A guide for parents to ease any travelling anxiety for children with hidden disabilities.
Travelling in general can be a rather stressful experience for most families. It requires a lot of meticulous planning before embarking on a long journey. This is especially so for parents of children with hidden disabilities. Thus, to ensure a smoother journey for all passengers, Malaysia Airports has taken efforts to equip the airport community so that they are always prepared to lend a helping hand when needed.
Part of this effort to make the airport more inclusive and less overwhelming for hidden disability passengers is Malaysia Airports’ Butterfly Effect initiative. Based on the Butterfly Effect theory – the idea where one small change can lead to a bigger impact in the future, the Butterfly Effect initiative looks at how the airport can provide various services and facilities for hidden disability passengers and their families. One such initiative is Airport CARE Ambassador, where airport ambassadors are able to assist passengers regarding any need or query at the airport. Meanwhile, childfriendly facilities are readily available for the usage of passengers, including the Calm Room and sensory walls for children with hidden disabilities. This is in line with Malaysia Airports’ aim of hosting joyful connections for all of their passengers and making air travel accessible for all.
Meanwhile, to help alleviate stress and anxiety before or during flights, parents or guardians of passengers with hidden disabilities can help a child prepare beforehand based on these tips from Autism Behavioral Center (ABC):-
Keywords such as “come here” , “stay with me” and “wait” are just some simple instructions you can teach your child. This will help your child follow your cues at the airport.
Children who are on the spectrum tend to seek comfort in regular routines and familiar places. One of the ways to overcome this is to visit new places or do new activities, such as taking a ride on a new car route or going to a different park. Start small and try to manage your child’s expectations.
Try to imagine your child sitting through a flight that can be daunting. Thus, be prepared and pack your child’s activity bag with their favourite things. Explore picture books with colouring activities to practice motor skills or pack play dough for sensory activities. Older kids can be given a playlist or movies on their electronic devices to occupy their time.
The environment in the plane is something new and maybe a little scary for children on the spectrum. Wearing airplane seatbelts can be an issue with some children. Prior to your travels, go for a car ride with seat belts and start with short durations that can be slowly increased over time. Reward your child with treats for encouragement.
Most children who are on the spectrum have a routine to help give them a balanced structure. Disrupted schedules can sometimes occur when travelling. To prepare your child for a situation like this, start by changing routines at home. For example, interrupting a non-favourite activity, and then moving on to something fun! Your child will learn that change is not always a bad thing and can be easily adaptable.
We constantly have to wait and queue at airports and your child can get restless. Introduce your child to the “wait” game, by taking away a toy to practice patience – start with a short 3-second wait and increase time gradually. When your child is able to wait nicely without a fuss, return the toy/item immediately and throw in an extra reward.
Start by talking about what they will see at the airport and what to do at airports. Nonverbal children can be given picture books about planes and airports for familiarisation. This can help create that spark of excitement and anticipation for the journey.
Treats are the best for children. Your child can look forward to treats when they have shown good behavior – like sitting with a seatbelt. Parents must be patient, as different children will adapt differently. Just keep on trying!
These are just some helpful tips and guidelines suggested by ABC on how to prepare your child for travelling. It is important to remember that each child is different and will respond differently and these are general recommendations for parents to try. As a parent , you will know which will work best for your child. Don’t be afraid to travel, as it can be an amazing experience for the whole family.
As the training provider for the Butterfly Effect initiative by Malaysia Airports, ABC is the largest 1:1 intervention centre in Malaysia where 1 therapist focuses on 1 child at a time with facilities that include private classrooms. The objective of the collaborative effort is for Malaysia Airports to be an inclusive public space for individuals with hidden disabilities. To find out more about the programs offered at ABC, visit them at http://abcautism.com.my .