First, keep in mind that this is all based off of my experience with my son. He is moderate to severe. Emotionally he is around 2 or 3 while his physical age is 7. Everyone has different experiences, but I am hoping that mine can help yours. Happy Reading!

Flying with Autism

Flying is a stressful event. Period. Whether or not you have young children with disabilities or even children at all. The waiting times, the squished seats, getting through the airport. I wouldn’t say its something that most people enjoy any more. Add to that the joy and unpredictability of young kids, you’ve got a grey-hair inducing event.

If you can, obviously, I would prefer to avoid flying, but with some people that isn’t as viable as an option. For us, it is not. We live East of the Mississippi, and our relatives all live west. The drive would be 24 hours of just driving time. We like to see our family and try to plan a trip out once a year. We have over the course of time, fine tuned our flying routines, and I am here to tell you about what we have learned.

First and foremost, know your rights. Assert yourself. Tell people what you need. Not a lot of people are familiar with Autism and if they are, their experience may totally differ from yours.

Flying is not protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. But it is covered under the ACCA, which is the air carrier access act. You can familiarize yourself with the exact details of this law by going to transportation.gov

While autism is not specifically mentioned in the law, autism is a registered disability and therefore legally they must comply.

How does this help you _ That is up to you to let them know. You can call ahead of time after booking your flight to let the airline know of any accommodations you might need.

The ones that we have been able to utilize that have really helped us with our air travel are ‘ the security line. You are able to bypass this if your child has trouble with waiting in the line or being in the large crowd. Preboarding, you are entitled to extra time with boarding to help your child get oriented and board the plane without the extra crowds and stress. Seating assignments. This is not one that is covered by the ACCA but it is one that I have been able to get the airlines to comply with. The seats are so cramped and for my son that has been a problem for two reasons. 1. There was not a lot of room for his legs when we still brought his car seat with us on board’ this was up until about a year ago. He is now 7. He would kick the seat in front of him incessantly and I was not able to control this. 2. It was hard for him in that confined space. The airlines, Delta especially, were great about bumping us up to bulkhead or comfort plus. You do need to call ahead of your flight enough that these seats are still available. In other scenarios, they were able to put us in the back row and then bump us back to the row behind that is typically blacked out.

You will sometimes get rude people, but for the most part, if you are respectful and you keep your tone pleasant and even and explain your situation, they will match it.

In addition to the ACCA act, the things that we have done to help us in our air travels are, bringing the car seat on the plane. I bought a rack, which is linked, to attach the car seat to. I checked the stroller and chose to use this to bring him through the airport. Staying in his car seat, helped reduce meltdowns. Avoiding removing him from one place to another. He was familiar with his car seat. It was a safe place and it helped him to adjust better to his plane ride. In addition, it kept him buckled and in one spot. There was no way, up until last year, that he would have stayed in the airplane seat buckle.

I always bring a backpack for each kid. My daughter, carries her own and I carry my sons stuff in my backpack. I download his current hyper focus videos and movies on a device and bring his headphones and have him watch. I spring for the WIFI on board so he can continue with his YouTube. I used to bring his blanket and a stuffed animal as well so he felt more familiar with his surroundings. For a great travel backpack, click here. I bring an assortment of snacks and toys that we don’t let him have at home usually. Favorites. We bring mini bubbles sometimes. The ones that you see at weddings. I get them at party city. I bring stickers. I used to try melatonin, but he was always too over stimulated for it to do anything. But it{s worth a try I would say. Also, Tylenol, Benadryl, and suckers for their ears. Once it took us over 40 minutes to land and it was not a great experience.

Even with all of this, our flying experiences are far from perfect. These however help us to get through it.

People are usually so kind and so willing to help. With luggage, helping me get my son in and out, etc. Flight attendants are usually quite sympathetic as well.

We alwyas wear our Autism clothes when we travel. Autism awareness shirts or something that has autism on it. This helps the casual observer to realize that your child has autism and withhold judgement. We often wear these other places as well. As my son has gotten older, I think his autism is more obvious, so we don’t wear them as much, but I always still do at the airport.

Because I typically fly without my husband, I always have the person we are meeting just pay the parking fee and come in and meet us at the baggage claim. People don’t always know that you need this, so once again, be clear in what your needs are.

Lastly, always bring a small duffel with a days worth of clothes, white noise machine, pajamas, whatever your could would need if you had a night without your luggage. It seems like a pain to deal with an extra bag, but oh does it pay off when you need it. Especially if you are connecting anywhere in between. The very first time that that I flew alone with the kids, we had to utilize our bag. Our flight was late coming in and we missed our connecting. We had to stay in a hotel by the airport and it would have been even more miserable if I did not have the bag of their stuff. Melatonin, blanket, white noise, pajamas, sleep sack, etc. All the things that he could not sleep without. Even if you have a direct flight. Has your stuff ever been lost for a day or two_ Mine has and it is the worst feeling when you have your kids, especially if you are coming in late at night. Which is usually our case when we have a 5 hour flight cross country.

Flying is different for every child, so adjust and add in what helps you. Feel free to leave comments on your own experiences.