5 Tips for Traveling By Plane with Your Special Needs Child

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs  over at Atypical Familia.

In a few weeks, we’ll be on our way to the Most Magical Place on Earth. It will be Norrin’s second time on an air plane. Unlike the first time taking a plane together, I am not nervous. The first time we flew, I was frantic even though I prepped for months. But there was no need to worry. Norrin really surprised me and I was so proud of him.

Traveling with special needs children requires careful planning. If your child has never been on a plane and you’re thinking of planning a vacation – here are some tips that can help.

Prepare. Even if you don’t have any immediate plans for a trip, start talking about planes and pointing them out to your kids. Talk about the kind of places or family/friends you can visit by taking a plane. Many kids with autism and other special needs, require social stories to help them through new experiences or teach everyday skills. Carol Gray has written two books that may help: My Social Stories Book and The New Social Story Book

There’s also a really cool app by Avril Webster called Off We Go: Going on a Plane. The app prepares special needs children and also includes “some of the typical sounds that they would hear during their journey.” The Going on a Plane app is $3.99 and compatible with iPad, iPhone or iPod touch.

Do Your Homework. Think about the airlines and airports you’ve traveled with in the past – which ones gave you the best experience? If you have friends that have traveled with their special needs children – ask for suggestions. Call airlines and see what accommodations can be made for your special needs child before making your final decision.

Another thing to consider is the duration of the flight. If your child has never flown before, don’t book a 5 hour plane ride or one with multiple layovers. Keeping it under 3 hours is probably ideal.

Pack Light (if you can). Traveling by plane requires a lot of waiting and long lines. If you can manage to do carry-on luggage only – go for it! That way you avoid the checking in your bag line and waiting to claim your bag after.

Prepare some more. You want to keep your kid occupied for a significant amount of time so a bag of goodies is a must! Load up the iPad or tablet with new apps or buy a new toy or activity book for the ride. Bring candy or a special treat for your child to enjoy. And don’t forget to pack any other special items like noise-cancelling headphones or favorite comfort item, pillow or blankie. It could be the thing that prevents a meltdown.

And Speaking of Meltdowns. A mom wrote to me and expressed concern about her child having a meltdown on the plane. “Prepare for the worst, hope for the best” as the saying goes. If a meltdown occurs, deal with it the best way you can and forget about if people stare – just focus on your child. If you anticipate a meltdown prior to boarding the plane – talk to the flight attendants. They want to ensure you have a pleasant experience, so do not be afraid to ask for help if you need it.

From my other blog:

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