For the majority of international travelers, the airport is one of the most exciting aspects of the trip is the arrival at the airport. However, for anybody with autism, it can be an incredibly anxious experience to have to deal with. The crowds, the noise, and uncertainty about what’s going on can all cause sensory overload and meltdowns in the airport. Not the greatest start to the trip!
That’s not to mention the other procedures such as going through security and passport control if you arrive at a destination where you do not have citizenship from birth meaning additional ID screening.
Like most things that autism parents have to go through, the airport experience can be a daunting part of trip planning, but is completely ‘do-able’ with some extra planning in place.
Here are some tips for helping children with autism to prepare for the airport experience.
Make a Social Story
Your children with autism need to know what to expect when they arrive at the airport. That means talking them through the steps of what will happen and showing them pictures of the things they will see when they are at the airport. Show them pictures of the terminal, waiting areas, baggage drop-off and reclaim, as well as security.
Go through this story with them on the weeks and days leading up to the trip so that they, too, will be able to explain what will happen, as well as what ‘may’ happen when they’re at the airport. Doing so will help to get rid of any areas of unpredictability and uncertainty.
Use a calendar
Make sure your children are aware of the date of departure a few weeks prior to travel. Make a timeline of things that need to happen prior to the trip such as packing bags, driving in a car to a particular destination such as a restaurant or hotel on the way to the airport. Using a calendar helps your children to learn about the concept of time as well as preparing for a change in their usual routine.
Bring food from home
One of the most challenging things to deal with would be if some of the foods your children enjoy are unavailable at the airport. Most children with autism will have a series of ‘safe’ foods, or suffer with certain intolerances. With this in mind, it may prove useful to prepare some foods from home so that your child has something to eat that they are comfortable with.
Ask your child(ren) to talk you through the process
Once you have talked your child(ren) through the process, ask them to talk you through what they understand about the travel process. Only you can understand their stage of development, so make sure to ask open questions which can lead to an explanation. If your child has a limited vocabulary, use cue cards and encourage them to point at the pictures based on what had been explained to them. Kids with strong verbal skills should be able to explain the process verbally.
The better prepared you are for travel, the more likely it is that it will happen smoothly and you can enjoy your trip as a family.