Debunking Autism Travel Myths

I regularly meet parents with kids on the autism spectrum who have serious misconceptions about traveling with traveling with autism.

I can relate to those who have tried to travel with their child and encountered mishaps, but what I find most alarming is the high percentage of parents that base their decisions on other people’s stories or even Internet misinformation.

Since our website, AutisticGlobetrotting, is about to celebrate its third year of existence, I thought it would be helpful to debunk some of these misconceptions once and for all in the hope this might inspire or even encourage some of you to go ahead and finally plan that summer vacation you’ve been dreaming of.

Debunking Autism Travel Myths globe


Planning travel with an autistic child is time -consuming and expensive.

The essential element in the planning stages is notifying the airlines, cruise lines and hotels of your child’s disability, and decide what accommodations you might what to request.
You can usually ask for most accommodations by e-mail, which makes it cheaper and faster, particularly if you should need to contact people overseas. From my experience, most companies in the travel industry will try and provide the necessary accommodations at no extra charge.

Always remember to store your correspondence in a file on your computer, and then send a gentle reminder to all the people you’ve contacted a week before your day of departure, in case they forgot about you.

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The TSA treats autistic travelers and family badly.

Over the years, the TSA has come under fire for causing unnecessary stress to many families; especially those traveling with special needs kids.
We’ve flown over 200 flights in the last decade without an incident; simply by letting the agent know upon arrival at the airport that our son was autistic and that I would be accompanying him to the checkpoint.

This month the TSA has come out with new guidelines for autistic travelers that include allowing kids to stay with parents during the check, and that parents or caregivers may advise the agent on how to proceed with the security check depending on the child’s particular disability.

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Flying with a child on the autism spectrum is a nightmare.

No, not usually.
Although flights may not as traveler-friendly as they used to be, it is still doable. All you need is to notify the airline in advance of any accommodations like bulk or aisle seating, pre-boarding( so that you can get your family settled faster) and wheelchair assistance if you have to navigate between terminals in the larger airports.

Remember to pack a snack or two for the flight and keep your kid busy with movies, video games, books on tape, or coloring books just like you would do at home or on a long car ride.

Debunking Autism Travel Myths paris

My child will not be comfortable in a hotel room.

Since most kids with autism thrive on routine and familiarity, the best choice for hotels would be sticking with one or two chains such as Starwood, IHG, or Marriott because they tend to design their layout the same way in each hotel worldwide.When booking a hotel room, you should ask for a quiet room away from noisy areas like elevators,
restaurants, and conference rooms and on a high floor if you are staying on a busy street.

Some hotels offer hypoallergenic rooms and pillows, too.If you know that your family won’t feel comfortable in a hotel setting there are alternative lodging options like apartment hotels or private home rentals from companies like Airbnb you can book that are even more budget friendly.

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I hate it when my child acts up and everybody stares.

Now this issue is one that we can probably all relate to and understand; however, it shouldn’t deter you.
I remember my public speaking professor telling our class at the beginning of his course that the trick to speaking in front of a large crowd was envisioning everyone in their underwear.

You should keep in mind that most if not all people watching you and your kid don’t  actually ‘know’ you, so you shouldn’t care much what they think about your parenting skills or your child’s behavior.And the silver lining is that mastering the art of ignoring disparaging remarks or looks from strangers will not only make you a better parent but is bound to teach your kid a much-needed life skill as well.

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Helping Hotels Become Autism Friendly

A Twitter friend asked me the other day, whether I knew if a particular hotel in London was ‘autism friendly.’
We had never stayed at this specific property, so I suggested she contacted the hotel directly and asked whether it could provide the accommodations she needed. I mentioned that based on our decade of travel that would be the best way to ensure a  stress-free stay.

But then it dawned on me–why are parents even struggling with these extra steps?
In today’s world with such a surge in the number of autism families ,hotels don’t need to wait to be asked by parents but should strive to become much more autism-friendly on their own.
In fact, a move like that by the leading chains is bound to lead to increased revenue and return business as well as revolutionize  the way the hospitality industry approaches the entire  autism community.

And, in most cases; becoming autism-friendly wouldn’t even involve spending money on remodeling rooms or gadgets but tweaking existing services in five simple steps.

 Helping hotels become Autism Friendly bed

Have special needs agents 

One of the reasons we love staying on Marriott’s properties is the fact the chain has designated special needs’ desk that helps travelers with specific accommodations,
It provides patrons with a one-stop solution eliminating the tedious job of repeating your list of accommodations to different staff members and can prove extremely useful for complex overseas itineraries that involve multiple stays in several countries.

