Many individuals with autism can find travelling through
the airport a very difficult and scary experience. For many individuals it
represents a new experience which is difficult to understand and sometimes very
Below are a number of simple strategies that can be employed to help the
individual with ASD to understand the process of getting through the airport.
As all individuals with autism learn and experience social situations in
very different ways, selecting the strategy or combination of strategies that
best suit the individual travelling with you is important. Select the strategy
that best fits the individual’s level of understanding. Ensure that you
practice using the strategy before you go the airport. This will help you
implement it with confidence in the real life situation.
Visual guides are used to support individuals with autism understand social
situations. It provides the individual with a short description of the situation
and information about what to expect and why. A Visual Guide should include the
following elements; description of the social situation/event, the
possible/expected perspective of the individual (e.g. how they might feel) and
direction to the individual as to how they should act within this situation.
Visual Guide - Terminal 1
Visual Guide - Terminal 2
Main parts to include when writing a Visual Guide about the airport
Visual schedules representing the main parts of transitioning through the
airport are often very helpful for individuals who have difficulty in
understanding complex language and changes to normal routines. These supports in
the form of text, pictures and/or symbols (representing the main parts of the
process) help to make sense of the transition. See below for an example:
Some individuals can follow long picture schedules while other individuals
find it easier to follow shorter schedules (e.g. 2-3 symbols then take a break
and prepare the next part of the schedule)
For shorter schedules, put symbols to represent favourite activities/break at
a point on the schedule that can be easily accessed for a short period of time.
Ensure, as the individual arrives at the break points on the schedule that
he/she has time to spend on a preferred activity before continuing on with
further transitions. This will help break the long transition through the
airport down into smaller manageable transitions for the individual.
If the individual you are travelling with uses PECS, make sure to include
symbols for the journey.
Sometimes it might be important to teach the
individual some new symbols before going to the airport so that they can
communicate their needs. For example help symbol if they are having difficulty
with something/don’t understand or break symbol if they are finding the
experience overwhelming and need to find a quiet area to take a break.
Plan your trip a number of weeks in advance.
Decide on these rules before you go on holidays. Once they have been decided
upon, stick to them and be consistent. These can help the individual to
understand what is acceptable and what is not while at the airport or on
Reinforce regularly by giving feedback- ‘well done, great’. Remain calm if
the individual breaks a rule, simply remind them of it and redirect them to
Symbols/text to represent rules can be downloaded, printed and laminated.
These could be kept on a key ring or in the individual’s pocket. Reinforce rule
following and remind the individual of the rules regularly throughout the
journey (every 15-30mins; depending on your child/adolescent’s
The airport is a very busy place and your child may be confused and behave in
ways that are out of character.
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