Flying can be a stressful experience filled with lots of complicating factors. Families with autism will likely run into problems adjusting to the often confusing, overstimulating environment of an airplane. Not to mention that most airlines do not have the ability to provide every accommodation, so parents are often on their own. The following is a list of the top ten most frequently asked questions from parents traveling with their children with autism that we get at Autistic Globetrotting, with answers that should hopefully make your next trip with your kid much easier.
1. My son won’t keep his shoes on during flights. What can we do?
Take his shoes off when you first board the plane and place them under the seat in front of you. You could also bring a special bag to put them inside of, and then store them in the overhead bin. If you take them off when you first board you can prevent him from taking them off and throwing them or possibly having a tantrum because he cannot get them off easily in the cramped quarters.
2. My son loves buttons. I’m afraid he’ll continually press the buttons on the airplane. Is there any way to mitigate this?
Explain this to the flight attendant when you first board the plane. Also bring a small toy that has a lot of buttons. A familiar or fidget based toy should distract him before he becomes inquisitive about the ones next to him. There are many fidget toys you can find on places like Amazon, so it shouldn’t be difficult to find something that will keep your son focused.
3. My daughter is a picky eater and hates airplane food. How should we make sure she’s not hungry?
Bring her favorite snacks on the plane. I highly suggest feeding her before you board, maybe even before you get to the airport if you know there won’t be anything she likes in the terminal.
4. My child gets frequent stomachaches/headaches; should I pack meds or do they have them on board?
They cannot dispense medications on the plane. It would be wise to bring your own OTC medications before you board, or ask your doctor about taking them prophylactically before boarding.
5. I’m always reluctant to ask for pre-boarding as others might judge me or make nasty comments. Is this something I should worry about?
You should, by all means, ask for preboarding. Since you will be among the first to board, you likely would not hear any rude or ignorant comments anyway. Furthermore, many disabilities are invisible in nature: diabetes, seizure disorders, heart failure, and others. It would be only out of pure ignorance that someone would judge you for looking out for your child’s special needs.
6. My teen stims and keeps kicking the seat in front. In one instance someone almost hit him. How can we prevent this from happening?
Ask for a bulkhead or aisle seat and insist on one if possible. Should you not get the seat you requested, carry autism information cards with you to inform your seat neighbors. If your child truly makes the flight unpleasant for the person in front, you could offer to buy them a cocktail or internet service while in flight, with a sincere apology. Kindness goes a long way!
7. My toddler is scared of loud noises. Where should we sit on the plane?
First of all, bring noise canceling headsets if possible. Second, the front of the plane is the least noisy. Avoid sitting right over the landing gear or in the far back at all costs.
8. My son needs a lot of personal space. What do I do?
Unless you can afford to fly in first class, your options are rather limited. Bulkhead seats do provide a bit more room, so we would recommend booking those. You can also have your child sit in an aisle seat for more legroom, but make sure that they don’t accidentally trip people walking through the aisles.
9. My kid always spills his food on himself and around us. How can I prevent it?
There is no way to cure clumsiness, but you can practice at home by playing “the plane game” before you leave and by modeling safer ways to move cups and liquids. You can also pack a small, plastic Dollar Tree table cloth and use that over your lap and theirs. Should something get spilled, you can toss it or ask the flight attendant to dispose of it. Also, alert the flight attendant of your child’s tendency and ask them to fill their drink low. Keep the can or bottle on your tray table, not theirs, between refills.
10. My fear is sitting on the tarmac when the plane gets warm, as my son is heat intolerant. How do I help my child stay comfortable?
If you know you will be traveling during hot weather, pack some wet wipes or moist towelettes. You could also pack an empty baggy and right before boarding you could stop at a restaurant in the airport and ask for some ice cubes to place in the baggy. The baggy can be used as a cool compress or your child might find it soothing to suck on ice cubes. Also pack a small, hand-held, battery operated fan to help keep cool.
We hope these answers helped you and your family feel a bit more at ease about your next flight. If you have any questions that weren’t covered here, we would be happy to answer them personally or on our Facebook page. Even if you have a small incident, don’t let it deter you from traveling. We wish you safe and happy travels!