Managing Sensory Overload on Airplanes for Children with Autism: Tips and Strategies

Traveling by airplane can be challenging for children with autism, as they often experience sensory overload in unfamiliar and noisy environments. Including autistic children in family travel plans is essential, but it’s crucial to prepare for the unique challenges they may face during air travel. Here are some strategies and tips to help manage sensory overload and ensure a better experience for your child with autism.

Sensory Overload at Airports

Autistic children react differently to sensory overload based on their unique situation, history, behavior patterns, and external factors. Sensory experiences at an airport can overwhelm anyone, but particularly those with autism. Consider the following sensory inputs:


Airports are visually stimulating, with numerous people, lights, vehicles, and unfamiliar sights.


Airports are noisy, with sounds from people, luggage, planes, and more.


New smells from perfumes or restaurants might bother children with autism who are sensitive to smells.


Children may be uncomfortable with certain textures, crowded spaces, or physical contact.


Autistic children might be particular about food and may not want what’s available at an airport or on an airplane.

Tips for Reducing Sensory Overload on Airplanes

Preparing for your trip ahead of time can significantly reduce potential problems and help your child manage sensory overload.

Social Stories

Use social stories to teach your child about flying on an airplane. Create a personalized story or find a published book that describes the process step by step. Discuss the story with your child, using visuals and pictures to aid understanding.

Sensory Management Tools

Incorporate tools like noise-canceling headphones, fidgets, comfort items, essential oils, blankets, chewy items, and weighted shoulder wraps or lap blankets to help your child manage sensory experiences.

Engage in Preferred Activities

Bring along items or activities that your child enjoys. This can provide comfort and help maintain their attention during the flight.

Plan for Physical Comfort

Be strategic about seating arrangements on the plane and try to avoid crowded areas in the airport when possible. Consider seating preferences, such as window versus aisle seats, to minimize disruptions.

Communicate with the Airport

Contact the airport in advance to discuss accommodations and support for children with autism. They may be able to modify security procedures or allow preferred food and drink items.

Managing Sensory Overload in Children with Autism

If you need more assistance in developing individualized strategies for your child, reach out to Behavioral Innovations for support. By proactively preparing for your trip and implementing these strategies, you can help your child with autism have a more comfortable and enjoyable travel experience.

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