air travel tips for kids with autism

Traveling with an autistic child during the Covid-19 pandemic

Covid-19 has been with us for almost two years and only recently have many of the countries and airports across the globe reopened for international travel.  In the aftermath of the outbreak – country governments, airports, airlines as well as the global hospitality industry has all had to implement protocols to protect the general public.  Protocols that travellers need to understand and prepare for prior to departure and on arrival at their destination.

Each country has their own set of rules and every island and holiday destination has their own requirements.  So travelling with an autistic child during the Covid-19 pandemic can be extremely challenging.

Our top 15 tips for travelling with an autistic child during the Covid-19 pandemic is as follows:

  1. Know what is happening at the airports.  Not just the one from which you are departing but also what the airport requirements are on arrival at your travel destination.
  2. Make sure you and your entire family are up to date with your routine vaccinations as recommended by your local health authorities.  Also check what the vaccination regulations are in the country that you will be visiting.
  3. Prepare your child by means of a social story or PECS boards in the weeks leading up to your trip.  This must include the airport steps as well as the trip and the destination expectations.
  4. Get your child comfortable with mask-wearing for long periods of time prior to your departure.
  5. Make sure your child is comfortable being around people with protective gear and/or medical equipment for the testing process that they may need to endure during the trip.
  6. Speak to the airlines and hotels and see if your child qualifies for an exemption of any sort relating to vaccines, mask wearing, testing etc.  (this will be state and country specific).
  7. Different hotels, resorts and islands have different Covid policies.  Some have a mask free policy but this will mean the traveller will need to submit to a variety of Covid tests.  Make sure you are prepared for these and that your child is comfortable with the testing process.
  8. Be prepared for delays and pack adequate supplies for the journey.  Include pre-packed meals and beverage if they are allowed so be sure to check whether you can travel with food items.
  9. Have a plan in place should a family member be exposed to an infected person during your trip.  Know what will happen if you need to isolate or quarantine and make sure you prepare for this.
  10. Ensure travel insurance is in place and make sure that you know what the requirement are should you need hospital care for yourself or your child whilst on vacations.  Healthcare systems in many countries are overwhelmed and there may be limited access to adequate medical care in affected areas.
  11. Ensure that you have enough of your child medicine for the duration of the entire trip.  Also make sure you get the necessary documents in place to allow for travel with these medications.  You can consult with the airlines and embassies on this matter.
  12. Book flights that are less crowded.  Try and travel outside of peak times.  This will help from a social distancing perspective BUT more importantly it will help with less noise, less cues, less delays and less pressure in general.
  13.  Avoid public transportation when possible.  If possible rent a car to get from the airport to your destination.  The more public transport you use the more sensory input your child will get and the more Covid Protocols you will need to adhere to.    Where possible avoid gatherings of people your child does not know.  I would go as far are recommending you stay in a private house, guesthouse or Airbnb rather than a hotel or resort.
  14.  Keep tourist type excursions to a minimum.  Rather plan your own sightseeing with your child at a pace your child can cope with and with a schedule your autistic child is familiar with.
  15.  Plan your meals around the same time as your child is used to during the school term.  Keep your morning and evening routines as standard as possible.  You can travel with a favourite duvet cover, blanket or pillow case if it will help your child adjust to the changes whilst on holiday.

Lastly – don’t be scared to ask for help.  Your child’s autism school, autism specialist physician or autism therapy centre may be able to help with advice and social story preparations.  Also be sure to chat to your child’s Occupational Therapist for a travel sensory diet plan and see if the speech therapist can help with PECS communication cards or the setting up of some form of communication board or AAC app.

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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.