child's needs. They may be able to accommodate specific requests such as seat assignments, early boarding, or providing a quiet room in the hotel. This can even include notifying the airport or transportation authorities in advance about your child's needs for accommodations and support during security checks. Check with your local airport to see if they host practice security walkthroughs and flight boarding. Consider obtaining a letter from your child's doctor explaining their condition and any specific needs they may have.
- Be flexible and allow breaks: Recognize that unexpected situations may arise during travel. Be prepared to adapt your plans and allow for breaks when your child needs to recharge or relax.
It's important to remember that each child is different and their travel needs and experiences may vary. Find what works for your child’s needs and make the travel experience as comfortable as possible. With patience, understanding, and a spirit of adventure, your travel plans are surely destined to be filled with joy, discovery, and moments that your autistic child will treasure for a lifetime.
At Action Behavior Centers - ABA Therapy for Autism, each ABA therapist strives to provide compassionate care for children on the autism spectrum. We believe that early Intervention can be a great foundation in building a brighter future with Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy. ABC is committed to getting your child started as soon as possible because every moment counts.