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Travelling Abroad with People with Autism

Travelling abroad can be a stressful experience for anyone but, for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and their families, it can easily seem like an impossible option. In this, the first of a two-part guide to travelling abroad with people who have ASD, we look at how you can help to prepare someone with autism for the trip.

Winston at El Jim Colosseum in Tunisia

Winston visiting the El Jim Colosseum in Tunisia August 2019

Including your autistic family member in the early stages of planning travel abroad can help to ease them gently into this disruptive time.  Although the condition manifests differently for each and every person on the spectrum, one of the key characteristics is difficulty with any break in routine: such breaks can lead to challenging behaviour as they struggle to express their emotions and deal with anxiety. These symptoms can often be reduced or negated entirely by simply preparing the person for the change to come. 

Here are some suggestions:

Make sure the person knows about the trip, where it will be and when it is going to happen.

  • winston 2Spend plenty of time helping them to learn about the intended destination. Look at photographs together, either in a brochure or online. 
  • Find as many positive things as possible to share and encourage enthusiasm for the trip.
  • Compile a visual aid: scrapbooks are excellent for this. It will help the autistic person keep in mind where they are going and what it will look like when they arrive.
  • Together, prepare a detailed timetable or itinerary. Take into consideration any obsessive or repetitive behaviours that the autistic person may have.
  • Think carefully about any unusual situations they may have to understand and deal with, such as unavoidable travel delays. Social stories can help them to prepare.
  • Travelling with younger ASD children can be particularly challenging. Worry eaters and relaxation books are two perfect ways to help ASD children prepare for a holiday abroad.
  • Carry any support tactics through to the holiday itself. For example, if you have created a social story about going to a destination, take it with you and regularly review it with the autistic person.
  • Be vigilant and spot meltdowns before they occur, diffuse the situation by identifying safe spaces to calm down and explain that it is perfectly ok to be angry and frustrated.      
  • Provide stimulus to distract them when time delays are expected, such as airport transfers and travel to and from excursions. Pack playing cards and colouring books in all of your travel bags and download suitable apps prior to leaving home.
  • Prepare them for sensory overload on their return home, ensure you book an extra day or two to relax and help stabilise emotions as you talk through your holiday together.
  • Consider purchasing a Sensory Hug from Jobskin before you travel. Proven to reduce overactivity and abnormal behaviour patterns, this Sensory Dynamic Orthosis (SDO) garment can be worn beneath everyday clothes while travelling, providing constant pressure therapy while allowing a full range of movement.

Check out all the features of the innovative Sensory Hug on the website and subscribe to our newsletter for the second part of this blog feature.