Preparation and Planning are Key!: As you plan your vacation, let these words be your mantra. Remember them, live by them, repeat them. You won't be sorry! The more you plan in advance, the less stressful AND ENJOYABLE your vacation will be!
How to Prepare:
Use a calendar to count the days leading up to your trip. Make this calendar accessible to your child.
Create a picture story depicting the events and preparation leading up to your trip. Include events like packing bags, the car ride to the airport, going through security, boarding the airplane at the gate, and getting on the airplane. It might be beneficial to include pictures of what the inside of an airplane looks like, as well as events like arriving at the destination airport, going to baggage claim, and reaching the anticipated trip destination. All of these pictures can be found on the Internet using Google images and various sites.
Review the days and activities frequently with your child and family in the weeks leading up to your vacation. Everyone should know what to expect from the upcoming trip.
Create a list or document to keep track of your vacation plans. Outline and structure each day of your vacation in order to prepare both yourself and your child. The less uncertain, idle time the better!
Print boarding passes at home! This will cut down on time spent standing in line once you arrive at the airport.
Call the airport prior to your travel day and ask which TSA entry point is the best for disabled passengers. If you explain your situation and request to go through the shorter line designated for individuals with disabilities, airports will almost always be accommodating. The less time spent standing in line, the less likely a tantrum/problem behaviors will be.
Things to Remember When Packing:
Be prepared with snacks. Avoid packing liquids due to airport regulations, but remember dry snacks are approved and will absolutely make things easier for you throughout the travel day. Familiar snacks are another way to ensure comfort for your child in the event that he/she gets hungry and you are unable to find something in the airport that they like. Fortunately for many of us, most major airports offer gluten and dairy free options.
Bring the items that make your child most comfortable at home. For anyone, flying can be scary. For our children with autism, flying can be even scarier. Prepare yourself, and your child, both emotionally and physically for the travel day. Consider packing a favorite blanket, stuffed animal, games, coloring books, etc. Earplugs or noise cancelling headphones are a great item to include when packing for your trip and will absolutely come in handy when it comes time for take off.
Going Through Security:
Arrive at the airport with plenty of time prior to departure (90 minutes).
Request the full body scanner for your child. If possible, have someone go through first and have another adult assist from behind so that your child is covered on both sides and comfortable with the process. Don’t forget: Individuals ages 12 and under do NOT have to take their shoes off when going through security!
Avoid wearing metal on your person and clothing (belts, jewelry, etc.).
Tips for Boarding the Plane:
Arrive at the gate 45 – 50 minutes before departure.
Talk to the gate agent before you board. Ask them them to allow you to pre‐board when they call for passengers that need extra time getting on the aircraft.
As you board, make sure items you will need for the flight, like snacks, water, stuffed animals are in a backpack or large purse/bag that you can fit under the seat in front of you for easy access throughout the flight. Do not put your essential flight items in an overhead bin because you may not be able to get to them.
Be ready with a book, something to play with, drawing materials or some other non-electronic entertainment source at this point. Computers will not be allowed for use until well after take off. IPads and smaller electronic devices are ok for use on “Airplane Mode”.
Ready for Take Off:
Make take off as fun as possible for your child! Try counting down from 10 to Blast Off, pretending you are on a rocket ship or a fun ride they enjoy. Keeping your child as comfortable and calm as possible is the priority. This will ensure an easier travel experience for the entire family.
Keep your child engaged by having him/her talk to you in order to avoid any pressurization issues during take off. Work through and prevent these issues by having the child swallow water, chew gum, or chew a sensory device during take off and again during landing.
Don’t forget to use the earplugs/headphones you packed for take off!
You Made It!
Take a big deep breath and give yourself a few pats on the back! Use your vacation as a time to enjoy being with your child, family, and friends. Try not to stress about the things you cannot control, and try to plan for the things that you can. Have a wonderful time!