Planning for travel with children with disability, autism or other additional needs
When you’re travelling with children with disability, autism or other additional needs, it’s always good to plan for things to take longer than you expect. If you give yourself plenty of time to get where you’re going and get organised when you get there, it can reduce stress for everyone. It can also help your child to feel calm and happy.
The key to relaxed family travel is planning ahead. You can use our family travel checklist to make sure your plan has something for everyone, including your child with disability, and you pack everything you need.
Preparing children with disability, autism or other additional needs for family travel
Some children with disability, autism or other additional needs can find travelling scary and unfamiliar, but there are things you can do to prepare your child.
You could talk to your child about:
- where you’re going – for example, ‘We’re going to visit Grandma and stay at her house’
- what it will be like – for example, ‘It’s going to be warm and sunny and we’ll be able to swim in the sea’
- how long you’re going for – for example, ‘We’re going for a week, so we’ll be away for 7 sleeps’
- how you’ll get there – for example, ‘We’re going to drive there. We’ll leave after breakfast and we’ll get there at dinner time’.
For autistic children, it can help to explain what your child can expect when travelling. For example, if you’re flying, talk to your child about the security screening process so that they know what’s going to happen.
You can also use social stories to teach your child about appropriate social behaviour and to prepare them for any sensory changes they might experience, like sounds, changes in lighting and temperature, and so on. You could talk to your child’s health professional about developing a social story about travel.
Medicine and family travel with children with disability, autism or other additional needs
If your child with disability, autism or other additional needs takes medicine, make sure you’ve packed enough to last the whole trip.
It’s also a good idea to travel with spare medicine. Doctors often recommend taking twice the amount your child needs in case of unexpected events – for example, if your child gets sick during the trip, or if you lose or damage the medicine while travelling.
You should split medicine between your hand luggage and suitcases in case a piece of luggage goes missing. You can take prescription and non-prescription medicine onboard domestic flights. But limits apply for international flights, so check these with your airline before you travel.
If you’re travelling outside Australia, you should carry a copy of your prescription and a letter from your prescribing doctor in case you’re questioned by customs. The letter should list all the medicines or equipment you’re travelling with. You’ll also need to make sure the name on the prescription label matches the name on your child’s boarding pass. A letter from your child’s GP or specialist can also help in case your child needs medical attention while you're away.
It’s also a good idea to check the laws in the countries you’re travelling to. Some countries have restrictions on the medicines you can bring in.
Special equipment and plane travel
If your child with disability, autism or other additional needs uses special equipment – like a wheelchair – talk to your airline or travel agent before you travel to find out about the accessibility of check in and boarding, seat allocations and so on. They might need to make special arrangements or organise extra help.
Check with the airline before you fly to see whether there are any restrictions on taking medical equipment on board.
If you have a stopover, you can ask the travel agent or airline to check accessibility and arrange for a wheelchair or other mobility aid.
Special meals and plane travel
If you’re flying and your child has special dietary needs, you can contact the airline to organise a suitable meal. It might also be a good idea to bring your own food in case the airline can’t provide the food your child needs. But check the airline’s restrictions on bringing food and liquids onto flights.
Always let the airline know you have a child with additional needs. That can avoid waiting in lines and misunderstandings with staff.
– Parent of a 5-year-old autistic child