+ Traveling With an Autistic Child

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An article from CNN.com/travel, by Eileen Ogintz,  gives some tips for traveling with an autistic child.  Everyone knows traveling with children can be stressful and full of sudden surprises, but when the child is on the autism spectrum, the problems are magnified.

The news, recently, of a mother and child ordered to deplane from an American Eagle flight because her 2-year-old was causing problems has brought the subject to public attention.

The situation caused an uproar in the blogosphere.

Airlines suggest (see “Planning Tips” below)  that parents traveling with special needs children alert the airlines ahead of time, to prepare the crew in advance.  Delta Airlines is going a step further: they are developing special travel recommendations for families traveling with a “developmentally disabled”  person.  The guidelines, prepared with Atlanta’s Marcus Institute for Development and Learning, will soon be available on Delta’s Web site (www.delta.com).

Autism is now the fastest growing developmental disability, diagnosed in 1 in 150 births.  It impacts more than a million Americans, according to the Autism Society of America (www.autism-society.org).   The majority of those affected are under 21.

The executive vice president at the advocacy organization Autism Speaks, Peter Bell, is the father of an autistic son.

He says some families don’t go anywhere, not even out to dinner, for fear of a situation like the one that happened on the airline.  Others opt not to let autism rule their lives.  The Bells have successfulkly traveled national parks, cross-country car trips, theme parks, ski resorts (where many offer terrific adaptive programs) and even managed a trip to Hawaii.

“It takes extra time and practice,” he says, and isn’t often relaxing, but he encourages parents to try — and the rest of us to be more sympathetic.

Lennon Gunn’s mom sees that wherever the six-year-old autistic boy goes, he has his beloved wooden spatula in his hand.  As a matter of fact, she carries spares.  “It starts the dialogue,” she says.  “I’m not afraid to explain.”  Shannon Gunn works with parents of newly diagnosed children at the Village of Hope Center for Autism in San Antonio Texas.  She tells anyone who asks that Lennon is autistic, and that his spatula helps him feel more comfortable on unfamiliar turf.

Katherine Revell, whose 6-year-old son has autism, says she hands out wallet-sized cards (from the Autism Society of America) which explain the disability to everyone including airport security screeners.

More and more options are emerging for these special families.  Disney World is so accommodating that the Autism Society of America just brought 2,00 people to Orlando.  Other theme parks, including SeaWorld and Busch Gardens have similar programs.

Resorts like Club Med and cruise lines like Norwegian, Carnival and Disney also try to be more inclusive in their organized activities.

Adaptive Sports Camps are offering special camps and programming that enables these kids and their parents to get out and try activities — even white-water rafting — that would be otherwise impossible.  The Adaptive Sports Center in Crested Butte, Colorado (www.adaptivesports.org) has special High Adventure Weekends for families with children with autism.  The National Ability Center in Park City Utah (www.DiscoverNAC.org) offers several week-long day damps in the summer.

The National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park Colorado www.nscd.org), as well as Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports (www.vermontadaptive.org), also offer programs and activities for such families.


  • Preparation is the best defense.  Call ahead and inform the airline, hotel, resort and cruise line of your child’s condition and ask what special accommodations are available.  Ask, if you need a fridge or inside room, etc.  Bring your child’s own sheets, if that will make him more comfortable.
  • Select an environment your child can handle.
  • Talk online with other parents who have been there, done that.  Simply Google the destination and “kids with autism” and you likely can connect with a local parents’ group.
  • Book low season on a cruise or at a resort like Club Med so there will be fewer children and the staff will have more time to devote to yours.
  • Travel by car if you think flying will be too difficult.  Opt to stay someplace where you can eat some of your meals in your room.
  • Be forthright about the situation with those you meet.
  • Develop “social stories” complete with pictures that explain to your child exactly what you will be doing and where you are going.
  • Whatever happens, stay calm.

source : This is adapted from Eileen Ogintz’s article found at www.cnn.com on 8/4/08.

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards   614-579-6021   or email   aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com


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