UPDATE: 3/30/18

If you are traveling with a person with special needs, call TSA Cares. Dial 855-787-2227 three days before your departure. They will arrange a stress-free security check for you.

My friend Vi and her son Fa have traveled many times between mainland USA and Puerto Rico – for fun, for medical reasons, emergency, etc.

Fa is a marvelous boy, 9 yrs old, semi-verbal and very committed to continue the routine on his day to day. He can also be more than willing to respond to changes with the appropriate motivation…

Mom Vi has become my leading example because she’s developed tough skin and decided to make things happen regardless of the challenges autism presents in their life.

Below find a most useful list of suggestions offered by Vi thanks to Fa… A reminder — Not all  are applicable to everyone’s needs.

Many around us do not realize this is what we must do to make things happen. It is work. It can be draining. Hard work, asking questions and accepting what the needs and challenges are will make it a success.

1. Contact your airline as soon as you purchase tickets — particularly if your child/teen/adult is non-verbal

– inquire about accommodations, early boarding, preferred seating – you must disclose the specific needs and be ready to understand not every need will be accommodated

– ask if they offer a pre-boarding experience

– based on your needs, research online – many videos available

2.  Waiting time, flight, noises – can be challenging – prepare for it (food, trinkets, identify quiet area/space)

3. Stressful situation – airport dynamics and TSA — kid carries goods, kid must go thru security clearance process and will need to wait to access the comfort toy/tablet (social story can help)

4. Social story is important — waiting time, tickets, suitcases, TSA – take off shoes, etc.

5. Waiting at the gate — contact the airport and/or airline – they may have play area

6. Electronics – if no Internet available in the plane – apps will only be available and may need to do social story to explain why there is no Internet access

7. Take night flights —  may be advantageous in some cases

8.  Protect ears – noise restrictive, noise controlling, noise cancelling

– ear pressure – cannot carry liquids, have candy and/or gum available

9. If comfortable with the label — wear a shirt or pin identifying your child’s diagnosis (colorful)

10. Let the counter know, let the air hostesses know about your child’s diagnosis – what works, what doesn’t

11. If your child does not want to wear a seat belt, cannot handle tightness around the body — social stories prior to traveling are a priority or talk to your doctor to find alternatives or begin practicing at home wearing a harness type contraption

12.   Do not  give tablet/electronics prior to departing – they can’t be used until after departure  (social story could help with this process)

13. Jet Blue experiences have been excellent. They know their stuff, obvious they’ve been well trained.

American Airlines – not as receptive, welcoming – need more training

TSA personnel – some very receptive, others not at all particularly with restrictive nutrition needs of the passenger (suggestion to get letter from a doctor explaining restrictions and why carrying food from home is needed – find a sample below!)
–  label your suitcase – special diet, child with autism, dietary restrictions, allergies

– Remember:  no liquids in carry on

14. Any child – new toys, trinkets, coloring – seeking curiosity, quiet time – you know your child, get what may work with your kid

– Hide the favorite toy 2-3 wks before the trip — bring it and give it on the plane

15. Headphones (NOISE CANCELLING) – to cover the whole ear and will not disrupt those around you if listening to music, playing games

16. Sensory issues – safety/weighted blanket; chewies, spinners – you know what your kid likes that may help (keep it as a surprise, while waiting for departure or for the plane)

17. In case of a major meltdown while waiting, going thru security, in the plane – prioritize your child/teen/adult – You CANNOT be concerned with other people’s reactions, disapproval. You know what you need to do. Accept help if offered. Keep your loved one safe.

18. Safety issues — world we live in — locate a spot in the airport where you can hide with your kid and feel safe — in case of a very dangerous situation.

Reality is many parents will have to drag their kid/teen/adult to get there — but you plan for this and avoid increased anxiety or worsened behavior crisis or exposure to real danger.

19. You know your child/teen/adult — preparing for the trip is your responsibility, everything else, positive, shall happen thanks to the hard work from many before us…

Parents… any event, circumstance or happening we must face, its success depends on our efforts.

Technology facilitates making plans. Bottom line, final result depends on your willingness to face reality and make it happen and being patient and resilient and acknowledge, you and countless others face the same.
Enjoy planning. Enjoy traveling.
NOTE:  The Ambassador of Autism Tourism will put in practice some of these suggestions. She’ll report as it happens!
 Real life advice – TRIP ADVISOR