Top 10 expert tips to help parents travelling with an autistic child

According to ‘Autism Parenting Magazine’, children with autism may encounter unique challenges and sensory issues while travelling. Picture: Unsplash

According to ‘Autism Parenting Magazine’, children with autism may encounter unique challenges and sensory issues while travelling. Picture: Unsplash

Published May 15, 2024


Travelling with young children is a daunting task for many parents; nevertheless, more families are travelling nowadays to provide unforgettable memories for their kids.

With autism affecting approximately 1 in 100 children worldwide, parents need to be well prepared when embarking on travel adventures with their autistic child.

According to “Autism Parenting Magazine” writer Mark Blakey, the unfamiliarity of travel can present unique challenges for children with autism, from sensory sensitivities to routine disruptions.

“Children with autism may encounter unique challenges and sensory issues while travelling, such as difficulty with transitions, unfamiliar environments and sensory overload.

“Changes in routine and surroundings can lead to heightened anxiety and stress, impacting their ability to cope with new experiences,” said Blakey.

He also said that sensory sensitivities to sights, sounds, smells and textures further compound these challenges, requiring parents to anticipate and address their child's specific needs with patience and understanding throughout the journey.

With that being said, here are some top tips for parents travelling with autistic kids.

Research autism-friendly destinations

According to Blakey, parents of children with autism should consider looking for destinations that offer autism-friendly attractions, accommodations and activities.

“Many theme parks, museums and tourist sites provide resources and accommodations for individuals with autism, such as quiet rooms, sensory-friendly exhibits and special assistance programmes,” he said.

Contact local resources

He also advised parents to reach out to local autism organisations, support groups or advocacy groups at the destination for recommendations and assistance as they can provide valuable insight and resources to help you plan a successful and enjoyable trip for your child with autism.

Consider transportation options

When it comes to transportation options, Blakey suggested that you research transportation options that offer accommodations for individuals with autism, such as airlines with autism-friendly policies or special assistance programmes.

“Request early boarding, seat assignments or quiet accommodations to minimise stress and ensure a smoother travel experience.

“Explore alternative modes of transportation, such as train or car travel, that may be more comfortable and flexible for your child,” he advised.

Plan sensory-friendly outings

Blakey also recommended that you look for sensory-friendly outings and activities that cater to individuals with autism, such as sensory-friendly movie screenings, play centres or recreational facilities.

“These venues often provide accommodations such as reduced lighting, quiet areas and sensory-friendly amenities,” he said.

Create a visual schedule

He also advised that you develop a visual schedule or itinerary outlining the trip's activities and transitions to help your child understand what to expect.

“Include pictures or symbols to reinforce comprehension and reduce anxiety about unfamiliar routines,” said Blakey.

Pack comfort items

“Bring along comfort items such as favourite toys, snacks or sensory tools to provide familiarity and security during travel,” he said.

Blakey also said that you should consider including noise-cancelling headphones, weighted blankets or chewable jewellery to help regulate sensory input and promote relaxation.

Practise travel scenarios

He also advised that you familiarise your child with travel scenarios by role-playing or taking short practice trips to nearby destinations.

“This allows them to become accustomed to the process of travelling and helps identify potential triggers or challenges to address beforehand,” said Blakey.

Pack essentials in your carry-on

Blakey also advised parents to pack essential items, such as medications, snacks and sensory tools, in their carry-on bags for easy access during travel.

“Make sure you have all necessary documentation, including medical records, doctor's notes and identification cards, to facilitate access to accommodations and services.

“People tend to forget these crucial items, but they can make a significant difference in ensuring a smooth and stress-free travel experience for individuals with autism,” he said.

Plan for some downtime

Lastly, Blakey advised parents to also schedule regular breaks and downtime during travel to allow their child to decompress and recharge.

“Plan quiet activities or visits to sensory-friendly spaces to provide relaxation and sensory regulation opportunities,” he said.