Traveling on the Spectrum

With the summer months approaching many families are gearing up for long awaited vacations. For individuals on the autistic spectrum and their families, planning and preparation are key in making the vacation experience a positive one for all involved.

Jordynn and Jocelynn have had the benefit of traveling to various settings by various means of travel.  We have road tripped to Niagara Falls, Cape Cod, and the Smokey Mountains to name a few.  We have also flown domestically to different attractions, as well as internationally. Whether flying or traveling by car, I always pack “goody” bags with special snacks, books, activities, and other things that will help make the girls comfortable.  Eventually the girls were able to packed their own “goody” bags, and now do so with a high level of independence. Because Jordynn has sensitivity to certain sounds and vibrations, I invested in a quality pair of noise-canceling headphones that have proven invaluable during flights. (Side Note: I purchased the headphones through and paid a few extra dollars for a Canopy Protection Plan that covers accidental damage. This warranty plan too has been invaluable as we have had to replace the headphones a several times (Jordynn can be a little hard on electronics at times), but did so with out issue thanks to the plan).


Traveling by air

  • In the weeks leading up to your trip, discuss what will happen on your trip including the travel process in detail: how you’ll get to the airport, waiting in line, going through security, finding your departure gate, getting on the plane, buckling seat-belts, and spending time onboard. I encourage you to find pictures online to further support the discussion.
  • With growing autism awareness, many airlines now provide “mock boarding” experiences for those on the spectrum, Wings for Autism is an example of such a program. These programs allow individuals on the spectrum to practice buying tickets, walking though security lines and strapping themselves into a plane that never leaves the gate in an effort to reduce anxiety associated with an unfamiliar experience.
  • There are seats on board that are blocked for disabled passengers with special needs that may be provided upon request. Be sure to let airline personnel know that you are traveling with someone with special needs to make use of any special accommodations they have available.
  • Long lines can be a challenge. Be sure to arrive well in advance of your departure time when lines are shorter. Request priority boarding once you get to your departure gate to allow your ASD traveling mate extra time to get settled and comfortable.

Traveling by car

We have made some of our best family memories during road trips.  The best tips I can give about taking road trips on the spectrum are expect nothing to be perfect, and welcome the unexpected. In addition to that…

  • Always have a change of clothes on hand; accidents happen.
  • Have things on hand the will help everyone be comfortable. I always pack water, healthy snacks, along with a treat I reserve for special occasions, sensory toys, a pillow, and personal blanket.
  • Everyone has their own headphones and personal audio device as well as updated movie and music selections in the event there are objections to the driver’s music selection. Again, the girls are responsible for putting together a lot of this stuff now.  I just double-check that they have everything they need.
  • Be sure to make time for interactive discussions as well.  We play “I Spy,” have rambling conversations about nothing, and an occasional debate. These are the wellsprings for memories.

About ShaeBrie Dow

Life-long learner, mother, wife, educator. Dedicated to leaving the world a better place than I found it.
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One Response to Traveling on the Spectrum

  1. These are great truths, I add only to be courageous and celebrate your challenges and triumphs often.


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