By Alex Stratikis, Autistic Self-Advocate, and World Traveler
It’s understandable that autistic people and their families may feel apprehensive about travel since it requires them to step outside their comfort zone and routine, which can present some challenges. Things like anxiety, sensory issues, spatial awareness, and prioritization are just some of the challenges that an autistic individual may have that prevents them from considering travel as a viable option.
Your primary focus should be identifying your stressors and challenges and working on methods to combat these factors during your travels to ensure an enjoyable trip. These difficulties may vary from one autistic person to another. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to tailor any trip to the individual’s or family member’s needs as what one person may cope entirely fine with can be a significant source of stress and discomfort for another.
Thankfully things are changing for the better within the travel industry. There are now more options available to autistic people if they require extra support. The International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) awards various businesses the Certified Autism Center™ certification, which means these businesses have trained at the very least 80% of their public-facing staff to be fully equipped and certified in being able to properly assist autistic customers. IBCCES also offers additional tools to ensure certification has a lasting impact, including onsite reviews, customized recommendations for each location, and long-term support. They also award specific destinations and cities as ‘Autism Certified’, which includes options for individuals and families to play and stay all in one place. These destinations should definitely be on everyone’s bucket list! The bulk of these travel destinations are currently located in North America; however, this initiative is rapidly spreading to more and more countries around the globe as awareness within the tourism sector grows.
Outside of the certification, many tourist spots and businesses throughout the world are labeled ‘autism friendly’, and a quick search for your chosen destination should hopefully garner some useful results. During a recent trip to Malta, I was surprised to see that the National History Museum in Valletta offers ‘Autism Friendly’ hours on Wednesday afternoons, including the use of a quiet room. These are small steps businesses and tourism boards can take to move forward and improve inclusivity for autistic individuals and their families.
Several tour operators also focus on accessible tours, which cater to tourists with disabilities and can be tailored to a guest’s specific needs. Israel4all was one of the first that I was made aware of and should be an example to other tour operators which don’t yet engage in accessible tourism. Similarly, many cruise ships offer a range of services for autistic individuals and their families to ensure smooth sailing during their time onboard.
Another great program that every autistic person should be aware of is the ‘Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Lanyard’. While not limited to air travel, the initiative has been currently working with 142 airports worldwide. Wearing the lanyard during your time in the airport enables airport staff to recognize that you have a hidden disability without the explicit need to declare it to anyone. In doing so, it allows the trained staff to know that you may require extra assistance or reasonable adjustments. It is also advisable to speak to your airline before your arrival if you may need any additional support or adjustments – as many airlines now offer such services if you contact them in advance. I believe the main takeaway from this article is never be afraid to ask for support should you need it to travel. Internationally autism inclusive and accessible travel still has a long way to go within the travel industry, but support is available in various forms, thanks to the initiatives above.
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