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traveling with a child with autism

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traveling with a child with autism

I have a 19-year-old son with autism, and have traveled extensively with him as well as his (normally developed) older brother. I have been through this, and would be happy to help with suggestions, if anyone is interested.

West Grey, Ontario
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for Toronto
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1. Re: traveling with a child with autism

Hi cami612;

It’s great that you are willing to share your experience with the other users of the forum.

Welcome !

Best Regards

Stoke on Trent
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2. Re: traveling with a child with autism


My nephew is 15 and severely autistic, my brother has been debating wether or not to take him abroad for the first time but we are unsure of how he would act on an airplane.

Did you have the same reservations? How did you deal with this issue?

Thanks for any help or advice you can give


Edited: 14 May 2012, 19:29
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3. Re: traveling with a child with autism

I would also like tips on flying. My son is 5 and doesn't understand sitting still or being quiet. He has meltdowns and I'm really nervous of him having one on the plane. Did you get sedation for him?

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4. Re: traveling with a child with autism

My son is 19 now. He still has meltdowns from time to time. My advice for younger kids is to provide enough distraction (whatever works, food, books, games, etc.) It also helps to tell the people around you what the situation is. I have found that most people are very understanding when they realize you are not a bad parent with a misbehaving child. And you will have to remind your child not to kick the seat in front of him!

I worked my son up to transatlantic travel by starting with Mc Donalds. We started with fast food, then with chain restaurants with menus you can color on, working our way up until we got to the Four Seasons.

As for the plane ride to Europe, I hope this doesn't make me sound like a bad mother, but Tylenol PM (tylenol and benadryl) worked great for allowing both boys to sleep on the plane. I will caution you that some children have a paradoxical reaction to benadryl and become agitated, at least that's what the literature says.

I would also recommend getting out early, seeing the sights, having lunch out, and getting back to your hotel or villa for a swim or other decompression time. Then dinner and early to bed.

The best advice I can give is give your boys enough varied experiences at home that an airplane will not seem so strange. We were lucky because my inlaws live 3000 miles away and we have been flying since both boys were infants. Also, depending on how impaired the child is, or his age, you might consider creating a picture book (using photos) explaining the process of baggage check, gate check-in, security, boarding, etc. so it is all familiar.

The TSA can be a problem. My son has been pulled out of line for for a full check. Some agents are kind-- others have looked at my son and required him to re-sign his passport, as his signature is childish, and he looks like a grown man. And my sons are biracial, so look like they could be anything, so get flagged all the time. Telling the TSA that your child is autistic does not always help. On the other hand, once European security realizes that you are a mother with children, you will be fine.

I realized early on that I would resent my son if I never got to go anywhere again. We are on vacation in North Carolina right now, and my son had a meltdown in front of the neighbors. So I will go over there later and explain, and he will apologize for being rude. It doesn't end, but trust me, it gets so much better.

Cleveland, Ohio
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5. Re: traveling with a child with autism

I, too, would like to encourage parents of special needs children to travel with them, making allowances for their situation.

Every family is different and what works for mine may not work for yours, but it is easy to imagine the worst and never experience the best.

I've cataloged the trips I've taken with my disabled son:


Hopefully, there are ideas there that could help others.

U.S. expats
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for Windsor, London, Dry Tortugas National Park
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6. Re: traveling with a child with autism

I was pleased to see that certain attractions in London are now providing detailed information for their autistic visitors.

Tower of London


(scroll down, and look for the pdf document on the lower right of the page)

Hampton Court Palace


(again, lower right)

Buckingham Palace and Windsor have links as well, with great detail as to what to expect at every juncture.

Saratoga Springs...
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7. Re: traveling with a child with autism

Wonderful help, thank you! We have not made the international jump with my mildly autistic 4 year old, but some day we will and all the tips I can get then the better! :)

8. Re: traveling with a child with autism

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