Travelling tips with a toddler and avoiding sensory meltdowns

Travelling tips with a toddler and avoiding sensory meltdowns

Travelling can be a daunting experience for any parent, but when your toddler displays early signs of autism, the journey can present unique challenges—especially when considering the possibility of sensory meltdowns. As a parent navigating this journey, we want to share strategies that can help make your trip smoother and more enjoyable for both you and your child.

 

1. Familiarise Your Child with Travel Plans:

Kids with autism often thrive on routine and predictability. Gradually introduce your child to the concept of travelling by using storybooks, social stories, or visual schedules. Talk about the stages of the journey, from leaving the house to arriving at your destination. If you can, start 4-5 months before your trip.

 

2. Pack a Sensory Kit

Prepare a sensory kit with items that can help soothe and distract your child. This might include noise-canceling headphones, weighted blankets, favorite toys, or fidget toys. Familiar objects can provide comfort in new environments.

 

3. Practice Runs

Consider doing a practice run, or several, if possible. A short trip by car, a visit to the local train station, or even a pretend boarding process at home can desensitize your child to their travel experience.

 

4. Choose Accommodations Wisely

When selecting accommodation, consider a place that's low on sensory stimuli. Look for quiet rooms, the availability of blackout curtains, and the option to control room temperature as these can make a significant difference in comfort levels for a sensory-sensitive child. If travelling by public transport, choose accommodation that’s close to the mode of public transport that you’ll be taking. We booked accommodation next to a train station whilst in Japan which made getting around so much easier.

 

5. Maintain a Routine

Try to keep to a routine as much as possible. If your child usually has meals, naps, or bedtime at certain times, do your best to stick to these schedules to provide a sense of normalcy. We brought our bed time books and bed time toys along. This helped alot during the different hotels we travelled to over 3 weeks in Japan.

 

6. Appointments and Boarding

If flying, call the airline ahead of time to ask about priority boarding or any special accommodations that can lessen the stress of airport chaos. Many airports also offer programs that familiarise children with autism with the airport and flying process. I recently travelled with Jetstar, and boarding staff were so accommodating (despite recent negative media about disability accomodations) and helped us board first.

 

7. Communication Tools

If your child is non-verbal or struggles with communication, consider tools that can assist them in conveying their needs. Picture exchange systems or communication apps can be useful here.

 

8. Identify quiet zones

Have a plan for finding a quiet space where your child can retreat to if they become overwhelmed. This could be a family restroom, a corner of the departure lounge, or back to the car if available.

 

9. Snacks and Hydration

Hunger or dehydration can quickly escalate into a meltdown. Pack snacks and drinks that your child prefers and can tolerate well. This is particularly important if your child has specific dietary needs.

 

10. Be Prepared for Flexibility

Despite all planning, things will not always go as planned. Being mentally prepared for changes and having a flexible attitude can help you cope better with unexpected situations.

 

Traveling with a toddler suspected of being on the autism spectrum requires extra planning and patience, but it's absolutely possible to have a successful journey. Remember, every child is different, and what works for one may not work for another. Consider these strategies as starting points to find what best suits your child's unique needs. Stay positive, and don't hesitate to reach out for support from communities or professionals who understand what you're going through. Bon voyage!

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