Autism and travelling – not always easy

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Autism and travelling – not always easy. Transport is essential for many reasons. Work, holidays, shopping, leisure, visiting friends/family. So easy for so many. Little thinking required. But can be packed with challenges and stress for Autistic people, but not the same challenges for each. Whilst I speak from my experience as an autistic person others can feel stressed when travelling.

It can cause overwhelm, physical and mental. Part of this could be:

  • What happens if I miss the train/ connection?
  • What will the contact think?
  • Have I remembered everything – including last minute items?
  • Can I find everything quickly?
  • What if I get hungry or thirsty?
  • Will I be able to find out where I need to go in a busy environment?
  • What if I go non-verbal?

Issues

These are some major issues which all interplay at various stages of travelling.

Transport – options

There are many forms of transport to be considered – some are easier than others, depends on the individual.

  • Public transport – bus, train, plane, ferries, making connection
  • Private transport – driving – Exhausting, filtering out unwanted
  • Paid private – taxis – Ordering, being ready, do I talk to the taxi driver? payment

Senses

Sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, balance, interoception, proprioception – can be overwhelming. These can vary from person to person, and different situations.

I’ve experienced sensory overwhelm at an event due to the light and noise. Fortunately I was in a group with someone who understood autism and why I had to retreat into listening to music with headphones at one point. I also wore my heavily tinted glasses against the bright light. When the noise was too much in the main room at lunchtime, I retreated to another room, along with others.

Do not be ashamed to admit stress. Other people can feel stress in these situations, autistic or otherwise. I’ve helped others, and people helped me. Try to keep calm as far as possible, not always easy.

Food and drink

People with autism seem to have a higher incidents of food allergens, intolerances and food dislikes (and I mean major food dislikes at times).

Taking food and drink with you helps. I like to travel with a drink just in case I get thirsty. Just a few sips can be enough sometimes, and having snack bars helps get over lunch times where suitable food is not available.

Ways around challenges

This is not inclusive and there are others which I may not have mentioned, but I would like to know about.

Prior to travelling

Various measures can help reduce stress

  • To do list – including last minute items, tick of as done
  • Pack in advance – as much as possible, including travel clothes and footwear 
  • Timetable – for leaving, what to do, leave spare time for last minute 
  • Double check – for reassurance
  • Taxis – Book in advance. Write times, destination down when booking, note anything as soon as possible
  • Assistance – from others as required
  • Use a travel app to plan journeys
  • Ticket type – electronic or paper
  • Assistance – inform the company in advance if relevant or possible

This still may not be easy but will help, and may improve with practice and/or support.  A system to follow and develop.

Travelling

Possible approaches when travelling. This covers getting to your final destination

  • Autism Alert Card – or similar to hand, with emergency contacts, make people aware quickly
  • Go in a group – or meet centrally, know who is happy to lead or be led
  • Headphones – reduce noise or listen to music
  • Sunflower lanyard – displaying an invisible disability
  • Phone – set alarms to ensure you don’t miss stops
  • Allergens/ intolerances – take own food and drink
  • Car insurance – say you are autistic. I did, I got priority treatment, they checked I was fine, and would have guided to the appropriate garage
  • Train times – note them down, put them somewhere accessible
  • Destination address – write down for taxis, less need to talk or remember
  • Travel changes – take a deep breath, ask for help from staff

Arriving at location

You’re nearly there, one last step.  

  • Write information for arrival – if you know you may go non-verbal, if only temporarily, write down contact names and numbers etc
  • Relax – sit down, listen to music, read, take deep breath, meditate
  • Familiarise yourself – with the venue, your room, next actions
  • Celebrate – pat yourself on the back, you’ve made it
  • When ready – join the event, calm

Now time to prepare for the event itself.  I hope you enjoy it.  It is a whole other subject how to survive gatherings.

How it can be avoided in the first place

Sometimes travelling can be avoided or minimised, with communication and understanding, modern technology helps. People can understand in my experience.

  • Online – meetings, remote working
  • Travelling – if necessary do go by public transport, arrange to be picked up

Remote working has enabled many neurodivergent people to work to their best, especially with the development of online meetings.

Final message

Transport is not always easy, but sometimes essential. These are just some ideas based on my experience or read or thought of. Do not be ashamed of your challenges. Others can feel stress but don’t always say, or have an understanding. Find a way to cope, your way.  I hope this helps.