Taking a child on an airplane for the first time is often a stressful experience, but for parents with children with autism, that stress is multiplied. What follows are some suggestions on how to minimize the anxiety and the potential for surprises.
Pick a short flight -- an hour or so. Visit the airport ahead of time to familiarize your child. If possible, participate in a mock boarding experience. If none is available, call your local airport to see whether you might be able to show your child the ticketing counters, security lines and waiting areas in advance.
Call the TSA Cares hot line -- 1-855-787-2227 -- 72 hours before your flight to alert them that you might need assistance going through security. Some parents ask to go through the handicapped line with children who have difficulty in crowds or waiting in long lines.
Call the airline ahead to alert them that you might need to board early or require additional assistance onboard.
Tell your child what to expect, including delays and long waits, in the airport and on the airplane. Philadelphia International Airport offers a story -- www.phl.org/passengerinfo/Accessibility/Documents/SocialStories.pdf -- that parents can read to children to help them prepare. It is designed for mock boarding experiences but can be adapted to any trip.
Pack a carry-on bag with anything that might be soothing during a rough patch. Be sure to include documentation of your child's diagnosis that you can show security and airline personnel.
The advocacy organization Autism Speaks has additional resources and travel tips at www. autismspeaks.org.
NEW YORK TIMES