Traveling with Your Children with ASD

October 6th, 2015

Traveling with Your Children with ASD

By Holly Bortfeld

Over the years, I’ve traveled all over the US with my kids, who both have ASD. Like the movie “Trains, Planes and Automobiles”, we’ve traveled every way possible. Sometimes our travel was for business, sometimes medical, and sometimes pleasure. It takes a little preparation but it's totally worth it!

Packing and traveling with food

Since children with ASD benefit from a clean, restrictive diet, bringing some or all of your own food is necessary and will help you relax and have just one less thing to worry about. It will also save you money, as homemade food is cheaper than eating out three times a day.

  • If you drive, you can take as much food as your car can hold in coolers or boxes.
  • For bus or train travel, they don’t limit liquids but they do limit space, so find out their restrictions BEFORE you pack.
  • If you take a plane, you are limited both by space and restrictions on liquids. TSA rules are very strict and limit you to only a few small 2-ounce bottles, so you will want to bring solid foods like precooked bacon, premade sandwiches, etc. You can buy water or juice at the airport, after you clear security.

Airline Travel

Flying by air is the fastest and can be the most affordable, but it can also be the hardest for multiple reasons: getting through a very busy airport; waiting in many lines; security checkpoints; routine flight delays; unbreakable rules about noise, physical activity and tantrums that can get your family kicked off a flight; being locked in close proximity with a few hundred people for a few hours; and uncomfortable seats and inhumanly small bathrooms. But if you can work past all of those difficult things, you can really open the world for your child to travel, learn, and grow. It is worth it and there is help.

Flying tips:

  • Book nonstop flights to avoid layovers where things can go wrong, such as missed, delayed, or cancelled flights. Layovers also include extra transitions, which can cause anxiety and meltdowns.
  • Request bulkhead seats, which are roomier and eliminate the possibility of seat-kicking.
  • If your child is on a restricted diet and you won’t be able to bring food with you, you can request allergy-specific meals in advance by calling the airline. Don’t expect the food to be great but they usually get it right.
  • Board early to make it easier on everyone to get to your seats without the crush of travelers. Just tell the gate personnel you have a child with special needs and you need to pre-board.
  • Bring proof of your child’s diagnosis, just in case.
  • Bring toys, comfort items, books, iPod/iPad, food, and anything else that keeps your child happy and entertained.
  • Battery operated noise cancelling headphones can be very helpful.

TSA Cares helpline

Anyone with a disability or traveling with a person with a disability can contact the TSA Cares Helpline. Call TSA Cares 72 hours prior to your flight at 1-855-787-2227. This service is available at ALL airports in the USA. You can alert TSA of a special-needs passenger BEFORE you arrive at the airport. More info at Travelers with Disabilities and Medical Conditions.

Flight preparation for travelers with autism

Boston’s Logan, Washington’s Dulles, Minneapolis' MSP, New York’s JFK, Philadelphia International and Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson are just a few of the airports that offer walk-through practice and mock boarding. Call your local airport and ask if there is an autism access program that will let families take a practice run through airport security.

JetBlue has partnered with Autism Speaks to offer Blue Horizons for Autism at several of its airports.

Wings for Autism®

Social stories and suggested reading

You can also create social stories to visually walk your child through the process. Also, check out books like The Noisy Airplane Ride by Mike Downs or the “My Plane Trip” coloring book.

Video modeling has videos for everything imaginable, including boarding, take-off, in-flight and landing:

Travel skills

For my daughter with Asperger’s, we used traveling as a tool to teach her map-reading and navigation of the airport. It was her job to get us from the walkway of the plane to the baggage claim by reading the signs. Those skills still serve her well. Reading train and bus schedules, navigating crowded areas, getting though security, and waiting to board are also great skills for kids to learn.

Safety precautions while traveling with kids with ASD

Traveling with children who have limited ability to tell adults they are lost and how to find their parents present requires extra precautions.

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  2. […] possible, book nonstop flights to avoid the hassle of layovers, missed connections and the fear of more take offs and […]

  3. […] Read TACA’s Traveling with your children with ASD. […]