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There are so many things to consider when taking a trip with a child who is on the Autism Spectrum. Of course, there are multiple manifestations of this disorder, so what we have experienced as a family may not apply to everyone. To date, we have traveled by planes, trains, and automobiles. We have traveled as far East as Florida and as far West as California. Also, we have moved a few times, so we have this traveling bit down, as far as how it affects DS9.
Why would I post this now? Did you see what happened to a 3 year old little girl in the airport in St. Louis earlier this month? Just briefly, this little girl has spina bifida and is in a wheelchair. She and her family made it through security screening and were heading toward their gate when a TSA agent stopped them and said that she needed to go through secondary screening because she was in a wheelchair.
Unfortunately, my tips will not help you around TSA. That is not my goal. My goal is to try to offer some ideas that may make travel easier, overall.
This will be a three week series. Today’s post will cover air travel tips.
Air Travel – Unfortunately, TSA is a necessary evil. They do try to protect us from repeat attacks like this country has experienced in the past. However, this is one of the hardest parts of air travel for a child on the spectrum. There are some ways to help make things easier, though.
- Fortunately for children under 12 years of age, TSA has discontinued the practice of removing shoes when going through security. (NOTE: This can change. Always check with the TSA.gov website before travel.)
- Before your trip, take time to discuss the procedure of going through security. Explain that there might be a long wait to get to the scanner. Discuss words or subjects that can’t be discussed in security. We all know that kids on the spectrum will discuss things that are normal to us but may not seem normal to a TSA agent. Only you know what your child might say.
- Have a game plan for security. Ours is for Don to go first with the laptop and the carry-on toiletries. The kids go next and put their own backpack through the scanner. Then, I go last, so the kids are sandwiched between us.
- Always allow extra time at the airport. One of the reasons for this is so that your child has plenty of time to acclimate before going through security. The rush of running into the airport and straight into a security line is really stressful to most people and even more to a child on the spectrum. In several of the larger airports, there are shops to go in and look around. At the Orlando International Airport, there are a couple of Disney stores, a NASA store, a Universal Studios store, and more.
- Consider paying a little extra for the preferred TSA line. Ok. I know that flying is expensive enough as it is, but this was worth it for us. We hadn’t even considered it until we checked in online for our flights with US Airways. They offered us the preferred TSA security line and Zone 1 boarding for $15 per person going down to Orlando. (Price varies based on several different things that only the airline knows.) Coming back it was $24 per person but included both airports (Orlando and Charlotte). It saved some time in the security line going down, but where we really saw the difference was the line at security in Orlando. When we went through, the regular security line weaved back-and-forth, and we were told it was nearly an hour long. The preferred line was pretty much a straight shot, and it was not near as claustrophobic as the regular line appeared. But, even the shorter line upset DS9.
- Get through the security line early to have some downtime at the gate before the plane leaves. This allows time to visit the restroom, get a bottle of water for the plane, and relax. DS9 was still shaking from the security experience for quite some time before he calmed down. This extra time before boarding the plane is very important.
- Try to get a ticket that includes an early boarding. How this can be accomplished varies from airline-to-airline, but it is so worth it! Don’t just assume that because your child is on the spectrum that you will be allowed early boarding. Many times, this is based on physical need and/or age. It made such a difference to get DS9 on the plane early and settled between me and the window, so he wasn’t jostled by the people getting on board.
- I can’t stress activities and snacks enough! Before every trip, I prepare a backpack or other type of bag filled with new activities. New crayons, new pencils, new coloring sheets, new activity sheets, iPad (with headphones) with a new movie on it (among other apps and such). And snacks! Each child has his/her own snacks in the activity bag. I have additional snacks in my bag. One never knows, and I don’t want to be caught by surprise. Gum is another important thing to include in the bag. That way, gum can be chewed to alleviate the change in pressure as the plane ascends and descends.
- Make sure to bring your child’s special friend and other “comfort items”. Duffy the Disney Bear goes everywhere with DS9, and on this trip, he was dressed in his aviator outfit. He is a very fashionable bear! He was also a big comfort to DS9.
The biggest part of traveling with a child on the spectrum is to plan ahead and be prepared. Discuss everything that your child will experience. If your child has never been through security, “play” security to show him/her how it will work. Make sure your child understands that it is always best to be respectful to the TSA agent. A smile will go a long way.
Next week, I’ll be back with train travel.