Travel

You’ve spent countless hours helping your family anticipate and prepare for the transition of moving into a new home and community. For the big moving day, here are some helpful suggestions to keep your child preoccupied and happy while traveling.

By Car

  • Use a behind-the-seat organizer to store your child’s belongings. If this is within your child’s reach, then this will enable you to focus on your driving and maintain an organized car.
  • Take frequent rest stops at designated rest areas off interstate highways or at gas stations. Allow your child to run around outside if it is safe to do so. If your child needs a visual cue to know when the next stop will be, bring along a timer and set it for 60 minutes. This way, your child knows that when the timer goes off, he or she will be able to get out of the car. Alternately, you can ask an older child to time the interval on the clock in the car and then pull the car over for a break at the intended time.
  • If you know your child enjoys playgrounds, research playgrounds along your route in advance. Tell your child that the next stop will be at a playground so he or she will have something to look forward to.
  • Try to plan your trip around times of the day that are routine nap times or bed times. You may choose to start your trip at night when your child normally goes to sleep. This will (hopefully) ensure your child will be asleep for a good portion of the ride.
  • Get a map and draw a line along your route. Show your child each city and state you are passing through. Use a line to show your child where you are “now” and where you need to drive before you get to your final destination.
  • If your child has an oversensitivity to sound, take a look at this transcript from the National Public Radio weekly show, Car Talk Hosts Ray and Tom Magliozzi (otherwise known as Click & Clack) discuss cost-effective options for minimizing road noises that can be painful to children with autism.
  • Make customized activity bags for each child. If the trip is long, give your child a couple of items at a time so that the novelty does not wear off shortly after the trip begins. Have some old as well as new toys and activities in each bag. Examples include: a new coloring book, hand-held games like ball mazes or Rubik’s cubes, interactive books (with flaps, hidden pictures, or stickers), Legos, a soft squeeze ball.
  • Pre-load an iPad with old and new games for single or multiplayers, and kid-friendly television shows and movies.
  • Bring headphones with a variety of music to include calm instrumental songs for relaxation, kid-friendly tunes, and any other favorites.
  • Bingo game: before your trip, prepare a Bingo sheet using pictures or words of things frequently seen on the road.
  • Alphabet game: take turns finding things that start with a designated letter until you get through the entire alphabet.
  • License plate game: write down all the license plates you see from different states and see how many you can find by the end of your trip.
  • See http://www.MomsMinivan.com for more car game ideas that you can modify for your child’s age and developmental level.
  • Vibrating massagers
  • Weighted lap pad, vest, or blanket
  • Hard candy (if this does not pose a safety hazard for your child)
  • Vibrating bean bags or teethers if your child needs additional oral input
  • Consult with your child’s Occupational Therapist for more specific sensory strategies to use
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Flushable wipes
  • Extra batteries and chargers
  • Changes of clothing in case of accidents
  • Plastic bags
  • Medicine for nausea or other physical ailments
  • Extra headphones

Do not expect your child to sit placidly in a car seat for a 15-hour drive. Even with all of these preventative strategies to entertain your child, things happen. Consider your child’s needs and set realistic goals for how far you’ll travel each day. Take extra time if needed and break the trip up if possible. Plan to spend the night in a hotel, or take the scenic route and turn it into a mini-vacation where your family can enjoy a few sights along the way. Trying to rush travel can lead to more stress and anxiety and increases the chances for something to go wrong or for you to forget something. Take some deep breaths and relax. And remember to bring some soft music for the drive to help you unwind, especially if you get caught in a traffic jam.

By Plane

It is a good idea to have earplugs or noise-canceling headphones for your child. If this is your child’s first time on an airplane, be sure to discuss the sights and sounds of the airplane ride in your Social Story™.

  • Try to minimize the number of connecting flights. It is easier to find a direct flight if you book early.
  • Children with autism often have difficulty coping with the “popping” of their ears as the airplane ascends and descends. Many children do not understand this phenomenon. Give your child gum, hard candy, chew toys, or a drink during this portion of the plane ride; this encourages swallowing and reduces the effects of their ears popping.
  • Contact the airport where you will be departing, explain your child’s diagnosis, and request a time to come to the airport and do a “dry run” of what your child should expect. The airport may allow you to come during a time of day where it is less crowded and let you walk through exactly what will happen on the day you leave, even allowing you to walk your child through the security gate. Take pictures while you are there and add them to your Social Story™.
  • If there is a layover at an airport, research the airport in advance to see if there is a child’s indoor play area. More and more airports are offering these. Take advantage of the play area, if available, and let your child run around, climb, play, and slide in order to get some energy out and be ready to sit for the next leg of your trip.
  • Some airports have a USO Lounge that serves as a quiet haven for military personnel and their families. These lounges provide free amenities, including snacks, internet access, and TVs. Be sure to have your Military and/or Dependent ID cards handy.
  • If your child is a picky eater or has allergies and if your airline will serve one or more meals during the coming flight, contact the airline in advance to ask if they offer special meals or have an alternate meal option. For example, you may find that the vegetarian meal provides more food that your child will eat than the regular meal. Do not forget to plan for favorite snacks ahead of time as well.
  • Arrive at the airport in plenty of time for your flight. Explain to the airline at check-in that your child has autism and request bulkhead seating (at the front of the economy section). Provide proof of diagnosis as reinforcement. The front seat will give you a little extra leg room and will likely put you close to a restroom. If looking out the window will be interesting for your child, request a window seat. On the other hand, if your child may become anxious at the thought of being in the air, request an aisle seat or an inside seat. If the flight will not be full, request a row to yourself.
  • Go through the security checkpoint early to avoid the crowds. Give the security guard an information card that explains autism and increases his or her understanding of why your child may not follow the instructions.
  • Board the airplane at the first call for special boarding. Having a child with autism requires extra time to find your seat and get comfortable. This will also give you extra time to briefly talk to the airline attendant(s) about your child’s special needs. Give them an information card if necessary.
  • If you have a child who is a frequent wanderer, it may greatly benefit you to invest in a type of personal locator product in the form of a watch or attachable belt unit. With all of the other things you need to keep track of, such as luggage, carry-on bags, other children, and plane tickets, this may ease your worries should your child wander out of sight when you turn away for a moment to dig in your bag.
  • A less expensive way to track your child is to get a military-style dog tag made with your child’s information (name, age, parents’ names and contact information, allergies, and other pertinent information, such as specifying if your child is nonverbal). You can also get a bracelet made with the same information.
  • Or, get creative and pin the same information on a small laminated index card attached to your child’s shirt or shoelace. For an older, verbal child, teach the child his or her name, age, parents’ names, and a phone number to call. Role play a scenario in which your child accidentally gets lost. Discuss the “Information Booth” at airports and how your child can find one. Write key words down for your child on an index card, such as “Information” and “Lost.” Carry a recent photo to alert security personnel in case your child wanders.

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