A friend recently asked me for any travel tips I had on traveling with a child on the autism spectrum. Responding to that is tricky—the only constant about ASD is that nothing is constant. Every kiddo is different. But here’s what gets us from A to B and back again:
- Accept how much the child will be asked to bend. Bend in equal measure.
- Travel in a mode the child can manage. If waiting in line for more than 15 minutes is a problem, drive. If sitting still for more than 30 minutes is a problem, take the train. With modern security protocols, there are very few accommodations to be had at airports. Fly only if the child is nearing the skill set required.
- Electronics, electronics, electronics. Charge ’em up. Plug ’em in. Better to deal with tantrums at the destination rather than in the air, on the road, or along the tracks.
- Fidget items, both favorites and new, help when electronics can’t be used. Save for moments that call for happy surprise and distraction.
- Pack snacks. Loads of ’em. Especially chewy ones for air travel.
- Communicate every little step of the way. Checklists or visual schedules facilitate understanding during stress. Use them during fun outings prior to the trip so they are associated with “happy.”
- Medic alert tags (necklace, bracelet, shoe tag, or whatever will stay on) serve three purposes: to reunite the family if the child wanders, to alert security that there may be a reason for disruptive behaviors, and to give parental peace of mind that there is a safety net in both scenarios.
- Plan some parental pampering the night before and the day after travel. Then take a deep breath and survive the ride.
- Plan, try, do. Then ignore any looks and comments.
- Remember: all of us learn by doing. Without doing and failing a little, we’ll never get enough practice to do and succeed. Just do it.
We have traveled cross-country, one way or another, each year since our son was diagnosed. Recent highlights are available on this blog.