Travelling can be daunting with kids, even at the best of times. When the travel involves a child diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), it can pose some difficulty. Before planning for any kind of travel, it is very important to remember that children who come under the Spectrum thrive on structure and routine. Venturing outside their familiar zone into unpredictability, new noise, crowds and sights can be very overwhelming for them. By little planning and proper organizing, a child diagnosed with ASD can be helped to adjust and can travel with the whole family, if required. Some ways in which you can make the trip less of a discomfort and pleasurable one for the child and the family are:
1. Choosing a destination with your child in mind: Traveling means transition which is not a part of the child’s daily routine. While narrowing down on a destination, it is advisable to keep in mind the activities that your child enjoys. Are there certain setting that reduces the anxiety of the child may be like an open space where the child does not feel crowded. It would be very helpful to have a through understanding of your child stress point and needs before settling down on a destination, especially when planning a vacation or an outing. A child diagnosed with ASD can prefer to be socially withdrawn and sudden new experiences can be distressful resulting in behavioral reactions. Therefore, planning what can be realistically executed and enjoyed is imperative.
2. Prepare for travel with help of visual cues: Like a new skill being taught to the child, preparing your child for travel also can be done with the help of visual cues. If you are planning a vacation, cards with attractive pictures of the place can be utilized. Make sure to explain each card as this way the child would start getting familiar with the place. If planning a family gettogether or a visit to a relative’s place, cards with pictures of people who could be present would help. These cards should preferably be accompanied by verbal explanations. If other multimedia options are also present, they can also be utilized. A tailored scheduled of the travel through visual support can also be of valuable help. For example, marking the day on the calendar when the travel is required and talking about it for few minutes everyday with your child. The goal of this whole process is to make the child as familiar as possible with the upcoming event. Knowing what to expect would significantly reduce your child distress and anxiety.
3. Making arrangements ahead of time: Making as much arrangements as possible ahead of the planned travel is always beneficial. For example, if travelling by air calling the airlines prior and requesting a front row or corner seat where the child is partially exposed to other surrounding stimulus. Few parents feel shy in revealing their child diagnosis mostly because of the still prevalent social stigma related to childhood disorders. Therefore, they are hesitant in going ahead and informing and asking for assistance. Please remind yourself that the more help you can get, the less distressed your child would feel. Ask for special accommodations if they can be provided which would help your child ease into this transition. If you are taking the child to a relative’s place let them know the kind of food that your child likes to eat. If that’s not possible, then carry the food item with you.
4. Packing the right gear: During any kind and duration of travel, your child has to deal with various different sounds, sights, smells and tastes. However much he/she is prepared, still this whole process can be very overwhelming for a child diagnosed with ASD. Therefore, while packing for the trip, make sure to pack things that help your child to calm down when getting anxious. It could be his/her favorite toy or game or a particular smell or headphones to keep the surrounding noise away. It could be as simple as carrying the music or entertainment that your child likes. It is also very important that any of these things are readily accessible for the child as you can never know when the need could arise.
By adding these simple precautionary strategies while planning the trip for your child, you can make the whole experience a positive time for your child. On completion of the trip add a lot of positive reinforcement which would motivate and help your child to take more travel outing with the family.
Written By: -
Isha Singh - Clinical Psychologist
Director - Clinical Services, Ananya Child Development Centre.