Travelling with a child with autism is always a little daunting. We have been fortunate to have been able to take an annual family overseas trip since Isla was a baby. I am grateful for this with her now being more averse to trying new things. With some preparation and planning, it is possible for the whole family to have an enjoyable time together.
How bad can it be? This is my philosophy! Isla surprises us every time we go away with how well she copes and I think sometimes you have to just give it a go.
I am not going to lie it’s not always easy. We have still have had tantrums. We still walk on egg shells a bit to avoid them, especially when out in public as she tends to be loud when she’s protesting! However I have grown a thick skin and try not to meet anyone’s eyes when trying to calm her.
The month before As with most children with autism, Isla will react when things aren’t as she expects. A month or so before departure date we talk alot about what is going to happen. We use social stories (a visual or written guide describing an event or social interactions used with those with autism), look at maps and Google World.
The flight Don’t be afraid to tell the airline staff that you are travelling with a child with additional needs. They may have “Special Assistance” you can register for that will allow you to board first, get a “meet and greet” from the plane and get through customs faster. We have used this before, even if their website doesn’t class autism as a disability, and is super helpful especially when you land.
We always leave plenty of time for checking in and arrive really early to save standing in too many queues. Airports are busy stressful places. I would have no hesitation in putting a belt on Isla with a strap or even reins if she was a runner, but with our family of 5 mostly travelling together, someone is always assigned to Isla.
Isla also wears a Medic Alert bracelet which has my phone number on the back so I know if she ever did get lost then there would be some way of locating us.
Watching the flight plan on the screen on the plane is important for Isla as well as having a window seat or at least being prepared for the eventuality that she isn’t going to get one. I only found this out on a previous trip when she didn’t have the window seat she was expecting which led to a huge meltdown. It’s not the best feeling being confined in a small space, like a plane, with a screaming child. So now I make sure to book our seats in advance, find out about the screens and advise the airlines that we are travelling with a child with autism.
What to pack
Isla will often turn her nose up at airline food, I always make sure we have lots of snacks for her in her trusty compartmental lunchbox and take her own water bottle empty that we can fill up on the plane.
I pack a wheel along bag for Isla that she enjoys pulling along with child friendly earphones, some toys and trusty iPad. We also pack a blanket, a change of clothes, her milk, cup and melatonin for overnight that helps her go to sleep more easily.
Isla stims quite loudly when excited so we have found a chew necklace helps with this when we need to quieten her down.
We always try and choose a destination that we will be able to have a holiday as well as Isla. This ideally involves somewhere warm with a pool. We try not to plan too much and set up the house like home. For Isla, this is with her toys and iPad. We tend to do short trips out and then come back to our house and let Isla have some time out. She sleeps a lot on holiday during the day especially if goes in the car. This is good for recharging her batteries and we took our own car seat with us. A small half booster seat is more portable and I have just purchased a seat belt cushion for when she falls asleep and am yet to try this out.
When going out for meals we always check the kids menu for cheese pizza, chicken or fish and chips in advance and go to family friendly restaurants. We normally take Isla’s favourite snack foods with us.
We have until recently taken swimming armbands for the pool (making sure they are suitable for children up to 50kg). Even though Isla can get around a pool and we are always watching her, in a crowded area gives you piece of mind.
Occasionally we will take Isla out of her comfort zone. A lot of the time if we can get over the initial hurdle of her not wanting to do it then she actually will enjoy herself. A loving push we find really helps her expand her interests and social skills. However some of the time no matter how hard we try she won’t be talked round and we won’t force it.
For a child who has medical issues is also a bit nerve racking taking out of the country. I always take a course of antibiotics and emergency seizures meds. We also get additional insurance to cover her pre existing conditions.
I believe a little extra planning and being proactive does help make an overseas trip a little less stressful for everyone and I hope some of these tips can help someone else.
Hi my name is Sara Stythe and I am a mum of 3 beautiful girls.
This is a place to share knowledge, resources and information I have learnt along the way on this unexpected journey with our unique youngest daughter. Isla is missing a tiny bit of her 2nd chromosome (2q23.1 Microdeletion Syndrome, recently known as MAND) causing autism, epilepsy and development delay.
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