Do you have a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder and fear flying on a plane? Do you fear that certain sounds might be unbearable for your child? Do you fear the stares and the rude judgement of other passengers? Do you fear that you’ll be kicked off the plane because of an uncontrollable meltdown and end up on the news?
These were all of my fears and many more…Until our vacation to Disney World. All of my negative expectations were blown right out the water and we had a great flying experience there and back from Orlando. Of course there were a couple of moments when Jude wasn’t too pleased (the first time we had to tie the seat belt and when YouTube on the iPad wasn’t working) but we were able to keep those moments of crisis under control.
Having a child with special needs can lead to many challenges and travelling may be very stressful. Today, I am hoping to lessen the stress and share some of my tips and tricks for a successful flight!
Do a Trial Run
Here in Montreal at the Pierre Elliot Trudeau National Airport, they have a yearly event called Enfants en première ( Premium Kids), where they offer children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) or functional limitations and their families, the opportunity to become acquainted with a typical traveller’s journey through an airport, starting with the check-in, right up until the plane boarding and customs process. I highly recommend checking out if your local airport has this program. For my fellow American friends, the program is Wings for Autism. This program is incredible!
If you don’t get the chance to take part in the program, I highly suggest to take your child to the airport a few days before, so that he or she may watch the planes take off and land, as well as hear/get a little used to the noises. It is a great time for you to talk to your child about your upcoming experiences.
Create a Storyboard
Very much like PECS (picture exchange communication system), create a storyboard for your child about what you’ll be doing. From arriving at the airport to lining up and checking in, to going through security. Put loads of visuals and make it fun! They also have apps to teach kids about the airport experience as well, Mini Airport Guide Kids Game– For Android, Free and Dr Panda’s Airport for $5.49 CA and on itunes for $2.99.
Going through Security
The security line can be long, frustrating and a little scary even for us adults. Ask to go through the handicapped line so that you can take your time without feeling like you’re holding up other passengers. The handicapped line is generally less crowded, so your child won’t feel stressed by having too many people around him.
Make sure that you dress your child comfortably- Sweatpants, t-shirt and comfortable running shoes. Children under 12 don’t have to remove their shoes when going through screening, so that’s one less step!
Burn that Energy
You have a bit of a wait before boarding the plane, now is the time to let your child play! If you have an active child, they really need this time to use up as much energy as possible. Walk around, jump around and take a few trips on the moving walkway.
Boarding the Plane
Ask the gate attendant if you can board early or last. For many, boarding earlier allows the child to take their time and settle in without the rush of passengers around them. For us, boarding last proved to be much more effective because that meant less time on the plane. Not too many people are standing and you are able to settle in quickly and have the plane take off within minutes. When selecting your seats, try to go for seats located towards the front of the plane, where your child won’t feel too crowded. Depending on how many are travelling with you, my suggestion is to have someone in your family be seated in front of your child. You can feel a little less guilty about the seat kicking. You can also request bulkhead seats, so that way you can really make sure there won’t be any seat kicking!
Kindly tell the flight attendants that your child has autism. Don’t be shy or nervous about it. Most of them will thank you for advising them and will be able to help or at least be more understanding if your child does have a melt down.
Passengers won’t know that your child has autism and you definitely aren’t going to shout it out to all of them either. A great way to maybe help people be more understanding IF your child does “act out”, is to wear maybe a shirt or a hat, or even a pin with a message about autism/autism awareness.
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Pack the Essentials
During the flight your child will need entertainment and snacks! Bring noise cancelling headphones (option one, option two) to help block out the unfamiliar loud sounds of the plane. Electronic devices such as the iPad or any device that you may put apps and movies on are a complete life saver! It can keep them occupied for a few hours, as long as your child can handle turning them on and off for takeoff and landing.
Buy them a new little toy. It’s fun and exciting for them to get something new! Legos are great because building it will help pass the time. Just make sure to bring extra sandwich bags or small containers so that they won’t go flying everywhere. We all know there’s nothing worse than missing a piece.
Please don’t count on the airline to have the food that your child will want/need. Pack all the things you know your child will eat, that means as many options as possible. If your child is too young to chew on gum- fruit snacks and water are the perfect combo to make sure that their ears pop.
Take a Moment for Yourself
As parents of children with special needs, we are always thinking 10 steps ahead. We make sure that we have solutions to problems that may or may not happen. We always need to be fully prepared for just about anything, but all of that is mentally exhausting.
For one second, shut off your mind and look at what you guys have accomplished. There might have been bumps along the way, but you got through what you thought would be an extremely difficult experience and maybe almost impossible.
You did it!
Please share your flight experiences and comment down below any tips or tricks that weren’t written here!