5 Tips for Travel with Children with Autism and Sensory Processing Needs

Summer is right around the corner and it is time to prepare for the end of school, days at the beach, vacations, and plenty of fun in the sun. While summer can provide families with an opportunity for fun and a much needed break from the daily grind of school and work, the season also includes unique challenges. For a child with Autism and/or sensory processing the inconsistent schedules, and visits to new places can be especially difficult.

With proper planning and organizing, you can help your child adjust so everyone in the family can travel together. Here are some tips to help make travel less stressful and more enjoyable

 

1. Choose Travel Times Wisely Consider your child’s needs and schedule your travel around those needs. Think about traveling early morning or when airports or freeways are least crowded since too many people and too much noise can cause meltdowns. Take your child’s specific struggles into account and schedule accordingly.

 

2. Prepare Your Child Before You Go Use the communication tools that work well for you in other situations to help prepare your child for travel. Use a social story.  Talk them through what will happen, show them pictures of where you’re going, and explain in ways they might understand what kind of adventure is ahead. Break down the trip in increments that a child can understand. For example, if you’ll be traveling by plane, make a four step schedule that includes items like 1. check into airport, 2. enjoy flight, 3. pick up luggage, 4. drive to destination, etc. Mark off each item as you complete it so he or she will know what to expect next. Steps can also be broken down into smaller increments.

 

3. Bring A Bag of Tricks Plan ahead so boredom and hunger will not be part of your child’s travel experience. Bring along some travel games, books, and art supplies. Put together a backpack full of things that helps your child with sensory issues. Consider it a small sensory diet to go. This might include fidgets, chewies, headphones, and crunchy snacks. Bring a seat cushion, lap pad or weighted vests which can help reduce the impact of unfamiliar environments.

Happy Harry Fidget Friend

Happy Harry Fidget Friend

Unicorn Necklace

Unicorn Necklace

 

Mini Mushy Smushy

Mini Mushy Smushy

Noise Reduction Headphones

Noise Reduction Headphones

 

 

4. Make Arrangements Ahead of Time Calling ahead to make special arrangements will make your trip easier. Contact airlines, hotels, restaurants, and amusement parks and explain that you are traveling with a child who has special needs.  Discuss your needs and request certain accommodations, and any other concerns you may have. When choosing a hotel, you may want to inquire about any renovations at the facility that could bother a child with noise sensitivity. Take your child’s specific needs and sensitivities into consideration when choosing a place to stay.

 

5. Give Yourself Extra Time Sitting for a long time in a small space can be hard for kids, and especially for kids with sensory processing needs.  Leave enough time to take a break before getting on a plane or scheduling a break for a road trip.  Provide some heavy work activities, for improved self-regulation You might have your child take a break to climb up and down some stairs, hold on to the sides of his seat and lift himself up and down (chair pushups), or walk over to a wall and do pushups against a wall. Pulling or carrying luggage that is a reasonable weight to manipulate is a great way to get heavy work in.  Providing breaks can reduce the chances of feeling overloaded by the stress of hurrying through a new situation. It may also prevent an anxiety-related meltdown.

 

Traveling is an adventure for everyone.  Make the best of your time away by planning ahead and bringing all the right items for your family.  We hope these travel tips help make your trip or vacation a success!

 

 

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