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Tips for traveling with a child with autism

2/2/2022 By Elissa Karnowski

Every family wants to create life-long memories. What is a better way to create those memories than traveling? Whether it's flying to Disney or spending a weekend at Grandma’s house, traveling can spark up some anxiety for any parents, but especially parents of kids with autism. You may be thinking “how will my child react to the drastic change in routine?” While every child is different, here’s 5 tips to prepare for vacation.

1. Safety comes first.

When traveling, all children, but especially those with autism, have the tendency to wander off. This creates many safety concerns for parents. When you are in crowded, touristy areas, having a plan for remaining safe is essential. Autism Speaks has multiple excellent resources for wandering concerns such as a tip list, checklist, and even a Family Wandering Emergency Plan.

2. Choose places that are recognized by the IBCCES as an autism-welcoming facility.

The International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) has certified locations and facilities that are autism-friendly. A list of these places can be found on Autism Travel as a Certified Autism Center, Advanced Certified Autism Center, Autism Certified City, and Certified Autism Destination. You can search through the list by location, keyword, and category.

3. Practice what will happen on your journey

Surprises can lead to challenging behaviors, so getting your child prepared for what is to come can help ease anxieties they might feel. You can begin by showing your child pictures of transit you will be taking then do some practicing and role playing to allow the child to get an idea of what is going to happen. Autism Speaks has an excellent social story that can help your child prepare for what is to come when taking a plane ride. Social stories and role playing are a great way to keep your child involved throughout the entire traveling process and leave no stone unturned.

4. Call ahead.

Call airports, train stations, hotels or anywhere else you may be going and see what accommodations they can give your family. For example, a hotel may be able to give you a room that is vacant on both sides for a quieter stay. Calling ahead can also make you familiar with emergency plans and where things are located.

5. Keep your regular routine.

Try to keep your normal routine as much as possible. Keeping your usual routine helps your child adjust to being in a different setting. If your child normally wakes up at 6am and watches cartoons, allow them to do the same where you are staying. Changing routines can cause discomfort to your child from changing routines. 

Traveling for anyone can be stressful, but these tips can help your child adjust to any changes that may occur. Stay safe, have fun, and make memories!