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Tips for travelling when you're on the autism spectrum

BY Lydia Wilkins

19th Feb 2019 Travel

Tips for travelling when you're on the autism spectrum

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is defined as by the NHS as a lifelong condition affecting how people communicate and interact with others, which can make travelling more complicated—what should you keep in mind?

Before the journey: 

Plan your journey in advance 

Planning a journey can be overwhelming given the multitude of what needs to be done—packing, booking a hotel, booking transport, and more. To prepare, it could be prudent to write a strategy for the day, outlining what you have to do and when; the time of arrival at the airport, when to go through security and when to go to the boarding gate. Personally, I find the changes in the norm to be difficult sometimes and planning the journey gives me a sense of routine. 



Use resources from Airports

Airports have started to make reasonable adjustments for people who are considered to have an invisible disability; these resources offer an extra layer of support. For instance, Stansted Airport offers a lanyard, in order to indicate to staff you have an invisible disability there is also the Special Flyer Autism Awareness Scheme for children on the spectrum. This scheme comes with a wristband, as well as a way around busy environments. 

Gatwick Airport has a specially designed visual guide for travelling through the airport, as well as a lanyard. There’s also a sensory room, which must be booked in advance. 

Luton also has secluded areas, in addition to a similar lanyard scheme. 


For the journey: 

Have aides with you

There are a variety of aides on offer that can help when travelling in new environments, as well as dealing with new stimuli. For instance, an Autism Alert Card can explain succinctly what Autism is, to someone not on spectrum; that way, they can help you if needed. (The Curly Hair Project sells them here.)

Fiddle pencils or fidget dice could also work as a distraction during a flight takeoff, in order to deal with/prevent meltdowns. Fidget Spinners can also be bought cheaply from places such as Amazon which can perform the same function. 


Be aware of sensory sensitivity

The NHS website notes that “Autistic people may be under or over sensitive to certain sounds, lights, colours and other things, known as sensory sensitivity.” The National Autistic Society elaborates, “For example, they may find certain background sounds, which other people ignore or block out, unbearably loud or distracting.” This should be taken into consideration while travelling; airports and train stations can be noisy places especially when busy which could lead to what is sometimes deemed a “meltdown” within the Autistic community and in anecdotal literature. 

Look for secluded areas, and consider using headphones when going into noisy environments. Noise cancelling headphones work well. 



And if you’re not on the Autistic spectrum: 

Patience is everything

Snapping, shouting, sarcasm, or just general impatience is not going to help a situation, particularly if an Autistic person is stimming or experiencing a meltdown. If you see either of these happening, try to be patient, and do not point and laugh. 


Be direct and clear in communication 

Communication difficulty is one of the key hallmarks of Autism Spectrum Disorder; communicating clearly and calmly can really help while travelling. Use a calm voice, and ask simple, to-the-point questions. 


According to the National Autistic Society, a person on the Autistic Spectrum experiences difficulty when interpreting both verbal and non verbal language; they can also sometimes be literal. Try to keep your language free of expressions such as “It’s raining cats and dogs” or “Pull your socks up”.


Lydia Wilkins writes the blog where she documents what life is like on the Autistic spectrum, along with reviews of books and interviews. This article details the author’s personal experiences with and opinions about Autism. The author is not a healthcare provider.


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