Though this might not be a viable solution for the smaller hotels, it is a valuable marketing concept that medium to large hotel chains should consider copying.

Add website assistance

A feature I often use and wholeheartedly recommend is an online special request box ( like the one available on Priority Club’s website when booking online) where I can quickly mention my feather allergy and need for quiet and connecting rooms at booking.

Furthermore, it might be beneficial for hotels to designate a well trained customer-service person with some knowledge of autism to respond to any additional question via a link on their web page.
Remember: some parents might be more comfortable with sharing the information with one person than reiterating their child’s information to every hotel staff member they meet.

Mark particular rooms as quiet

Hotels are already required to tag some places as wheelchair user accessible to accommodate mobility disabilities so why not mark ‘quiet rooms to help the growing autistic travel community?
All the hotel needs to do is mark rooms that are away from noisy venues like lounges, elevators and vending machines as ‘quiet’ on their website for parents to choose from.In cities with busy traffic; rooms facing interior courtyards should also be recommended. for noise sensitive travelers

Get Staff trained 

Even though many parents don’t share their kids’ diagnosis -their particular needs might still surface in their requests and complaints, so appropriate autism staff training is essential.
Sometimes solutions to an issue are solved by ‘thinking outside the box’.
An example that comes to mind is the staffer at the J W Marriott Berlin hotel that noticed how my son was distraught after being told their restaurant was full, and he couldn’t dine there.

The front desk manager, single-handedly, put two lobby tables together, procured extra chairs and brought our ordered dishes from the restaurant to the lobby area so we could finally dine after arriving at the hotel from our long-haul flight.

Provide additional safety measures

Hotel officials should know that the number one travel concern of parents (especially of younger ones) is that their kids might open the room door and wander off unattended.
Some rooms may face a double whammy with a front as well as a balcony door accessible for children to open.
By providing inexpensive additional locks (placed higher up than usual) or mini dual contact noise sounding alarms on the room doors, hotels might not only be able to avoid a potential safety problem but provide parents with much-needed peace of mind.

Have you stayed at a hotel with your autistic child and received special accommodations -share  your experience with us.



Autism Accommodation Suggestions for the Travel Industry

Anyone who knows me and has spent any time on my website would agree that I advocate traveling with special needs family members. In fact, I wholeheartedly promote it as a great idea.
Through trial and error, I have navigated the travel industry and learned many valuable things over the years that have made going with a child with autism a  pleasant experience for both the child and parents.

The success of the family vacation with an autistic child requires lots of planning. In fact, it is imperative.
Not only do you need to have a “Plan A”, but you also need a “Plan B” and even “C” at times.
Even regular getaways involve systematic, minute-by-minute detailed planning; nothing can be left to chance.
When you have individual needs added to the mix, you always need to take the “what if?” factor into consideration and build your itinerary around the worse case scenarios happening.

Lack of planning has led to many families experiencing unpleasant vacations and sadly, they end up avoiding travelling altogether.There are those who get stressed at the mere thought of successfully tackling so many factors. There are some who in the past inadequately planned and became despondent, and then there are those who travelled unaware of the needed planning so threw in the towel.

Realistically speaking, planning the itinerary for a family dealing with autism can take double or triple the amount of time and effort to organize in comparison to one for a typical family.

With that said, It is my firm belief that families with special -needs should not be excluded from travelling.
I believe that the key to solving many dilemmas lies mainly within the Travel Industry’s ability to aid and encourage families with autism to travel.
In fact, these proposed low-cost accommodation suggestions could prove if implemented, quite lucrative for the Travel Industry and beneficial for the growing segment of the population with autism and other special needs, in the long run.

Top suggestions how the Travel Industry can Accommodate Autistic Travelers Must -Do Activities in Brussels for Families city center

Suggestions for States and Cities  CVB

Since most states and towns have websites to inform tourists of the area’s history, attractions, activities, and lodging opportunities; adding a page for tips to help autistic families plan their vacation better should not be a problem.
This page should include necessary information that the visitor bureau staff can quickly assemble and can contain the following details:

  • Restaurants that cater to special -needs and offer gluten-free or casein-free items on their menu.
  • Attractions that incorporate hands-on, interactive and visual displays like museums, zoos, and aquariums, especially those that provide discounted rates for disabilities.
  • Hotels that offer autism-friendly rooms and babysitting services so parents/caregivers can get much-needed respite.
  • Local pharmacies for quick medication refills.
  • Local grocery stores or supermarkets with their operating hours—especially if they are open 24/7 for families to purchase any needed supplies.
  • Local pediatricians and dentists that have been trained to deal with special-needs children in case of emergency.
  • Local vets for service dogs.
  • Telephone numbers of local police staff trained to aid with autistic children wandering off.


