Flying with an Autistic Child


Many thousands of us fly every day, and take it routinely in stride. But for some it’s not so simple, such as those with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), for whom operating in novel environments with a large number of external stimuli is complex indeed. Knowing how stressful travelling can be for any of us, imagine what it must be like for autistic individuals, for whom it’s particularly difficult to process novel stimuli, to be flexible, and to adapt to new things. That’s why on World Autism Awareness Day, we want to talk about steps caretakers of children with ASD can take when planning a flight. We will also try to give some ideas on how to manage a crisis in case preparation hasn’t been enough. And even if this issue does not directly affect, you, we invite you to keep reading, because if you’re flying alongside a family with an autistic son or daughter, you may be able to help in certain situations.

Getting an Autistic Child Ready for a Flight

You as families and caretakers are extremely important, both because you provide the autistic child with an anchor of security and familiarity and because you can help them prepare for the novel and disconcerting experience of flying. The first important step is to talk to them about what to expect, both at the airport and on the plane, including the boarding and disembarking process.

Also, if it’s feasible, bring your child to the airport at some point in the days before the flight and walk around the terminal a bit, so that it won’t be a totally new place for them on the day you do fly. Think with them about things and strategies that can help them through the experience, such as “attachment objects” (items like stuffed animals, other toys, blankets, and so forth) which provide a sense of comfort; activities they like; or noise-cancelling headphones to reduce auditory stimuli which might prove distressing.

What if my Child Still Has a Crisis?

And of course despite your best efforts at preparation, any unexpected occurence can still lead to a meltdown. So if this happens the first thing to do (as we’re sure you’re already quite aware) is to keep calm. Your child needs to feel that there’s safety nearby – in the form of yourself – and projecting that sense of calm will help any crisis situation considerably. If you need backup, the cabin crew has a certain amount of training in crisis situations, and in some cases may also be able to bring experience as parents to bear.

Keep in mind that in the face of a crisis it’s more important to act than to try to reason or talk to your child. If you determine that there’s something in particular that is causing the meltdown, try to eliminate it – or if it’s an external situation such as an airplane noise that is impossible to control, try instead to change the focus of attention. For example, distract them with the objects, games, or activities you have available. And above all, act with patience and affection, not frustration.

Additional Helpful Tips

There are a number of other strategies to help cut down on complications that can help make travelling with an autistic child crisis-free and less stressful in general:

  • Preferably book direct flights.
  • Try booking flights which operate outside your airports’ busiest hours (some of this is intuitive, but you can look such information up online).
  • You may want to advise your airline ahead of time so that its employees are alerted that they may be called upon to assist you if necessary.
  • Build in extra travel time, such as arriving at the airport extra early in order to give yourself more leeway to deal with potential difficulties.
by guest blogger Psicoline
image | BojanMirkovic