One in 68 children, more than 3.5 million Americans have some form of autism and travel agents need to get the word out about a number of companies that have developed programs to enhance travel experiences for families with children on the autism spectrum. Autism Speaks has a page on their website dedicated to traveling with autism with some great resources and tips. Autistic kids seem to do best with structure and routine, and a vacation – by definition – is a break from that. Experts say that preparation and practice is the key to a successful family trip. Another key is to partner with travel companies who care and want to help.
“Blue Horizons for Autism”, developed by Autism Speaks with their airline partner JetBlue, was designed to prepare families for a practice airport experience where they can check in, wait at the gate, board a plane, and taxi around the runway. This program allows families to practice flying and gauge their child’s reactions and ability to cope without the risk and cost of a missed flight. I understand ARC runs a similar program with the TSA, Called Wings for Autism.
There’s a number of companies that are there to help: TSA has a special helpline, TSA Cares. Delta has a Disabilities Assistance Line, and American Airlines offers accommodations for autistic passengers including seating assignments, assistance boarding and deplaning and making connections. Here’s some guidance on global airlines that have autism programs.
A number of cruise lines offer autism-friendly programs with sensory-related toys, autism-friendly youth activities, priority boardings, and special dietary offerings. Through a partnership with the travel agency, Autism on the Seas, special cruises are scheduled each year with Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Disney, and Celebrity cruise lines.
Walt Disney World has a great resource guide providing trip planning strategies, tips on transportation and getting around, locations in the parks where families can take breaks, and where to find meals meeting any special dietary needs. They even created a document “WDW Resort Attraction Details” which lists details such as how long a ride might take and the type of special effects (smell, lights, noise, darkness, etc.). A large number of other major parks have similar programs — check out this great article by JACKIE PERRIN on autism-friendly amusement parks.
If I can help your family with travel, let me know. I can help you find short, direct flights. Let’s book adjoining or connecting hotel rooms for older children or adult children with autism. Let’s find a condo-style hotel where you can create a retreat where the family can regroup before venturing out. Let’s tailor the vacation to your child’s interests – are they fascinated with trains, trucks, ducks, dinosaurs? Let’s work together to figure out what will keep your child motivated to try new experiences.