How to prepare your child with Autism Spectrum Disorder for the airport
We've previously discussed safe special needs air travel for children with disabilities, but often, parents' anxieties begin before boarding even begins. Don't let these worries deter your long-awaited family getaway. Here are 8 tips to prepare your child for the airport.
Although you are unable to pass the security checkpoint without a boarding pass, you may find it beneficial to bring your child to the airport for a "trial run." Allow time to get familiarized with the complex and see the various stops that your family will encounter - the check-in desk, security checkpoints, and baggage claim. If your child struggles with multi-sensory overload, go at an off-peak time when airport foot traffic is at a minimum. You can also contact your airport and ask if they allow tours for special needs guests.
Sights and Sounds
Prepare your child for what he is going to see and hear at the airport. Introducing these sights and sounds slowly prior to the trip with help acclimate him to what he may face at the airport. Download images of security checkpoints and officers or search Youtube for videos of commercial airplanes taxiing and taking off. These small screen versions of the real thing will be easier for your child to digest.
Tell fictional stories involving your family members traveling through an airport. Be sure to make these realistic in nature so that your child will relate to them when at the airport. Be sure to include sensory descriptions of things your child may encounter that could be a trigger for anxiety.
Without question, the most anxiety-producing event at an airport for a special needs child comes when it is time to pass through security. Prepare your child by helping him understand the process. He may need to remove articles of clothing such as belts, hats, or shoes. He may also need to temporarily hand over electronic devices. These items may serve as a safety net for your child, so prepare and practice (if necessary) with your child for this inevitable step in moving through the airport.
Your child may find the airport and the airplane too loud. If this is the case, encourage your child to wear earplugs or headphones. Small, discrete earplugs can be purchased from most drug stores and can be worn without your child feeling like they are sticking out in the crowd.
Carry On Essentials
While at the airport, carry documentation regarding your child's disability in the event it is required by airline staff. Also pack items that may be soothing for your child. Arm yourself with things that may help your child de-escalate or distract, such as books, hand-held electronics, or soothing tactile objects.
Decrease Wait Time
Unfortunately, much of the airport experience involves waiting in long lines, but minimizing this will be a benefit to your child. Some airports will expedite the security process if you identify that your child has special needs. Also, see if your airline allows for early pre-boarding of special needs guests. This will give your family a chance to leave the noisy airport and get settled in the airplane.
Pre-Airport Count Down
In the weeks leading up to the trip, create a calendar or paper countdown chain. Each night, cross of another day or remove one link of the chain. This visual cue with remind your child that the big day is almost here.
As a parent of a child on the Autism spectrum, you probably already have strategies in place for taking your son or daughter to a public place. In some respects, the airport is no different, but it's important to realize that potentially upsetting sensory experiences are more severe in airports. If these above tips don't suit your child's needs, feel free to contact us. We want to help make your family vacation an enjoyable one!
From Parents, Travel Writers,