activities for children with autism

5 Simple Strategies for Flying With an Autistic Child


It can be difficult for parents to find appropriate activities for children with autism.  A child with autism craves routine and predictability in their surroundings and activities. That makes finding new things to see and do a real challenge.

It’s not wise to surrender the idea of traveling simply because it might be difficult for you and your child. It’s important for any child to take trips outside the home in order to introduce new ideas, people, and places. This is especially true for the autistic child who is struggling with social communication. New experiences help to expand a child’s horizons, and are an important tool to prepare for adult life.

The very idea of navigating your way through the details of a long trip can seem daunting for a family dealing with autism.  Because plane travel is so useful for increasing the number of activities for children with autism, we’ve compiled a list of  five proactive steps you can take to lessen any discomfort your child might face while flying.

1. Take the Surprise Out of It

Springing last minute news of a trip to a theme park has become a cultural cliche. It’s a very bad strategy for a child with autism. You should make every attempt to introduce the idea of traveling on an airplane as early as possible.  Talk as much as you can about the process of packing your belongings, traveling to the airport, and going through the various lines for security and ticketing.

Supplement your conversations about air travel with as many pictures and books about air travel as you can find. If your child is familiar with all the details that are involved in airport procedures, they’re less likely to become unruly or withdrawn.

2. Ask the Airport About Autism Help

Part of taking the surprises out of air travel is removing as many of them as you can. Major airports have procedures in place to make travel for fliers with special needs more comfortable. Contact the Transportation Security Administration at your airport and ask if you can make arrangements for help with security checkpoints.

The TSA has every reason to want to avoid problems during security screenings, and they have wide latitude to change their protocol to handle unusual circumstances. Ask for detailed information about what you can and can’t bring on the flight, and how to get a more low-key security screening.

3. Start Out Small

If you’ve never flown with your autistic child before, you’d be wise to try for a solid single instead of a home run at your first time at bat. Don’t attempt a long-haul flight for your first trip on a plane.  Any plane flight will be a challenge for your child, and a long trip will add exhaustion to the mix of problems that will present themselves.

Consider taking a short hop plane ride with your child simply as a dry run for a longer excursion. Picking interesting activities for children with autism in a neighboring city is a great way to break the ice for air travel in general.

If you can afford it, it’s always wise to fly non-stop when your flights start becoming longer and more adventurous. Every stop along the way increases the chances of unexpected and challenging situations like lost luggage and missed connections. It pays to play it safe whenever you can.

4. Avoid The Rush

Boarding a plane can quickly turn into a stampede. That’s a recipe for problems for your PDD-NOS  child. Airlines are very sympathetic to travelers who require special treatment,  especially during the boarding process.  Contact your airline and ask for priority boarding. They’ll be glad to accommodate you.

Don’t rely on early notification of your desire for priority boarding to filter down to the departure gate personnel. When you arrive at the airport, remind the gate attendant that you’re supposed to be on the list for early boarding.

5. Worry About Food Before You Fly

Autistic children can be very fussy about the food they’re willing to eat. Because of severe restrictions on what food items can be brought through security screenings, that can present a problem for autistic children who are very particular.

If you’re on a flight that serves food, you might be able to specify a special meal that’s in keeping with your child’s tastes, but the presentation of airline meals might be enough to cause a problem. Don’t overlook opportunities to purchase packaged food items from airport kiosks after you clear security but before you board your plane. Something as simple as potato chips in a familiar bag might make a comforting, familiar snack for your child.

Don’t Be Afraid of Flying to Activities for Children with Autism

Airline flights can be challenging for a child on the spectrum, but exploring the wider world will make it easier for parents when choosing activities for children with autism. If you take prudent precautions before your flight, the entire experience is more likely to be a beneficial and educational milestone in your child’s development.


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