Top suggestions how the Travel Industry can Accommodate Autistic Travelers Luxury Stay at the Sofitel Brussels Le Louise bedroom

Suggestions for Hotels and Cruise Ships

  • Lodging facility websites for hotels and cruise ships should include an added section with accommodation suggestions for travelers with autism describing the property’s quiet rooms away from streets, elevators, vending machines, and lounges as well as rooms far from any cooking venues for the smell-sensitive guests.
    Moreover, the hotel or cruise line should advertise their ability to accommodate
  • Patrons suffering from different allergies.
  • Those who need hand-held shower attachments or anti-slip mats in the bathrooms.
  •  Families who need extra locks on room windows and doors to prevent accidental wandering
  • Guests following GFCF diet guidelines.
  • Kids with autism in Kid Clubs and or pools.

Top suggestions how the Travel Industry can Accommodate Travelers with Autism ship
Suggestions for Transportation Companies

Proper transportation arrangements are of particular importance as they constitute the first step in most travel and can often foreshadow future mishaps.Airports, Airlines, bus companies, and train companies need to provide an informative web page on all possible accommodations available for the different sensory issues of the autistic travellers.

Accommodations may include

  • Seats away from the excessive noise areas like wings, galleys and lavatories areas (strong smells) as well as the exit doors due to limited personal space and potential overcrowding.
  • The options of pre-boarding and extra leg room seating for those autistic travelers with involuntary or repetitive body movements should be offered as an option by all transportation authorities.
  • Families and Caregivers should always be seated next to the person with special needs!

10 Favorite NYC Spots to Visit with Kids central park theater figures

Suggestions for Day Trips and Shore Excursion Operators

Companies should post detailed descriptions of the suggested itineraries on their page along with the main symbols to alert autistic travellers to the possibility of potential sensory problems like

  • excessive noise
  • strong smells
  • dark areas
  • strobe lights
  • slippery terrain or stairs
  • extended stays in extreme temperature conditions
  • bathroom breaks
  • food options
  • the availability of places to regroup if necessary
  • the seating arrangement of transportation like buses and ferries where parents should sit with their kids, preferably in front.
  • walking or any other activity that exceeds 15 minutes at a time or requires closed toe shoes.
  • Activities that necessitate wearing specialized equipment like masks or goggles.

By following these simple suggestions, companies would not only help families choose more activities but encourage new travelers to sample more day trips.

Top suggestions how the Travel Industry can Accommodate Autistic Travelers Favorite NYC Spots to Visit with Kids grand central

Creating the Ideal Autistic Friendly Hotel Room


As Autism Awareness grows around the world and within the travel industry, many hotel managers have asked me for advice on how to make their establishment more autism-friendly. Although there is no exact formula to fit all families with autism, I’ve come up with some useful guidelines hotels can adopt to accommodate patrons with autism.


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 Must  Haves

  • Hotels should avoid putting families with autism in rooms with glass bathroom enclosures, balconies or windows that fully open since kids with autism tend to be more ‘accident prone’. If the property’s only option is balcony rooms, then a keyed lock should be installed to block the kid from leaving on the door.
    The same applies to any rooms with opening windows.Something that could be slightly annoying to the average person can be downright intolerable to a person with autism, so it is important to think about potential issues that can upset travelers with autism.
  • Many travelers with autism are sound sensitive so offer rooms away from elevators, swimming pools, sports courts, restaurants, casinos, service areas, laundry areas, noisy stairs, busy streets and even ice machines. Designate quiet rooms that face courtyards or gardens and are located at the end of corridors.  A sound machine can be beneficial to some kids with autism.
  • Some children with autism are temperature sensitive, so a room thermostat is almost a necessity! If the kid’s bed is too close to the chamber vent or window, adjust bed placement accordingly.For light, sensitive kids room darkening double curtains are useful. Remember to have a night light so the child can see their way to the bathroom at night when the room is dark.
  • To prevent injuries incurred from stimming or meltdowns injury bolting TV sets, wall pictures, and mirrors, as well as the removal of breakable decorations and lamps, is recommended.Living plants should be removed as younger kids might chew on leaves.

