Travel can be stressful at the best of times, add in a couple of kids, a long line, and a delayed flight and it can be a trying time for many. With the new year beginning, families are gearing up to plan their eagerly anticipated holidays. For those families with alternate needs, including neurodiverse children, this experience can be tough even before the packing begins.
In commemoration of World Autism Awareness Day, which was on 2 April, we thought this is an important time to focus on accepting, supporting, and including autistic people, and advocating for their rights. The travel sector is always looking to be more inclusive and accommodating to neurodivergent people, as all people deserve to be able to go on holiday.
The good news is the travel sector is getting better at adapting and catering to those with alternative needs. Flight Centre has released a list of top tips to help those trying to plan with neurodiversity. Antoinette Turner, General Manager at Flight Centre comments, “While there’s a long way to go, it’s good to see the industry is catching up and able to cater to more families so that everyone can enjoy an overseas holiday.
“Travel is a great way for families to bond and create life-long memories, and it’s positive that several tourism operators are taking steps to be more accommodating”.
Turner points to the fact that globally many hotels, airports, and other providers have trained their staff to be aware of disabilities which may not be immediately visible. These programs will offer new resources, support, and access to help make the process less stressful for everyone.
However, a lot of it ultimately comes down to preparation. Many kids on the autism spectrum are visual learners. Use teaching stories and visual support to show what to expect at the airport, what the airplane will look like, and where you will be staying.
Waiting patiently in long queues can be challenging for neurodivergent kids. Some strategies to help might be having a lollipop ready to unwrap when their patience is running low, or having a favorite video downloaded and ready to view on a device.”
Turner says many airlines can offer extra assistance when boarding or disembarking your aircraft, such as priority boarding. It is important therefore to make sure you communicate these requests timeously to your travel agent so they can liaise with the airline.
“Airports, airplanes, and transfers can be triggering for those on the autism spectrum. These environments can easily overload delicate sensory systems, heighten anxiety, and overwhelm some children.
Ensure your child has appropriate Sensory Supports, such as ear defenders, fidget toys, scented markers, and weighted vests that can help your child cope with the intensity of new environments.”
Ultimately, the main message to send to families is that travel by its very nature can be unpredictable at times. “Unpredictability can be very difficult for kids on the autism spectrum to process. As a caregiver, you can increase feelings of stability and predictability by ensuring your child has access to favorite foods, special toys, and their favorite tv shows or movies wherever possible” says Turner.
Parents and caregivers can still take steps to ensure that all family members have a relaxing fun and enjoyable holiday. It takes a few extra steps, preparation, and time, but traveling with neurodivergent children can be an amazing travel experience.
Additional tips from Flight Centre for families with neurodiverse children:
- If you have a young person who is particularly sensitive to loud and busy environments, consider traveling off-season. Shorter queues and quieter airplanes can all contribute to a more enjoyable travel experience.
- Kids on the autism spectrum often eat a more restricted diet, and sensory processing differences can make mealtimes in restaurants challenging. If this sounds familiar, consider self-catering accommodation. This gives you more control over mealtimes, and a controlled environment for your child to eat in.
- Transitions from A to B can be difficult for families with neurodivergent children. Consider the number of transitions in getting to and from your destination, as too many transitions may overwhelm your child (and you!)
- If the thought of traveling internationally with your neurodivergent child overwhelms you, consider traveling closer to home. This gives your child the opportunity to experience airports, fly on an airplane, and experience travel, with the benefit of shorter flight times, less transits, and more predictability (you’ll probably still be able to buy your child’s favorite foods at the local supermarket)
Traveling with neurodiverse kids can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be. By working closely with your travel agent and communicating your needs and concerns, you can ensure that your trip is as smooth and stress-free as possible. Remember to submit special requests for assistance well in advance, so that the necessary arrangements can be made to accommodate your child’s needs.
If you’re traveling internationally, you can also check if the airports you’ll be visiting belong to the Sunflower scheme. This scheme helps identify passengers with hidden disabilities so that airport staff can provide appropriate assistance and support.
So, don’t hesitate to reach out to your travel agent and let them know how they can best support you and your family during your travels. By working together, you can create a positive and memorable experience for everyone involved.