Traveling can be a very nerve-wracking and tense time for families affected by autism. Because kids who have autism spectrum disorder thrive on routine, regularity and predictability, parents should take care to ensure the travel experience is smooth, comfortable and unsurprising. Following are some tips on how to make the travel experience as enjoyable as possible for the whole family.
Involve your child in the planning. Surprises might thrill some of us, but they’re jarring for the child on the autism spectrum. First, choose a destination that would interest your child most – consider if he or she likes to go to theme parks or museums, or if he or she prefers natural settings like the beach or the mountains. Wherever you decide to travel, make sure your child is an active participant in the planning process: book your flights together, research your hotel together, and take a walk on the web of all the destinations you’ll be visiting. Although you’ll be leaving home, where your child feels most at ease, being involved in the planning provides him or her a sense of control over the experience of traveling.
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Pack activity kits. Any new environment - whether it’s a plane, a new hotel room, or even a car ride on highways your child is unfamiliar with - can be a stressful for a child on the autism spectrum. A good way to relieve some of that anxiety is to bring a piece (or more) of home with you to take on the trip. Pack some calming items like favorite books, portable gaming devices, tablets, or toys. Not only will these familiar items provide a sense of comfort and home, they’ll also be things that your child is personally responsible for.
Develop a Desensitization Plan. Referred to by experts as desensitization or graduated exposure, this method is utilized to ease children into intimidating events like going to a new school or going to the dentist’s office. And yes, traveling. Consider “rehearsing” the travel experience with your child by packing your suitcases one evening and rising early the next day to “get to the airport on time.” Explain the process of boarding the plane. If possible, spend the same number of hours you’ll be spending on your flight in one room without exiting, playing the activities you have planned for when you’ll actually be flying. This will make the future experience a little less foreign to your child, but make sure to let him or her know that even though it won’t be exactly like this, it will be very similar.
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