Inside we’ll look at some of the tips you can use when traveling with an autistic child to enable you to have a smooth experience.
Traveling with an autistic child may seem daunting. You will need to be well prepared.
They process their environment differently. Transitions and new situations can be overwhelming or over-stimulate them.
It can be challenging for the parent and the child.
However, if you are well prepared, the sensory issues can be well managed and it does not have to prevent the family from having a vacation AND your child can have fun in the process!
In this article, we look at some of the tips you can use when traveling with an autistic child to enable you to have a smooth experience.
1. Learn Their Trigger Points
What triggers the anxiety and over-stimulation of your child? Not all autistic kids are the same.
Are they seekers or avoiders and in which senses? Your child can be an auditory avoider and a vestibular seeker at the same time. You should know what your child’s triggers are so that you can come up with ways to avoid or manage them.
2. Prepare Them in Advance
Let them know what to expect. For instance, are you going to be flying? Let them know the kind of noise, lights and other sensory disruptors that airports have. This will prepare them psychologically and ease their anxiety when they get to the actual airport. Re-enact or describe the whole scenario at home if possible. Even better, take a dress rehearsal run to the airport so they can literally see what it’s like.
3. Choose Destinations Wisely
If you are traveling to a vacation destination with an autistic child, make sure you choose a destination that will be enjoyable for everyone. If your child hates noise and crowds, maybe camping is a better choice over an amusement park. You want them to enjoy the stay and their comfort will also allow you to enjoy yourself as well.
4. Observe and Keep Familiar Routines
If possible, do not deviate too much from the familiar routines you keep at home. Routines allow your children to know what to expect next and this keeps their anxiety levels low. Autistic children do not like to get caught in situations they cannot control. It makes them nervous and they are more likely to have a meltdown. A routine will keep them feeling regulated and when you have prepared them well, a slight deviation from the plan will not cause anxiety.
5. Buy Earplugs for the Sound-Sensitive Child
Noise-canceling headphones will work best for kids who have issues with sound. If you are passing through the airport or train station, there will be a lot of noise from machinery and people. Your child might need these earplugs to keep these noises from triggering a meltdown.
6. Carry Something Familiar
Does your kid have something they treasure a lot? A stuffed animal maybe? Or one of their toys? These items can come in handy when they get anxious. They are items of comfort that you should carry for them for such times.
Also consider what calming sensory toys you can bring along for the ride. Check out this list of calming sensory toys that travel really well.
7. Give Them a Responsibility
By giving the kids a role to play, you can give their minds something to focus on, instead of the possible scenarios that can cause them to be anxious. Give them a kid’s camera and entrust them the role of taking photos of whatever they fancy. It keeps them preoccupied and at a lower risk of getting over-stimulated. Or have them keep track of the time, or your water bottle or something age appropriate.
8. Complement Them
Positive reinforcement can work wonders! Praise them when they do something brave or tough. For instance, when they use public bathrooms without an issue, let them know how amazing that is.
Kids with sensory issues are constantly working to regulate themselves, even if it is invisible to us. Encourage them!
9. Find Distractions for Them
Sometimes triggers are unavoidable. It is helpful to have something exciting on hand to distract them for a time. Music, hand clapping games, I Spy and other silly games can be a pleasant diversion.
Let the travel be part of the vacation! Allow special treats like sweets or screen time that they may not normally get. Novelty and fun can be a great distraction!
10. Prepare and Take Scheduled Breaks
Give your self a lot of margins in the schedule. Expect the unexpected and don’t rush your child! Most of my dumb parenting moves have happened when I’m pressed for time. If you have the luxury of time, you’ll have a better chance of being level-headed.
Taking breaks allows kids to settle down and regulate, preventing overwhelm. We all need breaks, so pay attention to your child’s body language and respond accordingly.
And if things don’t go well, remember what to do DURING a meltdown. The loss of control isn’t fun, but you, as the parent, can be a steady anchor for your kid as work to regulate. Happy travels!
Have more questions??? Check out this wildly popular series of Sensory FAQs and become a more confident sensory parent today!
Autism Adventures says
For children on the autism spectrum, travel can mean venturing through unfamiliar routines and adjusting to stressful, chaotic situations. However, with thoughtful preparation, travelling can be an opportunity to show your child a break from the usual routines can be a wonderful adventure.