Thrive – November 2016 Issue (Part 1)
Helping Your Child Prepare For Travel
The holiday season is fast approaching and for some, this means traveling to be with extended family and friends. For families with children on the autism spectrum, what may seem like a simple trip can bring a sense of dread. Autistic kids do best with structure and routine, and a vacation or even a quick visit out of town is a break from that routine.
Tips to Help Your Child Navigate Through the Airport
Few of us would describe flying with kids as particularly enjoyable or stress-free. Yet for parents of kids with autism, air travel means navigating a string of intimidating experiences, from airport security procedures, moving sidewalks, and boarding tunnels to cramped seats, unfamiliar noises, and a multitude of strangers.
If you are prepared, you can help your child know what to expect and you can minimize negative experiences. Here are some tips for making your child feel as comfortable as possible while traveling and navigating through the airport this holiday season:
- Start with a baby step. Make your child’s first flight is a short one, if possible, with no more than an hour or so in the air.
- Prepare your child. In the weeks leading up to your trip, begin talking with your child frequently about what will happen on your trip. Go over the travel process in detail: how you’ll get to the airport, wait in line, go through security, find your departure gate, get on the plane, buckle seat belts, and spend time on board. It can be helpful to read children’s books that describe the sensations of air travel, such as The Noisy Airplane Ride by Mike Downs.
- Take a practice run. The best thing to do is to call the airline ahead of time and let them know your child has special needs. Many major airports (Newark, Detroit, LA and Seattle) have rehearsal programs to help autistic passengers navigate potentially stressful travel procedures, like searches at security check points. Groups such as Wings for Autism, Blue Horizons for Autism and Wings for All work together with the airlines to provide families with the opportunity to practice entering the airport, obtain boarding passes, go through security and even practice boarding a plane.
- Raise your hand. Let your airline know as far in advance as possible that you’ll be flying with a child with autism. Request bulkhead seats, which feel less confining and eliminate the possibility of seat-kicking.
Transportation Security Administration (TSA) airport personnel are trained to work with autistic passengers and how to recognize and respond to families. Most will understand, especially if they know ahead of time that someone is autistic. To help even further, three days before your trip call their hotline, TSA Cares (855/787-2227; open Mon-Fri, 9am-9pm EST) which can act as an intermediary with airport customer care and help you navigate security checkpoints.
- Ask for priority boarding. Notify your airline in advance that you’d like to pre-board and, just to be safe, arrive at the departure gate early and make your request again. Boarding early will give you the chance to get your child settled and comfortable before the stream of passengers begins.
- Consider meals and snacks. If you’re taking a long flight, ask your airline if food will be served. If so, consider requesting a special meal, such as the gluten-free option. Alternatively you can bring food from home or purchase items at the airport after you pass through security.
- Pack essentials. Carry documentation of your child’s diagnosis in case airport or airline staff request it. Pack any item that might be soothing to your child during a rough patch. If your child is sensitive to loud sounds, bring noise-cancelling headphones. Consider multiple ways for your child to stay occupied during the flight, and come armed with extra books, toys, DVDs, and electronic recharging accessories. Pack a change of clothes in case of spills.
- Have a ‘Plan B’. If all else fails and your child begins to show signs of panic, you should have a ‘Plan B’ ready just in case.
Remember, with the right preparation, it IS possible for your child’s airplane trip to be an exciting event for you and your autistic child, rather than a stressful or traumatizing one!
Preparing Your Child: Alternatives to TSA “Practice Run”
If you are unable to take a practice run, here are some other ideas on how to pre-expose your child to the sights and sounds they will experience during their trip:
Use picture cues – if it is the child’s first airplane trip, use pictures to introduce your child to what an airplane, airplane crew and airport look like. Familiarize your child with different things, people and equipment he or she might be seeing on the actual day. An example would be showing your child a picture of a flight attendant and informing him or her that a uniformed person like the one in the picture will be helping you with all your needs.
Use Video Modeling or Role Playing – you can use video modeling or role playing to explain to your child that he or she will be frisked upon entering the airport. Discussing how he or she is expected to react during the frisking and assuring your child that everything will be okay is a good way of easing your child’s tension. If you can, go to the airport and record video of the surroundings as much as you are allowed by airport security. Show one of your other children or other anonymous children going through the security system and being frisked, what the airplanes look like as they take off and land, etc.
Tell Social Stories – social stories are a very helpful way to prepare your child for an airplane voyage. Make sure that you repeat each story numerous times before the actual day of travel until your child feels comfortable with the story and idea. A nice example would be using a social story to tell your child about the ear sensation he or she might feel upon descent of the aircraft. Air pressure in the ears can be equalized by swallowing or chewing, so telling your child a story about the feeling and how it can go away with chewing gum will prepare him for the actual flight.
Immersion – with regards to the large crowds in an airport, you can start by exposing your child to a small group of people. An example would be taking your child with you to a bank where a number of people are waiting in a line for their turn. Then you can eventually move to a larger group, say the mall or a big restaurant. Gradual exposure will not only prepare your child but also improve your child’s social coping skills.
We would love to hear what tips have helped you and your child navigate air travel. Share your experiences with us on Facebook.
Beauty and the Beast
Broadway By The Bay presents a one-night only Autism Friendly showing of its 2016 performance of Beauty and the Beast!
A special performance and fundraiser for Autism Speaks
- Where: Fox Theatre, 2221 Broadway St., Redwood City, CA 94063
- When: Sunday, November 20, 2016, 7:00 pm PST
- How to Contact: (650) FOX-7770 or the Fox Theatre Website
This show is performed in a friendly, supportive environment for an audience of families and friends with children or adults who are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder or other sensitivity or issues. Slight adjustments to the production are made, including the reduction of any jarring sounds or strobe lights focused into the audience. There are flexible areas for those who need to leave their seats during the performance.
This performance is also a fundraiser for Autism Speaks and BBBay! Autism Speaks is the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization, dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, and treatments for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families.
Look for Part 2 of “Thrive” on November 21 with more Holiday Travel Tips and Local Events!