Planning a holiday is exciting and sometimes stressful. If you have a child with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) a trip away may involve extra organising and preparation. This guide will help you to prepare.

The word 'child' is used throughout this document, but the information provided may also be applicable to adults.

Deciding where to go

Our information sheet Holidays: autism friendly venues has a list of centres throughout the UK and abroad which have stated that they are suitable for people with an ASD and other disabilities. (Inclusion on this list is not a recommendation by The National Autistic Society.) This document also includes the contact details of a small number of organisations who are able to provide funding for holidays.

When choosing a holiday destination, find out what facilities are provided and whether the staff can understand disabilities in general or, ideally, ASD. Consider the specific needs of your child. For example, if your child is particularly sensitive to noise, ask how close your hotel room will be to the pool area, bar or restaurant. Groups of people may gather there all day and therefore some noise will be inevitable.


Once you have decided on your destination, it is advisable to tell your child about the trip. Individuals with an ASD can find change difficult, and this may lead to high anxiety and, possibly, challenging behaviour. However, by preparing your child as much as possible, any fears will hopefully be kept to a minimum.

You could compile a booklet about the holiday, including pictures from the holiday brochure. These visual supports will help your child to understand where they are going and what it will be like when they are there (see our Visual supports information sheet). However, be careful if your child's understanding is very literal, as they may be upset if the holiday is not the same as the pictures in their booklet.

You could create a timetable of what you will be doing on each day. You could start with the times that you will have breakfast, lunch and dinner (look in your holiday brochure or ask your travel agent to find out what times meals are served). Design the timetable according to your child's needs: for example, make it more structured if your child relies on routine and this approach will suit them. You may need to be quite detailed, describing what activities you will be doing every day. Alternatively, your child may be happy with 'explore the resort' on the first day, 'go to beach' for the second day and so on. Sticking to some sort of routine each day should benefit everyone.

If your child has not travelled on a plane before, or you are going from a new airport, or on a bigger/smaller plane, you may like to visit the airport before you go on holiday. This will help your child to understand what the airport is like, as well as allowing them to experience the journey to the airport before you go. You could contact the airline directly, and explain to them that your child has an ASD. You may need to provide some general information about the condition, as well as some details on your child's particular needs and habits. This will help the airline staff to support your family. For example, you may want to explain if your child hand-flaps.

Our Autism Helpline can provide leaflets on autism and Asperger syndrome, as well as an information sheet called Guidelines for airline staff. Please contact the Autism Helpline on 0808 800 4104 if you would like a copy. 

Many airlines and airports are able to organise tours around an aircraft or on a simulator to help people with disabilities or those who might be nervous about flying. This may benefit your child as it provides some impression of what being in an aircraft is like.

Practical considerations


New-born babies and children up to the age of 15 years now have to have their own passports. From 16 years onwards they are eligible for the standard ten-year passport. The UK Passport Office asks that children aged 12-15 sign section 6 of the passport form themselves so this can be reproduced on the passport digitally. (This section of the form is left blank for children 11 years and younger.)

Where a child is between the ages of 12 to 15 years, and has a disability which means they cannot sign section 6, Her Majesty’s Passport Office have advised that parents should leave the section blank and explain in section 8 that the child is unable to sign, and send the form in with a covering letter. 

People over the age of 16 who are unable to sign can ask someone such as a relative, social worker or doctor to complete section 8 explaining why they cannot sign, and sign section 9 on their behalf. They should send in the application with a covering letter. For further information please Her Majesty’s Passport Office web pages.


Discuss your check-in arrangements with the airline. Perhaps they could arrange a time for you to check in, so that your family is able to approach the check-in desk straight away, and your child does not become anxious due to the wait in the queue. They may also be able to provide a quieter area of the airport where you could wait with your children.

When it comes to boarding, the airline may be able to let you board first or last, depending on what is most beneficial for your child, and perhaps seat you on the airplane either in the front or back row of the plane, where there is often more room. The back row often has space behind the seats where your child can walk about, if this is helpful. However, please remember that the toilets are often in this area too; this means that there may be a high level of activity which could be distressing for some people with an ASD.

Special requirements

Remember to give the airline advance notice if your child has any special dietary requirements, particularly if they are following the gluten- or casein-free diet as this may take longer to organise. You will also need to let your hotel know. To be on the safe side, it may be a good idea to take your own meal for the flight. It’s advisable to ask the airport about the security measures which are in place regarding taking food to your destination, and if you need to provide any evidence (eg a doctor's letter) about why you need to take food on board.