Creating the Ideal Autistic Friendly Hotel Room applefarm

Nice to have

  • The number one concern of parents, especially to children with autism that are nonverbal and wander off, is getting lost.Hotels can offer lanyards or plastic bracelets with the hotel address or a GPS device that can be rented by caregivers.
  • Hotels should offer parents the option to install additional temporary door and window alarms  (stick -on) that can alert parents if their kid leaves the room.
  • Many children on the spectrum take medicines and might be on specific diets, so a room refrigerator comes in handy for water, snacks and then some. Vending machines or a store selling snacks on the property is good too.
  • Offer at least one kids channel as part of the hotel’s TV lineup and provide parents with an easy way to block the porn channels  (if the hotel offers them). Some hotels offer  DVD players and DVDs, tablets and even laptops for rent.
  • Properties should have designated hypoallergenic rooms if at all possible since some kids with autism also suffer from allergies.
  • Children with autism can have problems washing themselves independently, so bathrooms with tub-shower combos that have the hand held shower heads are a good idea.
  • Some kids react adversely to florescent lighting so offering non-fluorescentlighting and dimmers can be helpful.
  • Provide a Concierge service that  helps parents pre-order items  like diapers and special diet foods and getting them delivered  directly to  the hotel  especially if they are  too heavy  or bulky to transport on flights
  • Designated sensory room or area with swings and rockers in the hotel where travelers on the autism spectrum can relax are good ideas to consider.
  • A vending machine with sundries items such as toothpaste, deodorant, and hand sanitizer in case parents forget to pack an essential item.Offering these items for free is even better!
  • Hotels should have a  social book with pictures and a map of the hotel to familiarize visitors with autism faster especially if the property is large.A printed page with the area’s info for parents detailing convenient places they need to know such as local parks, closest supermarket /drugstore and even the phone of the local pediatrician.
  • Perfect for a Layover- the Frankfurt Sheraton Towers Hotel



Autism Travel Tips for Travel Agents

Autism travel is a growing untapped segment of the travel industry that has yet to be adequately addressed.
By CDC estimates, there are over 2 million kids with autism under 18 in the US alone. Accompanied by a minimum of one caregiver the number of potential autism-related travelers easily jumps to 4 million, and that does not take into account additional family members or adults with autism.

So, it should come as no surprise travel agents are becoming increasingly interested in obtaining more information to understand the needs of travelers with autism better.Since there is no difference between planning a vacation for a family whose child has autism and a family with a neurotypical child except for specific accommodations, I thought that creating a list of starter tips would be helpful for many agents.

Autism Travel Tips for Travel Agents sign

Photo credit Balycon charts

Airline travel

  • Arrange for pre-boarding and for bulk or aisle seating if your client has involuntary movements such as stimming.
  • Seat your traveler away from galleys and lavatories if he /she are smell or noise sensitive.
  • Notify the airline in advance if there are any food allergies or special diets.
  • Avoid booking long layovers or multiple connections.


  • Arrange for pre-boarding
  • Book a mid ship cabin away from noise venues and elevators if your traveler is sound or motion sensitive.
  • Do not book balcony cabins or cabins next to exits if the child tends to wander off.
  • Ask if the child is verbal or communicates through sign language or electronic device as that will impact any kids’ club experience.
  • Notify the cruise line in advance of pertinent food allergies and special diets and if special food needs to be brought on board by parents.
  • Arrange for a separate more secluded dining table if the child is noise sensitive.


  • Check with hotel officials about booking a room away from exits as well as the possibility of providing extra locks on room door if the child has a tendency to wander off.
  • Ask for quiet rooms on higher floors away from vending machines, elevators, parking lots, swimming pools, golf courses and beachfront if your traveler is noise sensitive.
  • Ask to book a room with no sliding doors and mirrors if your client has spatial coordination issues.
  • Notify the hotel of any specific allergies to fabrics or products your traveler has.
  • Ask if the client needs help delivering any particular foods or medical equipment to the hotel room

Day tours

  • Ask the parent about the child’s energy capacity and ability to tolerate full day versus half day trips.
  • Know whether the child is temperature sensitive and how well he or she can tolerate outdoor activities like walking tours.
  • Clarify any fears or anxieties the child might have of animals or crowds that might interfere with some itineraries.
  • Know ahead of time whether the traveler is noise or light sensitive since that can impact attending firework shows.
  • Notify tour operators of any food allergies or special diets required.


  • Ask whether the family needs special transportation to and from airports, ports or rail stations.
  • Provide the travelers with a 24-hour line or email to contact you if anything goes wrong.

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