In today’s travel world, space on aircraft is extremely restricted. Therefore, people on the autism spectrum might find flying more challenging than other modes of transportation. Parents and educators should impart basic etiquette rules so that their children can interact better with their fellow flyers. Here are some situations we’ve dealt with while flying, and how we’ve managed them.
The dilemma of how to divide four armrests between three is hard enough to figure out between adults. However, it is even more difficult to explain to children with autism. These kids often have a different innate sense of appropriate social cues and personal space from a neurotypical person.
To bypass the conundrum, we’ve always tried to choose an aisle or window seat for our children. This way, they can use one complete armrest and get some extra space to lean against comfortably.
Many children with autism like to stim, and seat kicking on airplanes is one of the most common stim methods. Despite our many attempts to curb this behavior, our son tends to shake his legs on flights rhythmically. His leg shaking inevitably disturbs fellow passengers.
Our solution, which we recommend to other families, has been to book bulk seats when possible. When we can’t do this, we reserve two consecutive aisle seats, one in front of the other, so that we can sit front of him.
Many travelers like our son enjoy the onboard entertainment channels. Our son can become so engrossed that he do not remove his headphones at any time during the flight. However, for a child with autism, this can result in speaking excessively loudly and disturbing those who wish to sleep or work quietly.
To prevent this, parents should teach their child to remove their headphones when they need to communicate.
In the past, our son loved hoarding items like newspapers, napkins, and empty glasses around his sitting area. He often created a mess and obscured personal valuables which he later lost.
After years of training and several lost I-Pods our son learned the responsibility of keeping his seating area tidy. For other parents, it is important to teach children always to throw away what isn’t needed and keep an eye on personal belongings.
On many flights, passengers waiting in the aisle for a turn to use the restroom tend to slouch or lean over the seated passengers in the back rows. This situation can especially happen with children with autism due to how they typically understand personal space differently from those who do not have autism.
To help a child avoid an awkward or aggressive situation, parents should suggest they use the bathroom before meals are served and an hour before landing. This way, their child will not be taking up space where people are already traveling and will have plenty of room to lean somewhere other than over other people.
Spills can happen at any time, especially if a child has poor motor skills and is trying to move around in a tight space. Children traveling on a plane for the first time might also not be used to maneuvering in the smaller quarters.
To minimize the chance of spills happening, we’ve taught our son not to ask for the entire can and only order a small glass of beverage each time. We encourage him to drink each glass as soon as possible instead of having it stay in the tray or cup holder for any length of time.
As our son grew older and wanted to help us with the luggage, we faced the challenge of teaching him how to do it safely. He would often misjudge where the luggage was going to land and hit other passengers on the way down.
Instead of him trying hard to “guess-estimate” the distance between the suitcase and fellow passengers’ heads, he now provides a friendly verbal warning to make sure that no one gets hurt when he pulls his bag down from the overhead bin. We highly recommend other families teach their children with autism to do the same.
Have you flown with your special needs child? If so, what etiquette tips have you shared with them?