Five Tips For Successful Travel with Autism in Asia

Five Tips For Successful Travel with Autism in Asia pin

For people born and raised in western countries, exploring Asia is an adventure worth experiencing at least once. However, people challenged with autism might feel it is also an assault on their sensory system when it comes to different smells, flavors, sounds and sights. To make sure your child with autism feels comfortable while traveling to Asia, here are a few tips to follow:


The minute we landed in Hong Kong, our son started complaining about the smell and how it bothered him. At first, we dismissed him thinking that he was probably tired, jet-lagged, and on a sensory overload but the feeling persisted well into the week. We later figured out that the issue was that he was reacting to the scents of the spices used in the Cantonese cuisine as well as the incense used in temples.

Five Tips For Successful Travel with Autism in Asia market

Autism Travel Tips:

  • The best way to help your kid cope is to start exposing him to spices and different smells by visiting local ethnic neighborhoods and sampling foods before you embark on your Asia travels. The continuous exposure and desensitization will help your kid get accustomed to the smells, and their adverse reaction will lessen with time.

Tastes and Textures

Most foods in Asia are usually more salty, spicy or in some cases sweeter than in the United States. Textures are also different since the diet of locals may include spices your kid has not yet encountered. What we found useful in Japan compared to other Asian countries, was the fact they had plastic displays of the dishes in almost every restaurant we went to so you could sort of figure out what it was was you were ordering.

Five Tips For Successful Travel with Autism in Asia dessert

Luckily for us, our kid is open to trying most items at least once. He ended up sampling most local delicacies, including insects and animal internal organs, that most people probably wouldn’t consider touching. He did develop a small addiction to jelly donuts and jelly desserts served at the tea ceremonies.

Autism Travel Tips:

  • If you are traveling with several family members, order several items on the menu and see which one appeals to your kid the most since in most places you can’t send the food back if your child dislikes it.

Close proximity to people

One cannot escape proximity to people in a densely populated area like Hong Kong, China, or Japan when using any form of public transportation or when visiting local markets. Markets are not for the faint of heart, with live animals caged and even killed in front of you. If you are traveling with younger kids, the scenes may be quite disturbing as your child may see animals that are regarded in the United States, as house pets, such as rabbits and guinea pigs, sold or cut open in plain sight.

Five Tips For Successful Travel with Autism in Asia chickens

Whether you are using the old ferries, tram, trains or even the ultra-modern subway, the space allocated per capita is minimal, and passengers are used to leaning against and breathing on each other. This can be especially unpleasant on hot and humid days. As if waiting in line for any extended period isn’t hard enough for people with autism, imagine an avalanche of individuals moving hastily at the same time towards the entrance or exit of a ferry boat, ready to trample anyone or anything in their way.

We learned pretty early on in our Asia travels that we couldn’t rely on any accommodations for special needs as in many places locals didn’t speak English.

Five Tips For Successful Travel with Autism in Asia fruit

Autism Travel Tips:

  • Travel off-peak hours. Select the furthest cabin on subways and stay as close to the exit door as possible, ready to dart out fast. Avoid rush hour when traveling and spring for first class tickets on trains if possible.
  • For market shopping, try to arrive when they first open so you escape the crowds and when the smells are less pungent.

The noise

Five Tips For Successful Travel with Autism in Asia tree

Crowded cities are noisier by definition, but it goes a bit beyond that when it comes to some countries in which the locals speak loudly and may sound like they are screaming at each other. Markets, busy streets and public transportation venues including subway stations are the most common place for this sort of thing, but there may be other unforeseen places where this might happen too.

Autism Travel Tips:

  • Pack a pair of headphones or ear plugs if your son or daughter is noise sensitive


Five Tips For Successful Travel

Don’t take the availability of a western commode for granted. Places like China and Japan still have traditional squatting toilets that your kid may have never seen. Some toilets in Japan are plugged in and make certain sounds disguising the user sounds that may stress out your child. Our son with autism refused to use them at first. He insisted we unplug the toilet each time in the hotel rooms in Japan before he used them, as he was scared of the noises and the fact that they were connected to electricity. The worst were the old fashioned squat toilets in public places like attractions and trains. He can’t squat and kept toppling over and sitting on the floor. The toilet situation got so bad he threatened to take Imodium for the duration of the trip so he wouldn’t have to go potty.

Autism Travel Tips:

  • If you book day trips, ask the tour operators if western toilets are available or head on to the nearest western chain hotel’s lobby if you need to use a bathroom.

Using some planning and tips, travelers with autism can successfully visit countries and Asia.


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