On the best day of your life, airports are only mildly stressful. Managing overwhelmed kids, suitcases, crowds, and figuring out your tickets and gates is not for the faint at heart. But managing it all with kids on the spectrum or special needs like sensory processing disorder is tough. In fact, it’s the stuff that keeps even the most seasoned parents up at night hoping all goes well.
Use Multisensory Airport Rooms
Fortunately, more airports are taking steps to make travel easier for families with kids on the spectrum and special needs people of all ages. Delta opened up a multi sensory room at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport in April 2016 in partnership with the autism advocacy group The Arc. The quiet room is located on the F Concourse and has fun and sensory appropriate play areas including a mini-ball pit and tactile activities.
There are other airports, like the one in Shannon Ireland, with similar quiet rooms. But the Atlanta airport took it a step further and occasionally offers rehearsals to those with autism so they can practice and prepare before big day. Parents with kids with autism spectrum disorders know that some exposure and insights to the kind of stress an airport can bring, but without the pressure of travel, is huge.
Make a Practice Run at the Airport
When rehearsals aren’t available, families could consider navigating the baggage claim crowds, lounge restaurants and outskirts of the security line to introduce their kids to the airport before a flight. Talking about the flight, bringing your suitcase, and familiar items from home that your child will travel with can also help. You can also look to see where any disability access points are, or if your child is young enough, dedicated stroller lines to reduce time spent in crowds.
Find a Quiet Spot in the Airport
If you need options beyond a multisensory room at the airport, you can look into one-day passes at airport lounges. However, you should call in advance to ask about any possible age restrictions or other useful information when traveling with kids in tow.
Other places to look for quiet spots on the fly are nearby gates without people waiting. A corner of your own gate or spot on the floor can also offer some reprieve for overwhelmed kids and parents alike. The Atlanta Airport also has some unique quiet areas like at the east end of Concourse E. If you follow signs to E-14 and keep going towards the F concourse, you’ll see a sunny and quiet space before reaching the moving sidewalk.
Prep for Your Flight
Prepping for your flight with kids on the spectrum and special needs starts when you book your ticket. Most airlines will offer assistance, have dedicated services for those with disabilities, or direct you to appropriate suggestions to make your flight with a child on the spectrum or other special needs more comfortable. Boarding early, choosing your seats in advance, or asking about a quieter spot near bulkhead at the front of the plane or near a bathroom might be helpful for your family. You should also ask the airlines about wheelchair assistance, even if you don’t need it, so you can have a dedicated person there to help. It also might just keep your child and family more comfortable to ride in a wheelchair and wear a hat or headphones to reduce the noise of the airport.
You should also ask the airlines about wheelchair assistance, even if you don’t need it, so you can have a dedicated person there to help. It also might just keep your child and family more comfortable to ride in a wheelchair and wear a hat or headphones to reduce the noise of the airport. Adn remember that you can usually check in the night before a flight online and print your boarding passes or store them on your smartphone to reduce time spent waiting around in line.
Make It Fun
The stress and anticipation of travel can be worse than the actual experience itself. Try to make it fun by arriving early and grabbing a treat or even a cold beer for Mom and Dad. Getting to the airport early can provide plenty of time to leisurely get through the airport, window shop, grab a snack, and feel refreshed and less harried than the rest of the travel population. And if you’re on a layover at the Atlanta Airport with kids and have a few hours, the nearby Delta Flight is located just seconds from the Atlanta Airport.
Traveling is generally stressful, especially with kids and those with special needs. Give yourself a lot of patience and remember that many others have gone through the process before you. At the end of the day, your family deserves the chance to travel and take vacations without the added stress of dreading what everyone else might think. Do your best, approach your day with love, and hope for a smooth and stress-free vacation.
Image: AtlantaCitizen – Wikipedia