Autism, travel, parenting and mental health

Navigating Your Child’s Spectrum at the Airport

Navigating Your Child’s Spectrum at the Airport

You’ve put so much time (and money) into planning your trip, and you want it to go off without a hitch!! Right? While that would be perfect and on the occasion that it does go perfectly, I applaud you!

What I’ve found as a parent to both kids on and off the spectrum is that preparation is the most important thing. If you’ve been on the site before, you’ve heard me say this, but seriously it’s the best advice I can give. My two kiddos on the spectrum need to be prepared; this is something we’ve worked on since they were little (even before we had a diagnosis). My youngest kiddo is NT, and preparation is important for him too. Kids need structure, safety, and guidance, regardless of where our kiddos are developmentally. So this one is for all of us Parents to Kiddos on and off the Spectrum.

Airports can be scary, preparing your kiddos for what to expect at the airport is essential. Even us frequent flyers know that every airport experience is different. The Airport, the airline, the time of year, there are so many variables involved in air travel that no two trips are the same. There are however a couple of things you can always expect and some helpful tips on preparing your kiddos for what’s to come.

Practice Run

The Arc’s Wings for Autism® program offers carefully coordinated “rehearsals” specially designed for individuals on the spectrum. This is an excellent first step for air travel!!  We’ve participated in the Wings for Autism program at our local airport, I highly recommend taking advantage of this program. It’s a great way to start with the preparation for air travel and get your kiddos acclimated to an airport, and it’s also a fun way to spend an afternoon. We were able to practice riding the airport shuttle, go through security, boarding/off boarding, seating and safety. It was a great experience for our whole family. 

Nosies and Crowds

Airports are loud if your kiddos have sensory issues with sounds you might benefit from bringing along ear protection. Also, airports are crowded! Regardless of the time of year, you are traveling; airports have crowds. This can be stressful for your kiddo, they’re in a new place, and there are a lot of people around them. Crowds will be unavoidable, and you should talk to your kiddo beforehand to try to prepare. No amount of preparation is going to turn your crowd-averse kiddo into a crowd loving kiddo. So bring your kiddos favorite comfort items! I like to bring my kiddo’s iPads along so that they have something to entertain themselves with.

Also remember ear protection doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. Here is a great pair we use for travel

Security

There are two significant obstacles when you’re going through security. We have the metal detector and the baggage x-ray. You know your kiddo best, so make sure to talk about the obstacle that you think will prove most challenging for your family!  Both of these can prove to be challenging to kiddos on or off the spectrum.

While kids are exempt from the full body x-ray used at most airports now, they will still need to walk through the metal detector. This can be scary for a lot of reasons; sometimes the machine gives a false positive and lets out that loud alert. They can be very startling, especially to a little one who isn’t expecting it. What we do is talk to our little ones about the metal detector, we watch it together and listen for the sounds. This way, by the time it’s our turn to move through they aren’t caught off guard. The second obstacle is the baggage belt, while your kiddos under 12 won’t be removing their shoes, they will have to empty their pockets and take off jackets. This can be stressful, especially if your kiddo keeps a comfort item in their pocket, or happens to be holding their favorite stuffy. Taking some time to prepare your little ones for this big challenge is going to be important, and may help you make a smoother transition through security.

Ask for Priority Boarding

Try to arrive at your departing gate early enough to request pre-boarding. Boarding early can help get your kiddo settled into their seat and ready to fly. It will also help you avoid that rushed feeling that comes along with boarding any flight. With pre-boarding, you’ll have the time to get your kiddo all set up and your bags stored before the long lines begin to form behind you.

Toolkit

Of course, make sure you always bring your toolkit! Making sure your kiddos have their favorite comfort items, favorite foods, headphones, and entertainment. This will help you navigate any unexpected air travel hiccups. As always, don’t forget about yourself make sure to pack something for you because you deserve a little comfort for all that you do.

Safe travels!

Helpful links

Here ( https://www.thearc.org/document.doc?id=4930 ) is a helpful printout provided by the TSA about what to expect when you travel, this could be a helpful tool in preparing your kiddos for the big trip.

TSA precheck membership
https://www.tsa.gov/precheck

TSA Parents page
https://www.tsa.gov/travel/special-procedures/traveling-children

TSA passenger support
https://www.tsa.gov/travel/passenger-support

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