Flying With Autistic Children
With the strides that we may believe we are making in our community to spread autism awareness, we have to understand that we have not reached everyone. Just last year, an autistic child was kicked off of their flight because the child, who had not harmed anyone or caused any major disturbance, was too picky of an eater to be fed the regular coach-class food and her mother, Donna Beegle, wanted to order something off the first class menu. The innocent autistic child was eventually granted the food after a bit of reasoning from the mother, but she was also granted another thing: a boot off of the plane.
“I get the ignorance… but it has to change.”
It’s hard for people who have had little to no exposure to autism or autistic behaviors to fully understand the needs of our autistic children. In The United States, we have recently been culturally trained to be especially sensitive to dangers on airplanes. We understand that with the convenience of flight travel, comes a bit of risk, and people who still have a fear of autism due to an ignorance of the illness, can become especially “flighty” when it comes to having an autistic child on their flight with them.
What can I do?
The very first thing you must plan to do, is plan! Preparation is the most important part of traveling by plane with your autistic child. The farther ahead you plan your trip, the more prepared you will be personally, and if you include your child in the preparation, then they will be able to anticipate what is going to happen much better. Even non-verbal children can understand and retain much of the planning process if they are involved. Here is a small list of things that can help you with planning your flight.
- Use a calendar
Calendars can help your child keep track of how close or far away your trip is. This can help them to mentally prepare for what is going to happen. Explain to them thoroughly the process and make sure you put a positive spin on it so they are not afraid, but excited – attitude is everything. Mark off the days leading up to the flight, and make sure you clearly mark the date of the flight.
- Make a picture story of the preparations
Whether or not your autistic child is used to seeing pictures to explain things, this would be a good place to start. You can easily take pictures off of Google and print them out to show your kids what is needed to be done for each step of the way, from packing their bags to the security checkpoint, from the airport to the flight taking off. If your child knows what everything will look like it will put them at ease.
- Notify personnel that you are traveling with an autistic individual – Use your voice!
When you get to the airport security checkpoint, you can let the agents know that your child has autism, and they will be sure to help you along in any way possible. You can ask the TSA agents if you can go through the handicapped line. Often times this line is less crowded and will cause less stress for you and your child, and you won’t have to worry about inconveniencing any other passengers while you take your time.
You can call your airline ahead of time and let them know that you would like priority boarding, or you can let the crew know prior to boarding that you are traveling with an autistic child and they will make sure that you can either board before or after the other passengers to minimize stress.
- Expedite the security process
What do I mean by this? Well, TSA checkpoints and security processes can be stressful for anyone, even adults. Children with autism, though, are especially prone to be affected by the stress that security checkpoints can deal out. However, if we can expedite the entire process, then this will greatly reduce the possibility of stress, and therefore autistic behaviors.
- Do not wear belts or jewelry that you would have to remove, causing the process to move slower.
- Make sure you come at least 80 or more minutes prior to your flight to ensure you do not have to rush.
- Request to use the metal scanner instead of the full-body scanner if you suspect your child may have difficulty with this.
- Ensure that someone in your party goes before your child if at all possible, so that you can have someone on the other side to receive them and your child does not become stressed from separation in a new environment.
- Make sure to bring a lot of entertainment
Entertainment can be extremely useful in preventing any behavioral issues that your child may have. If you rely on a single form of entertainment and it fails to hold the attention of your child, then the likelihood of a behavior may rise. Bring backup choices of entertainment. If you have educational games on your tablet, then these may be a great choice, but don’t rely on this alone, bring a picture book, or a portable DVD player to help divert your child out of a behavior. It is also beneficial to bring your child’s favorite comfort items, such as a blanket, pillow, or toy that will give them comfort.
- Ask the airport about an “autism access” program
A growing number of airports offer this program which can equate to an entire run-through of the process at the airport, including a mock boarding. This can help your child tremendously and help you foresee possible troubles you may have when your real flight comes up. If you have the time, and if your local airport offers it, then this is an amazing resource to utilize.
Hopefully these tips will help you for your next flight with your beloved child. Make sure to always be fully prepared well in advance, and you and your children will have a much easier time getting through the entire travel process. It’s even possible that it could be a smooth, and fun process! Even if not, we would hope that it will be easier using these tips.
As a community we are here to support each other, and spread autism awareness. It takes a village to raise a child, but it takes an army to raise our autistic children!
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