Tips for traveling with special needs children


Air travel can be an exciting, yet anxiety provoking experience — and sometimes a burden, even for those who have spent months preparing for their trip. Air travel can be difficult for seasoned adult travelers and even more taxing for children. For kids with special needs, such as autism spectrum disorder, who bring their own unique sensitivities and factors connected to flying, the experience and can be even more difficult. 

When you are traveling with an autistic child, it is very important to prepare that child for your travels. The idea of being away from home, and in a new place, can be scary to some children with autism. After all, they are being taken out of their normal routine, which is difficult for those who have strict routines in place. It holds real weight for parents who spend much of their time trying to predict what the future looks, sounds and feel like for their child with sensory issues. Entering unfamiliar places with unexpected noises and other encounters requires caregivers of the child to have a crystal ball at times. Consider some of these helpful tips when flying.

Help your child prepare for air travel as soon as you know your family’s plans. In the weeks leading up to your trip, create a picture or word social story with your child to help him or her walk through specific events that may be experienced at the airport and on the plane. Navigating the huge number of people inside the airport can be scary so consider the time of day you fly. Check flight schedules for the best time of day for your child to travel. If your child can sleep on a plane, naptime may be a good choice. Plan ahead when choosing your seats. Consider requesting bulkhead or aisle seats, particularly if your child likes to kick his or her legs or move around. Perhaps a window seat is best to avoid fellow passengers moving about. 

Many airports and airlines have supportive resources, trained staff and facilities to support passengers with autism. Ask for help if you need it. Contact guest services in advance. Learn where you can find sources at the airport, such as the customer assistance desk, quiet rooms, family friendly bathrooms and sensory-friendly rooms.

Going through security can be a major ordeal for people with autism. TSA offers assistance at the screening checkpoints via its little known program, TSA Cares. Anyone with a visible or hidden disability can ask a TSA officer or supervisor for a passenger support specialist who can provide on-the-spot assistance. 

Many times, members of the Wounded Warrior Program also participate in this program. Sign up in advance, using the website or call at least 72 hours in advance of your flight. Relay your flight information for arrival and departure as well. Tell the agent your requirements to be considered during the security screening. 

Passengers with developmental disabilities can be screened without being separated from their traveling companions. You may consult the TSA officer about the best way to relieve any concerns during the screening process. Leave adequate time to clear security to avoid stress. Sign up for programs such as TSA PreCheck or Global Entry.

Alert the gate attendant that your family member has autism. Many airlines permit preboarding and allow silent preboarding for passengers with disabilities.

Flying with your autistic child can be made easier. Embrace this time and the memories you will make while you child learns about this whole other world outside of your home. 

Contact a local professional travel consultant to help you plan a memorable travel experience for your whole family. And remember to inquire about the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower in case you are unaware of this hidden gem! 

About Donna Croushore 20 Articles
Donna Croushore is owner/manager of Creative Travel & Cruise, located in Port Warwick. She can be reached at 757-898-4006 or visit the website at