You’re in the car, driving to work. You turn the radio up and a familiar song starts to play…
“Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer,
Had a very shiny nose,
And if you ever saw it,
You would even say it glows.”
As a chorus of chipper choir singers belt out a happy reindeer tune, you can’t help but feel a little anxious: the holidays are coming up. It’s time to start planning where you and the family will be heading this year.
Aunt Becky’s house? Uncle Bill’s? No matter what, you know one thing for certain — holiday travel can be a challenge for your child with autism. Travel can be stressful for anyone. Whether you’ve flown a hundred times or just once and whether your road trip is across a single state or the country, there’s a lot to keep in mind! But it can be especially overwhelming for a child with autism who experiences sensory issues or has difficulty with change.
We want to help you and your family limit the stress and turn the experience into something positive during this year’s holiday travels. We’re sharing ways you can mitigate the challenges of traveling with a child with autism and maximize the fun this season.
Start With the Basics: Talk to Your Child With Autism About Traveling.
The unknown can be scary. You’ve probably started a new job before, and you’ve been a first-time parent. While it was exciting, it was a little bit frightening too!
Your child may be experiencing travel for the first time, or they may just need to refamiliarize themselves with it.
When you share and teach your child with autism about what to expect, it helps them feel a sense of control over the situation and put some of those fears to rest. Start by talking about what they can expect.
Try to answer these questions for your child:
• Where are we going?
• How are we getting there?
• Who will we meet?
• Where will we stay?
As you answer each question, teach your child about different aspects of travel. You could share facts about flying, teach them about airports and hotels, or you could share all about different types of cars.
The important thing is that you answer any questions they have along the way honestly and thoughtfully.
Talk to Your ABA Therapist
As you’re helping your child prepare for a new experience, know you don’t have to do it alone. Talk to your child’s care team about how they can help.
Our behavior therapists are always standing by, ready to teach your child the skills they need to succeed. We want to see them conquer holiday travel, too.
Once you know how and where you’ll be traveling, sit down with your child’s ABA therapist and talk to them about the upcoming trip. They can infuse therapy sessions with some of the skills your child with autism will need to practice for traveling.
At BlueSprig, we’re happy to be your partners as you teach your child about holiday traveling.
Play Pretend Travel Before Your Trip
When you practice the skills your child with autism is learning in therapy at home, it helps reinforce them. Now that you’ve discussed the trip with your child’s ABA care team, it’s time to apply what they’re learning inside the house.
We suggest making it a game. Play pretend travel with your child and show them how fun it can be.
As you roleplay what it’s like to fly a plane or pack a suitcase, they’ll learn what’s involved firsthand and have a better idea of what to expect when you hit the road.
You can even take your child on a field trip to the airport before the big day if you’re flying and give them a little tour. You can follow this seek-and-find list to make the experience fun!
Can you find…
• A quiet place?
• A bathroom?
• A place to eat?
• A gate?
• An airplane?
• A water fountain?
• An x-ray machine?
Add onto the seek-and-find game with items your child is interested in. For example, if they enjoyed playing the role of pilot, see if they can recognize a pilot in his or her uniform.
Build Their Confidence With Sleepovers
Sleeping in somebody else’s bed can feel strange. Whether you’re staying in a hotel or at your cousin’s house, your child with autism may have trouble adjusting to a new sleeping situation right away.
That’s why we recommend practicing before you go.
You can practice by setting up an at-home sleepover in the living room. Try it a couple of times till your little one feels comfortable.
Then, set up an overnight with a close relative like grandma or grandpa to introduce them to a new setting.
You can also help your child feel more comfortable by arranging a call with the hotel or whichever relative you’ll be staying with. Help them make a list of questions beforehand to ask.
Be Mindful When Booking Flights
A little extra research can go a long way! Did you know there are airlines that make special accommodations for children with autism and their families? American Airlines, Delta, JetBlue Airways, Southwest, United, and Virgin America are all autism-friendly.
Before your flight, call the airline and talk to them about how they can help your family’s flight go smoothly. They may be able to help with special seating arrangements or early boarding.
You’ll also want to pay attention to flight times and pick the least intrusive time possible. For example, if you’re able, book a flight that doesn’t interfere too much with your child’s routine.
If you can, avoid flights past bedtime or that require waking up much earlier than normal.
And, lastly, make sure you pack your child’s favorite things in your carry-on bag. A blanket, favorite snack, stuffed animal, juice box, or noise-canceling headphones can all help ease the uncertainty of a flight.
You may want to pack gum or candy to help ease any ear discomfort from the change in pressure, too.
While you’re doing all you can to make your family’s trip an enjoyable experience, don’t forget to make a little space in that carry-on bag for your favorite snack, too! We hope these tips will help you and your child with autism make memories as you travel this holiday season.
If you need help preparing, find your local BlueSprig center and schedule a time to visit. We’ll help you find an ABA therapist that will be your partner in not only conquering travel but in teaching your child with autism additional skills that will help them find success, whatever that means for them.
Have a question about our services? We’d love to talk. Say hello.