Travel and The Autistic Child

Filed Under (Single Parenthood, To Get To The Other Side, Travel) by Estee on 06-01-2010

Curiousity is a wonderful human trait. Adam is autistic and while he needs some regularity and structure and familiar environments, he also needs to explore new ones. He is curious. He likes to explore — in his own time — new foods, new things, new places. I pride myself on having traveled with Adam even when it wasn’t easy to travel with him. I do it with him as a single parent now, and his dad and I did it together when we were married. While I was tentative in Adam’s early years of flying him as far as Africa, I do not rule it out as he grows older. Just because Adam is autistic does not mean that he should not see the world. It’s how we orchestrate the process and itinerary that’s important. As a parent, I know I also have to be prepared for anything. Too many expectations can foil the best of plans.

We’ve had great flights and not-so-great-flights. I can never predict or prepare enough. I have learned from Adam to give ourselves plenty of time, to pack his bag with his favorite toys, foods, and DVD’s. I generally know that early morning flights seem to be easier than mid-to-late afternoon flights, although like everything, there are exceptions to that rule. Adam can be happy and calm as I “work” the flight with him. As a parent of an autistic child, I have learned to stay on top of Adam’s needs before any anxiety is triggered, for once triggered, it can be difficult to calm down. So as a parent, I don’t get to read the paper or a good book when I’m on a flight with Adam, but I still believe the effort is worth it. Travel, like autism and life, is a journey we cannot perfect. We cannot always predict how bumpy the flight may be. We can’t predict delays that are a normal part of travel. We can’t predict the mood our child might be in as much as we cannot predict our own. We can, however, try to prepare ourselves and do our best to keep calm in challenging circumstances.

I’m talking about travel because not only do I thrive on it myself, but as a single mom I look forward to exploring the world with my autistic son. We’ve been to Alaska, we’ve been to the U.S. and the Caribbean. I am looking forward to taking Adam to Italy where I have a feeling he will love it for the sights, the gentle sounds of a murmuring town square, the Gelato, tomatoes and salami — not to to mention the flocks of pigeons he can chase and the magnificent art. It’s my dream to take Adam abroad. But it’s not my dream to endure a difficult flight. It’s my problem, I know. I don’t like to see Adam suffer. I think I have to just get things organized (like rent one place and make it our “home base” for several weeks). I am admittedly tentative about the overnight flight to Europe. Everyone tells me that this should be the easiest because children “can sleep on an overnight flight.” They don’t know my Adam. I remember that twelve-hour day from Alaska back to Toronto where Adam was beside himself. We learned that Gravol didn’t put him to sleep as it sometimes does for other children. I’ve learned that Chlorohydrate doesn’t settle Adam before an EEG. I’ve learned that Melatonin won’t relax him on a flight, either. Adam, my Adam, is my prize-fighter. If Adam is anxious and does not want to sleep, giving him sedatives may have the opposite effect. He may metabolize medication differently. Or, he just too anxious, period.

I will eventually book that trip to Italy at some point, deal with my fears and see what happens. I think I’m a well-prepared mom and it’s the times when I’m most prepared that I find easiest for both Adam and I. I’ve found some good suggestions on traveling with the autistic child (see below) that others may find useful and I’ve employed about all of these strategies. But I’ve not yet traveled afar with the little one and I notice that no one else has written a thing on the Transatlantic flight and the autistic child. I assume (hope, really) that some autistic adults may have some suggestions on helping a prize sleep-fighter enjoy his mid-air travels. Like so much information we seek as parents of autistic children, there simply isn’t enough to support us on our travels in life and abroad.

Travel Tip Sites:
Autism Family Travel
Coping With Autism (on Vacation)
How To Prepare For Traveling With A Child With Autism
Caring for Kids — Air Travel


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About Me


I’m a PhD candidate at York University, Critical Disability Studies, with a multi-disciplinary background in the arts as a curator and writer. I am the Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project (, and an enamoured mother of my only son who lives with the autism label. I like to write about our journey, critical issues regarding autism in the area of human rights, law, and social justice, as well as reflexive practices in (auto)ethnographic writing about autism.