Flying can be an overwhelming experience for a child with autism, but parents can help.

Airports and airlines are filled with triggers for someone on the spectrum. The bright lights, loud announcements, crowded spaces, and security checkpoints can escalate a situation from uncomfortable to a full-blown anxiety attack for a kid flying with autism. As parents, we can help by using these 7 tips for flying with a child with autism.

airplane flying

The Shorter the Flight the Better

Always choose the shortest non-stop flight when flying with a child with autism. Long flights and multiple stops can make any kid impatient. Spending less time traveling may cost more money, but it’s worth it.

Not to mention, by choosing a non-stop flight, you’re avoiding the worst part of flying: landing and taking off. The turbulence experienced here is enough to make any anxious person panic. While there’s nothing you can do about the downside to any flight, you can avoid repeating it over and over again.

Call the Airport Ahead of Time

When flying with a child with autism, you’re welcome to call the airport ahead of time to avoid long wait times. The TSA Cares Hotline, 1-877-787-2227, provides security assistance via a handicapped line for qualified people who call at least 72 hours prior to their flight.

You can call the airline to discuss your child’s needs. This can be to register your service animal, rent equipment, and more. Be sure to check if you need to call the airport for anything else.

Contacting customer service early during the holiday season is necessary. Airports are known for being busier during these times and can result in longer wait times. Click learn more to read holiday travel tips for autism.

Help Your Child Prepare

Prevent overwhelming your child when disrupting their routine for travel, by helping them prepare for the trip. To help them control their anxiety, you can:

  • Let them pack their own backpack
  • Including calming objects in their carry-on
  • Bring noise canceling headphones or earplugs
  • Include chewing gum to ease ear pain when changing altitudes.

If you’re less worried about the flight than you are the destination, you can prepare by showing them photos of where you’re going ahead of time. If you’re traveling to a bustling amusement park, show your child photos and videos online of what they can expect on your trip.

Pack Their Favorite Non-Technology Item

There’s a point during the flight when technology will need to be shut down. Prepare your child mentally by giving them a five-minute warning and switching to a favorite non-technology item. You can speak with the flight attendants about getting a heads up before the technology shut down so you can make the switch positively.

While packing, let your child know the rule about shutting down the technology. You can tell them to pick out something for entertainment or comfort for that period. By letting them choose and pack it, you’re giving them the opportunity to control the situation.

If you do encounter a meltdown and the non-technology items aren’t working, you can consider another alternative. Consider distracting them with playtime or engage in a reassuring and calming conversation.

Flying with Autism Safety Precautions

You know your child better than anyone else. If your child is known to wander, you can create wearable ID tags and another form of ID on them the entire time. If your child is lost, these can alert the person who finds them of the important facts they should know about your child.

Another smart thing to have prepared is a family wandering emergency plan the entire family can access. A completed plan will include things like their name, emergency contact information, places nearby they may have gone, and more. Whether or not you’re traveling, this can come in handy for any parent.

Rotate Family Watch

Another precaution your family can take while flying with a child with autism is rotating one-on-one time. The teamwork this entails will help everyone feel like they have the control to navigate smoothly. This will reduce the stress significantly for everyone involved.

You can start by seating your child in between two family members, rather than an end seat or beside a stranger. If you have other children, you can include them by swapping seats and taking turns playing together. Not only that, but this can help all of your kids feel included.

Provide Positive Reinforcements

Encourage your child’s good behavior by rewarding them with a sticker, treat, and verbal praise. Sitting quietly or wearing a seatbelt can be challenging for someone on the spectrum. By providing a reward of some sort, you’re acknowledging their positive reaction and reassuring them that they’re doing a great job.

According to Autism-Help.Org, approved forms of rewards could be:

  • Activity Time (iPad, phone, book, coloring, etc.)
  • Verbal praise
  • Special treats packed ahead of time
  • Wrapped toys or other desired objects in carry-on
  • Tokens that can be redeemed for an item on the trip

To provide positive attention, Autism-Help.Org recommends, “Leaning toward and/or looking at your child, smiling, making a comment, asking a question, conversation with your child, and joining in an activity.”

They also say parents should be following a 50% Rule when it comes to rewards. This rule “it’s recommended that you reward it about half the time. For example: If they remain still and quiet for the first half of the flight, you can reward them with verbal praise or by allowing them to stamp their own hand with a travel size stamp.

Bon Voyage

Flying with autism can be stressful, but these tips can help you ease the process. Whenever you feel overwhelmed know that you’re not alone. 1 in 59 children is diagnosed with autism every year in the USA.

Traveling with your family will create memories you’ll cherish for a lifetime. Prepare for the bad by checking out the travel section on our blog to discover more tips and hacks.