Step One: PLAN
We need to know where we’re going, how exactly will this trip be? Identify what method of transportation you will be using. Are you going to take a train, plane etc. Once you have identified this, next comes to how are we going to make this possible? For me, I always book Zachary on late night flights or later in the evening because I knew he would sleep during those times. So finding that time when your child is most calm will work best for you.
You will also want to schedule and let the airline know that you are coming with a special needs child. You can contact the airline ahead of time and let them know ahead of time and TSA officer will come in and guide you to prevent going through the long lines and allow you to go through the process MUCH easier. Some travelers with disabilities find it useful to notify the airport so that they can arrange any assistance ahead of time.
Part of the planning is making sure that are using as many tools as you can so that what you have ahead of you is as seamless as possible. The more you plan, the better the results will be.
Step Two: PREPARE
Part of the preparation is getting all of the tools you need together. What activities will they need on the plane to keep them busy? Can you give them a book or read a book or use social stories to help them to know about the process of traveling? Let them know that you will be going on an airplane. These are some of the rules. You can even imitate what this looks like in your home. You can show this using a computer or other technology letting them see what that process will be like. Let them know they will be going to an airport, let them know they will get on an airplane, let them know they will be going through a metal detector.
Zachary and I used to practice “walking like a soldier” because he used to try to walk and rub into the corners which would set it off.
Also, allow PLENTY of time. You never know what may happen, long lines at the airport, a tantrum going through security, a potty break in line. Make sure you allow yourself enough time for any potential roadblocks in the way.
You will also want to double, triple check your bags! Did you pack all the activities you need for them? Remember to keep medications and valuables in your carry-on so you know you’ll have them.
Call the airline in advance. Call the airline ahead of time (at least 72 hours in advance) to let them know that you will be traveling with a child with special needs. Depending on the special need, agents may guide you through security and even settle you on board the plane in front of general boarding to avoid any mishaps. They can also arrange for a wheelchair if a family member can’t walk all the way to the gate, or extra assistance for those who are traveling alone with their special needs child.
Put on loose-fitting clothing for you and your child. You will want to make sure to avoid setting off any metal detectors along the way and making the security lines as easy a process as possible, so make sure your child is wearing shoes that are easy takeoff. I also tend to wear fewer layers if possible (obviously not in winter) or take off the coats and jackets and put them in a bag before you get in line for security so you’re not stalled in line. Fewer carry-ons can cut down on the stress factor. There are lines specifically for special needs that typically accommodate families as well. Follow these links for TSA family and special needs details.
TSA Pre-Check Expedited Screening can also be helpful.
So you want to plan and prepare these things by letting them know ahead of time and letting them practice. Even pack headphones, you’re going to be a noisy airport, you may be around a lot of people, you want to make sure you give them as many tools. IPADs, favorite toys. I always bring Zachary’s trains and books. and playdoh. Snacks, beverage and games and activities that will keep them busy.
STEP 3: Proceed to get it DONE!
We have put it off for too long. Too many of us are out there planning on these trips but somehow not doing it. I talked to one of my clients, who is 12 years, and they have not yet traveled with their child. You won’t know until you do it! So proceed to get it done! You may need to start with a shorter trip, just to see what that looks like. Or you may just need to practice some of these techniques. Don’t let Autism stand in your way!
Family Travel and Autism:
Time for Everyone to Have Fun!
Medical Travel, Inc.
The Disability Travel Experts
Travelers with Children with Disabilities and Medical Conditions – What Parents and Guardians Should Do
Transportation Security Administration ( See Attached Video )
Amtrak: Services for People with Disabilities and Special Needs
Information for individuals with disabilities looking to ride the train.
Autism on the Seas
Group and individual vacation options
for adults and families dealing with autism
and related disabilities.
Autism Adventure Travel
Travel Services for special needs families. Our Specialists will plan your vacation itinerary or can book you on one of our great vacations all with your special needs in mind.