Travel training is the process of learning how to get from one place to another on your own. For autistic people, travel training is critically important: it’s the key to independent living.
But depending on your location and available programs and resources, an autistic child may become an adult without having a clear idea of how to navigate or access transportation outside of their home and school.1
In many cases, parents or guardians provide most of the travel training once a child is old enough to need transportation to work, day programs, or community activities. In this article, learn who should receive travel training, general tips, and tips and resources for specific types of travel.
General Tips for Travel Training
Different types of travel present different challenges and opportunities. Perhaps the least challenging is a simple walk from one nearby location to another. But some of the same challenges and tips apply to every form of travel. These general tips are a great place to start:
Before sending an autistic child out into the world, introduce them to the local police. Provide the police with a photo and any important information they might need should something come up. Consider providing your loved one with an ID that includes name, address, contact information, and diagnostic information. They may never use the card, but it’s a safeguard.
Preview your route. No matter where you’re traveling, spend some time getting to know the route. Will you need to cross streets at lights? Will you need to communicate with someone like a bus driver? The more you know in advance, the easier it will be to help your autistic loved one.
Think through potential challenges, and brainstorm solutions. For example, if your autistic loved one is not good at telling time, could you set an alarm to help them be ready for transportation on time?
Create (or find) a social story. Social stories are simple illustrated stories that preview a planned event or task. More advanced social stories provide options in case of unexpected changes. For example, “If the bus doesn’t come by 10:45, I can call home and ask for help.” Also, you can look for videos that show the general process of (for example) catching a bus or taking a plane.
Practice as often as necessary. Work with your loved one (or their aide if they have one) to travel the route together as often as necessary to help them feel comfortable with the process and the people. Practice coping with common challenges (the bus is late, for example) or emergencies (the plane was cancelled). Always provide your loved one with a “Plan B” in case problems arise.
Use roleplay to plan for expected challenges. Pretend you’re a bus driver asking for a fare, or a crossing guard saying, “Wait for cars to pass.” Ask typical questions of your loved (“Are you getting off here?”) and have them practice typical questions (“When will the train arrive?”).
Take it slow. Before sending your loved one off solo, give them the opportunity to take the lead. Support them as they think through the process of leaving on time, using transportation, and arriving at their destination. Then meet them at the destination. Do this as many times as necessary.