Travelling with Autistic Family Members

Summer is often the time when most families travel and take their holidays to relax and get away from work. Travelling can be an escape from your daily routine or a daunting experience whenever your partner or your children are on the Autism Spectrum, but from my experience, I can tell you there are ways to make it easier.

A study from I.B.C.C.E.S. where 1,000 parents with a child on the Spectrum were surveyed, found that only 13% of respondents take vacations as a family. This leaves 87% of families without a holiday, without taking time off to decompress and without properly enjoying the summer holiday.

Travelling with a visible or invisible disorder has come a long way since just a few decades ago. The travel industry has become more aware and often offer facilities for families with children on the Spectrum.

What are a few of the things you should know and that will make your life easier, whenever you are travelling with an adult partner on the Spectrum or with Autistic children? Keep reading and if you have tips from your own experience and please share them in the comments!


If you are travelling with an “Aspie” partner

I’ve written a small blog post where I am sharing from a wife’s experience of flying with her “Aspie” husband. It has a bit of humor in it, but if it works, it works!

Other things you can do to ease the travelling experience for your ASD partner:

  • Attend “Mock boarding” experiences

If you have to fly out of the country, certain airports are providing “mock boarding” experiences, which offers a trial run of what it is like to buy tickets, go through security, and buckling up on a plane that never takes off. Washington Dulles International Airport, as well as Atlanta, Boston, Bridgeport, Manchester, Philadelphia, and Newark have offered this special program.  

  • Ask for help from TSA

TSA also provides a hotline – TSA Cares (1-855) 787-2227. Call 72 hours before your flight to let them know that you require assistance.

  • Ask for early boarding from your Airline

You can ask your airline to assist and, in some cases, it might be free, depending on the airline and available resources. Be sure to see if you can get early boarding and priority boarding as well, so you’ll be the first in the plane.

  • Your hotel may help you too

While booking, it might worth it to call your hotel and ask where the quieter rooms are, away from all the foot traffic or facing the pool area.

  • Work with a travel agent

Travel agents are known to be on the more expensive side, however some are not charging you. They are being paid a commission fee by hotels who want their business. 

Agencies specialize in assisting and working with people on the Spectrum or disabled, so they can take care of organizing every aspect of the trip for you, including booking your tickets, tours and restaurants. If you want a smooth trip and a comfortable stay, they might be your best choice.


If you are travelling with children on the Spectrum

  • Prepare the field ahead of time

Show your children videos and photos from the places you will visit before you start travelling. Give them time to accommodate and be sure to discuss what you will visit and what they can expect while being there. These preparations will enable your children to enjoy adventures as challenging as exploring the caves in Mexico! I found this article in the New York Times that follows the story of a travelling mom and her experience. It’s worth a read to help you get a few tips.

  • Visit accommodating museums

Some museums around the globe are actively taking steps to improve their experience and be more inclusive to accommodate visitors with disabilities. 

For example, Victoria and Albert Museum in London, United Kingdom, has a special branch called “V&A Museum of Childhood”. They have created a “Making SENse Family Pack” which includes a backpack you can borrow for free. It includes maps, activity suggestions and toys to play with. The museum can also provide ear defenders and if you check their website, they provide all the information you might need to know ahead of time for a family visit (details about cafés, toilets, ways to avoid the shops if necessary, which times are quietest and where can you find a quiet room).

In the United States, the Smithsonian runs “Morning at the Museum” events. The program offers early entry to those on the Spectrum, which means the lights are dimmed in certain areas and the volume is turned down. Usually, the buildings are quieter and less crowded. You can also avoid queuing, which is a painful point of a holiday. The museum has included sensory maps and tips. Quiet spaces are also available.

These are just two examples. Be sure to do your research in the city where you plan to spend your holiday and you might be pleasantly surprised! You can find more tips on Autism in Museums.

  • Stick to the schedule and set the rules

Stick to a similar eating and sleeping schedule that your child is comfortable with. It might require additional planning on your behalf, but your effort will be worthwhile. For example, bring snacks if your children cannot get their meal at their usual time.

Explain to your child the rules before you leave! This way they will understand what is expected of them and it will be easier for them to follow. 

  • Flying out of the country

Ideally, you would pick a short flight of an hour or so, but this is not always possible. Visiting the airport ahead of time with your child would help him/her get familiarized with the surroundings and what to expect. Be sure to explain what the steps are to go through and what will happen (for example, the security check and the passport control).

Check to see if you can board early or buy priority boarding for your family. Packing a carry-on bag with anything you might need is also a good idea. It can include headphones, toys and documentation of your child’s diagnosis.

I’ve also written extensively about parenting in my book “Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome.” I’ve filmed a video to tell you more about it below: 

One Reply to “Travelling with Autistic Family Members”

  1. Have only realised my husband has Aspergers in past few years, ( married 42 years) and while he has frequent meltdowns and can be a grouchy surly grump it was much scarier, embarrassing and sometimes dangerous when travelling , him at the wheel in traffic or us visiting people. He doesn’t care what any one thinks , he is in the right and it’s always someone else’s fault- often mine- he has the emotional behaviour of a 5th grader. SO while I yearn to travel overseas ( I’m Australian) I cannot risk taking him. Imagine him stomping down a street in the US or UK looking menacing, he’d get himself arrested or worse– so I either take my AS adult son or go alone. Not what I dreamed of .

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