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Preparing Your Child With Autism For A Long Flight

In our previous article, we talked about how to prepare your child with autism for a holiday. Now the question that remains for most parents would be: how is the flight going to be like for their child with autism? How do we occupy them in a long flight? You want to ensure that your child is able to occupy himself/herself appropriately in order to reduce self stimulatory behaviours and inappropriate behaviour.

Here are a few tips on how to prepare your child with autism for a long flight:


  1. Prepare social stories and visual schedules.

These will help communicate expectations as well as provide predictability. Your social story should include the following details of the flight and what your child can do during the flight:

  • Get on the plane
  • Buckle seatbelt
  • Wait for the plan to take off
  • Wait for my parents to unbuckle my seatbelt
  • Do my work
  • Sleep
  • Eat my lunch/dinner
  • Buckle my seatbelt
  • Wait for the plan to land
  • Stay with my mummy and daddy

Download a free sample of a “Going on an airplane” social story here!

For children who are nonverbal or who have little speech, a picture-based visual schedule will be beneficial to ensure clear communication and predictability. We would recommend having the following activities on your visual schedule:

  • File folder matching activities
  • Sorting activities
  • Simple play activities such as play-doh
  • Small puzzle boards
  • Simple fine motor activities such as sticker
  • Nap time
  • Lunch/Dinner time

For children with emerging speech and fluent speech, we would recommend having the following activities:

  • Worksheet activities such as simple mazes, colouring pages
  • Book time
  • Watch a movie
  • Play on their Play station portable (PSP)
  • Nap time
  • Lunch/Dinner time

For the more advanced learners, a written schedule will suffice.

  1. Noise-cancelling headphones

For kids who have tolerance to sounds especially during the take off and landing of the plan, families can use a noise-cancelling headphone. This headphone helps to reduce the background noise while still allowing child to hear someone speaking to them.

We encourage you to practice these scenarios at home with family members. If your child does not tolerate sounds well, you want to ensure that your child is comfortable and is desensitized to the noise canceller.

  1. Prepare the following materials prior to the long flight:
  • Different activities that child can do while on the flight such as drawing, colouring and matching.
  • Rewards and reinforcers
  • Pack tokens for the passengers on the plane around you, and include earplugs, some sweets, and a small card saying, “My child has autism, and I apologise in advance for any disturbance caused. Thank you for your understanding”. This can help build a mutual understanding between you and the passengers around you, and ensure a successful flight for all.
  1. Role Play

Before the flight, parents are encouraged to use the visual schedule and role play the different activities in the home environment. Pair each success with rewards and reinforcers. You also want to ensure that there is sufficient practice in the home environment so that you can have a successful and meaningful flight.



  1. Read the social story and show the visual schedule before and during the flight

Communicate to your child again the agenda for the day. Remember, the more prepared your child is, the less anxious he/she will be.

  1. Rewards and reinforcers

Be sure to reward your child if he/she demonstrates the appropriate behaviour and completes the task given. You can also choose to repeat the activities. For advanced learners, parents can give them social praise and social feedback on what went well and go through the areas that they can do better at.

  1. Have an action plan in the event of a meltdown or tantrum

Be prepared for the worst with an action plan. For example, if your child starts to have a tantrum, be ready to bring your child to the back of the plane, or to a less crowded and quieter section of the plane to calm them down. This is also a considerate act towards the passengers around you.

We hope that these tips can help you and your family to have an enjoyable and successful flight! Happy holidays from all of us at EAP Malaysia.