Tips for Traveling with a Child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder
Traveling with little children can be challenging. If one of those children has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), it can even be more challenging.
Although each child with an ASD behaves differently from other children with ASDs, many display common behaviors, and it's important to be prepared when traveling.
Whether you're traveling by plane, car, or bus, and whether you're visiting family or an amusement park, below are some tips for traveling with a child with an autism spectrum disorder.
Reduce the Noise
Many children with an ASD are sensory defensive. Loud, uncommon sounds, like the roar of a jet engine, could be very disturbing. Noise-reduction headphones or even earplugs can help to reduce or eliminate sounds that could potentially unsettle your child, so have him or her wear the headphones or earplugs as soon as possible.
If your child is uncomfortable wearing the headphones or earplugs, put them on as soon as he or she begins to show signs of apprehension towards loud sounds, and the headphones or earplugs could help to calm your child down.
Ask for Assistance
Because many children with an ASD are sensitive to loud noises and new environments, standing in line for a ride at a theme park could be overwhelming, often times resulting in a meltdown.
Upon arrival at a theme park or other attraction, check with guest services to see if they offer any guest assistance-type cards. These cards may allow your child, along with your family, to move to the front of the line for certain rides, or reduce the wait-time for other rides.
Some places do not require documentation to prove your child has an ASD, but it's always best to bring your paperwork (e.g. a doctor's note, copy of the Individualized Education Program, etc.) in case guest services does require the paperwork in order to issue a guest assistance card.
It can be difficult to stick to a routine when traveling, but for children with an ASD, routine is very comforting.
As much as possible, try to create some kind of consistency even while on a trip.
For instance, if your child always sleeps with a special stuffed animal, make sure to bring it on the trip.
If you and your child share a nightly ritual of bathtime, storytime, then bedtime, stick to it during your vacation.
Despite being in a different location, your child may find some comfort with such familiar objects or routines.
Provide Contact Information
Many parents worry that their child will get lost at an amusement park or large shopping center. For some parents of a child with an ASD, the threat is even greater due to the fact that many children with an ASD tend to wander.
For all children, whether or not he or she has an ASD, it's important that a parent's or guardian's contact information is readily available should the child become lost.
There are shoe ID tags, temporary tattoos, and even wrist bands, all of which allow you to write down at least a contact number (e.g. your cell phone number). Some items have room for other important information, such as a doctor's name and number.
You can also use a lanyard with a pouch and slip in a piece of paper with important information written on it.
If you're unable to find such products or don't want to spend the money, at the very least, write your contact name and number on a piece of paper and stick it in your child's pants or shirt pocket.
Make Awareness Cards
Making awareness cards can possibly help when dealing with businesses or even other travelers.
An awareness card can state a simple message such as:
"I have an autism spectrum disorder. I am very sensitive to loud sounds and new environments. Please be patient with me as I try to adjust to my new surroundings."
You can print out awareness cards, laminate them or punch holes in them and attach them to lanyards, backpacks, or clothing.
Make Memories for a Lifetime
It's hard to predict how any child will behave in new situations or enviroments, especially if the child has an autism spectrum disorder.
By being prepared and having the necessary tools and resources, traveling with a child with an autism spectrum disorder can be very enjoyable and memorable.