Unpredictability can increase stress for children especially children with autism, or who experience anxiety or sensory processing differences. Preparing the child for upcoming events, and planning ahead to limit the intensity of the environment where possible can help to reduce stress.
- Develop a social story for the significant aspects of the trip. This may include:
- The airplane travel – what to expect at the airport, on the plane, and when you arrive.
- Any activities planned during your holiday (theme parks, events)
- If possible, you can supplement the social stories with video’s if available.
- At the airport:
- Speak to the airline about arranging to board first so you are able to settle your child before the crowds enter the plane. You may also choose to disembark the plane first to avoid the crowds.
- Visual schedules or timetables can be a wonderful way to prepare children for the daily routine and increase predictability.
- Laminate business card sized pictures and attach velcro to the back. Pictures can be stored in a small business card folder enabling you to change the routine when needed.
Pack a variety of sensory tools into carry on luggage to help reduce the impact of sensory input. A child’s response to sensory input may be heightened when stressed by new situations.
- Noise cancelling ear muffs to reduce noise.
- Sunglasses to reduce the impact of bright lights and glare.
- Items to chew (this can be very calming). Items can include chewable jewelry, chewing gum or chewy lollies, beef jerky, or a straw. Chewing will also help with pressure in the ears during flights.
- Therapressure brushing or massage may also be calming. This can be done regularly during long flights. Therabrushing is a professionally guided program that has been therapeutic for clients with sensory defensiveness and anxiety.
- Weighted items can also be calming. A weighted lap mat or neck wrap can be easily transported in a carry on bag, used in the car or during a flight.
- A lycra wrap or a body sock can also provide calming proprioceptive input and is easily transported and can be used in the tight confines of an airplane and even a car.
- Consider the impact of unusual smells on the plane or when traveling. Consider adding a few drops of lavender (or another preferred scent) to a cloth/hanky or favourite toy to mask undesirable smells.
- A bubble timer provides calming visual input when over-stimulated by busy tourist environments.
- Tight fitting clothing (e.g. Jet Proof Singlets) can have a calming effect and can be worn discretely under clothing.
- A small bag of fidgets can help to keep hands busy during long car trips or flights.
- Pictello is an app that allows you to create a fun and creative social stories or visual schedules.
- A fold-down sensory tent can provide a safe place to retreat to when a child becomes overwhelmed. Items can be put inside the tent such as ear muffs, weighted items, and fidgets to allow the child to ‘reset’ if and when needed.
- If your child enjoys using the iPad or tablet, this can be a useful tool during flights. Ensure you have an additional portable battery charger/power pack for times when you need to recharge and don’t have access to a power point.
- Take a backpack with all the essential items your child may need. The sensory tent, weighted lap mat, fidgets, lycra body sock, sunglasses, preferred scent, drink bottle, chew items, bubble timer are all easily transported on a plane and to a hotel. Take the most effective items with you on day trips along with favourite foods and drinks.
- Revisit the social stories regularly. This includes leading up to the trip, and during the trip. Reading the story only once may not be effective.