Autism Travel Tips: Stress-Free Journey Guide

Travel tips for Autism Families: Preparing for a stress-free trip

Traveling with an autistic child can be incredibly stressful for families but it does not have to be.  As a seasoned traveler with a child on the autism spectrum, I have gathered valuable insights that have turned our family vacations into memorable adventures so I thought I would share my top ten travel tips to help you prepare for a stress-free and enjoyable journey with your autistic child.

  1. Planning, planning, and more planning are at a steady nr 1 on this list: Planning is your best friend when it comes to travelling with your autistic child.  Plan everything from the destination, to stops on route, internet connectivity, washing/bathing facilities, sensory-friendly activities, and make sure your accommodation is suitable for your child’s needs.
  2. Sensory input and/or sensory regulation is important to take into consideration so bring familiar sensory items like a favorite blanket, toys, or headphones.
  3. Stay on schedule as far as possible and prepare a visual schedule, with pictures or symbols that will be able to help your child understand and anticipate changes in their routines. These schedules must be individualized to suit your child’s specific needs.  I would suggest you speak to your child’s autism school for help.
  4. Make your child part of the planning. Communicate with your child before the trip, during the packing process and even ask them to help you prepare for the adventure.  This step is important even with non-verbal children and in these instances using social stories or visual aids to explain the upcoming journey can be helpful.
  5. Ensure your accommodation meets all your child’s needs before making the reservation. This can include anything from ensuring your child’s dietary restrictions can be met to Wi-Fi, unlimited power supply, window and door safety for climbers, and bathroom essentials.
  6. Road trip or carry-on essentials! Make sure you are armed with all the essentials, including medication, snacks, battery backups, or any other comfort item you may require.  Make sure you are well-prepared for any unexpected delays along the way.
  7. Sensory Triggers must be taken into consideration and try to avoid them as best possible. For sensory seekers pack sensory items like fidget toys for the trip.
  8. Safe Space planning is vital. Parents need to have a plan in place when out and about or when travelling.  Plan for the following:  What happens when the child becomes distressed?  Who does what?  Where do we take our child?  Do we have a safe space where the child can regulate and regroup?
  9. Use Technology Wisely – autistic children love technology and tablets and smartphones can be lifesaving during travel times. Make sure that your devices are loaded with education apps, videos, and games that can keep your child entertained during time so transit.
  10. Always remain flexible This is perhaps the biggest tip of them all because prosody plays such an important role in autism parenting. When we as parents get angry and stressed our children respond negatively and when we remain calm and flexible then it helps soothe the child’s anxiety.

Traveling can be unpredictable, and all the planning in the world can’t prepare you for every challenge you may face on the way.  Just remember, it’s okay to take breaks. Adjust your plan as and when you need to.  A happy autistic child equals a happy holiday!

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Ilse Kilian-Ross

Ilse Kilian-Ross is the owner of Amazing K, a registered ECD and Partial Care Facility in Johannesburg. Amazing K is a private adhd school, autism school and therapy centre for children from age 2 - 6 years where learners receive the best of both the schooling and therapy world. The autism school offers Individualized Education Programs, Speech- and Augmentive Alternative Communication (AAC) therapy as well as a full and adapted Academic Curriculum.