Traveling with an Autistic Child: 10 Steps to Prepare

Traveling is a word that brings anxiety to many families who have children with autism. However, even though traveling can feel overwhelming to families, it is important to travel with your child! Your child will benefit from learning from the experience, as well as will the people your child will interact with when traveling!

Below are ten basic things that every family who has a child with autism needs to know or consider when planning a trip:

  1. First, start with a good plan! When planning your trip, think about activities you need to include during the day to help your child be more successful (e.g. if your child needs a lot of physical activity, throw in time during the day your child can swim in the hotel pool).
  2. Once you have a plan for your trip, start putting together some visual supports to help your child on the trip. For example, showing the child pictures of the hotel you are going to stay at, writing out a calendar of the activities that are going to occur each day, writing or drawing pictures of rules to follow when traveling.
  3. Consider getting a handicap sticker for parking. Families who have children with autism are eligible to handicap stickers for safety reasons. Have your physician complete the form and take it to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). This way you can park close to entrances, which drastically helps with children who are “runners.”
  4. If you are going to a theme park, play, concert, etc. talk with the ticket office about options they have for seating. For example, they might be able to provide you with seats that have more room for your child to move. Or, if going to a theme park, some will give you passes so you do not have to wait in line for the rides!
  5. Before going on your trip, make sure you stock up on your child’s favorite reinforcers! Bring lots of them! Because change is often difficult for children with autism, you will need to reinforce your child a lot for good behavior. You also might need reinforcers when waiting in lines. Make sure you give your child lots of compliments about their behavior (e.g. Great job sitting in your seat!) or you can give your child tangible reinforcers (e.g. candy, tokens, stickers). You will want to reinforce your child at least three times as much when you’re on your trip!
  6. If you are planning to fly, talk with the airline agency to see if they can pre-assign you seats that would provide more room for your child. Maybe they would even let you sit in first class with no additional cost…….
  7. Also, when flying, carefully think about if you should pre-board or not. For some children, it might help them to be in their seats early on the plane. For other children, it might be best to wait until the very last call for the flight before boarding in order to let them move around as much as possible. Be prepared for the security checks, always prepare your child ahead of time on the process! Always call the airlines ahead of time to check for delays or cancellations!
  8. Consider bringing information or hand-outs on autism. Just in case you encounter any challenges when on the trip (e.g. airport security), the hand-outs can be a way to explain the behaviors they are seeing while teaching them about autism spectrum disorders.
  9. Make sure you bring any items your child uses for calming (e.g. favorite blanket, favorite book, headphones with music). Give your child the flexibility to access these items anytime he/she needs to!
  10. Last, but definitely not least, have fun and enjoy your child! Be proud of yourself for getting out and educating us all on the joys of children with autism!

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