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Autistic Child and Autism Travel

The power of social stories taking flight

We use social stories with great visuals to teach children with autism, anxiety and/or sequencing issues. You might find them helpful too. One of my kids with autism is going on his first airplane trip for spring break. His mother is very excited about the trip and somewhat terrified too. Regardless, she’s not going to deny her child a great experience. She’s going to prepare for the worst and expects the best.

The child does well on a set schedule and routine. He’s prone to meltdowns when he gets off schedule or something unpredictable happens. Unfortunately, (and fortunately), vacations are a break from the routine, so his loving mother is planning ahead and organizing every aspect of the trip to minimize unpredictability.

The child is a visual learner, so we recommended creating social picture stories to help him prepare for this new experience. And every aspect of the trip is new, including moving sidewalks and security checks in the airport to take-off and landing on a plane.

To help her Autistic child prepare for his adventure, we put together an autism social story about the travel aspect of the trip.

We recommended that the mother talk about the trip with her son every single day at a set time and use social stories as a guide. We also recommended that she should print out the social stories on individual pages and talk about the events in chronological order.

After a while, we told her to put all the pictures on a table randomly and together work on putting them in chronological order. As the trip nears, the Autistic child should be able to explain all the steps and be ready to go. We also suggested role-playing some of the steps, like how to go through a metal detector.  Prepare, prepare and prepare, but don’t be scared.

Here are 15 tips to prepare an Autistic child for an airplane trip.

  1. Start preparing your Autistic child early, days or weeks before, with a picture social stories.
  2. Pack everything, he or she uses at home to occupy their time iPad, favorite stuffed animal, coloring books, etc. You can’t bring everything, so prepare him or her for that too.
  3. Bring snacks
  4. Remember that you need to purchase liquids after security.
  5. Bring noise-canceling headphones.
  6. Print tickets at home to avoid lines.
  7. Get to the airport early to keep your stress level down. Tell a TSA agent about your situation. They may help you get through more quickly and smoothly.
  8. Get to the gate early.
  9. Tell the ticket agent about your situation.
  10. Board with pre-boarding.
  11. Tell the flight attendants on the plane about your situation so that they can help.
  12. Have everything you need to keep your child calm within arm’s length while you’re in your seatbelt.
  13. Have your child sit in the window seat or in the middle seat between two family members.
  14. Bring chewing gum to help with ear pressure.
  15. Talk to your child during takeoff and landing to help them prepare for the sensation.

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