Traveling with Autism: Before You Board The Plane
Updated: Jan 6
I’m sure it comes as no surprise to learn that I love traveling! Even so, getting to the airport and going through security can sometimes be stressful. It can be even more difficult for children with hidden disabilities like Autism.
These tips can help you get to the airport and through security more easily.
Before Your Trip
Prep your child for the trip well ahead of time. The night before does not allow your child to prepare. Instead, start two to four weeks before your trip starts. Social stories, modeling, and practicing, as well as discussions, can go a long way. You can also watch videos through YouTube which will allow your child to see and hear the sounds in an airport.
While it is common to want to finish all your laundry before traveling, consider having your entire family wear clothes that were not recently washed. The same goes with any “lovie” your child would like to bring. The familiar scent of home may help when your child is surrounded by so many new stimuli all at once.
At the Airport
If possible, fly into and out of smaller, regional airports. While these airports may be more expensive, they will have fewer people and shorter waiting times.
If your trip requires that you will need to fly into or out of a larger airport, we recommend you have the following items with you.
Baseball cap and/or sunglasses
Snacks, snacks, snacks, and even more snacks
A tablet or other electronic device that you know your child enjoys
A “lovie” (a favorite toy or blanket) from home
Any medications your child may need
Programs Which Provide Support
If your child may have challenges with airport security, it can be helpful to register with pre-screening programs such as TSA PreCheck or Global Entry.
There is also a program called TSA Cares. This program provides travelers with disabilities, medical conditions, and other special circumstances additional assistance during the security screening process. You can apply for assistance using their online application, however, if your flight is within 72 hours, you will need to call their direct number at (855) 787-2227.
As people are becoming more educated about Autism and other sensory differences, more and more airports are offering support in the way of sensory rooms. These rooms provide a quiet and secure environment. They are an excellent place to take a break from the overstimulation caused by crowds, bright lights, smells, and loud noises.
Another way to make traveling easier is by signing your child up with the Sunflower Lanyard Program. The Sunflower is a globally recognized symbol for non-visible disabilities, also known as hidden disabilities or invisible disabilities. The sunflower lanyard discreetly tells others that your child may need extra help or support on their journey. There are airports all over the world that are participating in this program.
Traveling with a child who has Autism or other hidden disability may be challenging, but those challenges can be overcome to create a wonderful experience. I hope you embrace the opportunity to make memories as your child learns about the world.
I wish you well. I wish you safe and happy travels. And I can’t wait to see you under a Canopy of Stars!