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Airplane travel is especially challenging for children who have strong sensory needs. But with advanced planning, you can survive and your child can thrive!
- Make a list of what your child seeks together with your therapist (for example, movement, proprioceptive input, etc.) and what he/she avoids and carefully think through the airport and airplane environment in detail. Here are some suggestions that work for many children.
- Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing that is easy to put on and take off. Wearing layers is a good idea since temperatures fluctuate in the airport and on the airplane. Also allow your child to wear his favourite clothes
- Put an extra set of light-weight clothing in your child’s knapsack “just in case”.
- Encourage active play in the airport that provides proprioceptive and resistive input before the flight, such as pulling heavy luggage and jumping. This may help your child sit more comfortably for the first one to two hours of the flight.
- Once in flight, to keep your child from getting antsy in his/her seat, encourage him/her to get up and move around at least once every 30 minutes. If your child has trouble staying in his/her seat, bring a Sit and Move cushion so that as he/she wiggles, input is provided to help him/her sit more comfortably.
- For the child who needs “deep pressure” and “hard work”, provide a fully loaded backpack to wear in the airport. Once seated in the airplane, encourage your child to do chair push-ups using the armrests.
- Bringing carefully selected snacks that provide sensory input to the mouth can help your child stay well regulated. Choose chewy snacks (for example, gum, licorice, granola bars, or fruit roll-ups) for calming and crunchy snacks (i.e. pretzels or crackers) for alerting.
- With a little forethought it is easy to keep your child’s fidgety hands busy during the trip. Pack a variety of tactile toys such as a koosh/stress ball, squishy ball, small vibrating toys, silly putty or prestik. Novel toys are more likely to grab and sustain his/her attention for longer periods of time so try to have a few toys that they have not seen before.
- Try and book an aisle seat so that the child can move
- Try and let your child drink all fluids on the plane through a straw – giving deep pressure and proprioceptive feedback
- Sensory bag – chappies, chewy tubes, brush, worm suit, small things to fiddle with, travel size age appropriate games, books etc.
- This is a good time to use the PSP; game boy and other electronic games!
Compiled by Anneri Oosthuizen 2010
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