When traveling with a child with autism or someone who has special sensory needs, it’s important to equip them with the right tools for traveling. Families can make the trip as smooth and enjoyable as possible with a traveling “tool kit” of essential comfort and sensory support items.
Parent advocate with the Rochester Regional Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders (RRCASD), Erin Palma, RDN, CDN, crafted some tips on how to create a sensory tool kit that contains suggestions for portable items that address common travel challenges and support successful transitions. Curating from Palma’s list, here are 10 suggested items to include in your sensory travel tool kit for an AU-some family vacation.
1. Noise Cancelling Headphones
Frequently used by children with autism in school and home settings, noise cancelling headphones or noise blocking earmuffs are an indispensable tool for helping sensory-sensitive travelers navigate and tolerate airports and airplane travel, theme parks, fireworks shows, and generally any noisy or crowded environment. Noise cancelling headphones are available in over-the-ears, as well as earbud styles.
Related: Best Autism Friendly Theme Parks
2. Portable Scents
3. Weighted Lap Pad
Weighted blankets are a popular sensory support however, they’re too bulky for travel and also tend to be heavy on a family budget. Weighted lap pads—which are easily portable and generally more affordable—are a great travel alternative. Keep in mind that weighted lap blankets and pads are not recommended for children under 2.
4. Taggies Blanket
For kids too young to use a weighted lap pad, consider a Taggies blanket. Comforting and compact, Taggies blankets are edged with soft ribbon “tags” that provide a subtle outlet for sensory input on-the-go.
5. Fidget Toys
Fidget toys come in a variety of shapes, sizes and textures, but share a common purpose: to calm or anchor the user in challenging situations. Whether you want to help keep a kid busy and focused while in their airplane seat, or help them to keep their cool during car travel or difficult transitions, these stretchy, bendable, textured, portable or calming fidget toys should do the trick.
Polarized sunglasses are essential for eye health, and they’re also an invaluable support for individuals who are especially sensitive to light.
7. Items to Suck or Chew On
8. Tablet with Supportive Apps
Tablets are great devices for travelers of all abilities, but for travelers with autism, they’re an especially powerful support tool. An iPad can be used to help prepare, distract, redirect, comfort and entertain as well as navigate unfamiliar territory. You can watch videos, listen to sound clips and look at pictures to get a preview of places and people you and your child will be visiting, listen to calming music or practice “mindful” breathing.
Consider downloading supportive social story and visual schedule apps such as “Scene Speak,” “First Then Visual Schedule” or “Visual Schedule Planner” to help provide structure and predictability during travel.
9. Comfort Item
10. Sleep Supports
Going to sleep in an unfamiliar place can be a challenge for many children. A portable white noise machine or a model with a night light can help set your family up for a restful night away from home.
Writer Jackie Perrin has covered the best of family travel for nearly two decades, for media ranging from newspapers and magazines to TripAdvisor.com. At home and on the go, she manages a crew of companions. Follow her on Pinterest, TripAdvisor and Instagram, @NYfamtravels.