Many holiday companies provide forms for passengers with disabilities where they can write down their special requirements. If you are unsure about this form, please contact your holiday company or travel agent direct. Alternatively, if you tell your holiday company of any special needs over the telephone, you should confirm these requirements in writing as well.

If your child has particular medication needs, discuss this with your GP before the holiday. Remember to take all the medication that your child will require for the length of your stay.

If you are planning to visit theme or water parks, you may want to find out before you go whether these places require specific proof of your child's disability. Visitors with disabilities can sometimes avoid the queues; they can also make use of the disabled facilities. Some venues may have forms for you to fill out, or they may supply a specific member of staff to be your contact or guide for the day.


The National Autistic Society, in partnership with insurance service Unique, offers a specialist travel insurance policy for:

  • people affected by autism and other pre-existing medical conditions, disabilities and allergies
  • families and friends travelling with them
  • members of The National Autistic Society (members receive a 10% discount).


For more information please see our web page about travel insurance.

FAIR Multimedia suggests a particular organisation, Access Travel, in their guide Holiday help for people with learning disabilities. Access Travel will insure people with an ASD who travel with them. See


Even the most well-planned holiday may be affected by unexpected delays. Your child may find it difficult to deal with these unplanned aspects of the trip. Having a favourite toy or activity to entertain your child while waiting may help. As a part of your preparation, you could write a social story to explain that delays can occur. (Please see the Social stories and comic strip conversations information sheet for further information). 

Flying time

To help your child cope with the aircraft noise, particularly during take-off and landing, you may consider using some sort of headphones. Some individuals with an ASD like to listen to music. Perhaps your child might like to listen to a familiar piece of calming, reassuring music while in the airport or during the flight. There are also headphones which have been designed to shut out all surrounding noise, including the sounds of aircraft engines. One manufacturer is Sennheiser (

The Army Surplus online shop ( sells 'ear defenders' which are reasonably priced. Flightstore ( has two different types of ear defenders which they say are designed for children. Other child ear defenders can be purchased at Headset Services Limited ( or Ear Defenders for Kids (

Remember to check that these products are suitable for children before buying them, for both size and safety. (Please note that we are unable to recommend any particular product.)

There may also be other items which would keep your child occupied and happy while travelling. These might be favourite toys or objects they like to fiddle with. You could bring your child's pillow for comfort during the flight. You may even like to pack bed linen or a sleeping bag as sometimes the familiarity of items from home can help a person with an ASD to feel more relaxed and calm in a new environment. Remember also to bring any such items which are used as comforters at home and may relax your child while away.


At the start of the holiday you may like to establish clear, simple holiday rules. These should tell your child about your expectations and should be positive. Write these down if your child is able to read. Use clear language as a reminder: 'We don't do that on holiday.' Once you have decided on these rules, stick with them and to be consistent. This will establish boundaries for the holiday.

Look out for any behavioural changes. For some individuals with an ASD, a regular behaviour pattern may disappear and new behaviour emerge. This may be due to the change of environment and routine. For example, they may communicate being tired, bored or stressed in a different way to when they are at home. (See the Understanding behaviour section of our website.)  

You might find that changes in temperature affect your child's behaviour. Some children may feel irritated by the heat and need time to adjust. They may need explanations and reminders to change their clothes, especially if they need to change from trousers and jumpers to shorts and t-shirts. You may want to discuss this change in clothing before going on holiday, perhaps connecting each season with a particular type of clothing on your calendar at home.

Language problems

While on holiday you may want to tell others about your child's difficulties, for example fellow holidaymakers or theme-park staff. We produce business-sized cards in English which give a brief explanation of autism and Asperger syndrome. Below, there are some useful phrases in a variety of languages for use in difficult situations. It may be helpful to write these onto small business-style cards and carry a stock with you.

We have also developed an autism alert card. This can easily be carried around by a person with an ASD. It is a small, durable plastic wallet that contains the person's name, emergency contact details and a more in-depth explanation of ASD. This explanatory text is on a small, fold-out leaflet. It is available in English, Welsh, Urdu, Bengali, Chinese, Somali, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Greek, Turkish, Italian, Russian, Polish and French from our website:


My son is not being naughty. He is a child with autism/He is autistic. Please show some understanding.
Mon enfant n'est pas villain - il est autist. Merci de l'excuser/ Merci pour votre comprehension.

My daughter is not being naughty. She is a child with autism/She is autistic. Please show some understanding.
Mon enfant n'est pas villain - elle est autiste. Merci de l'excuser/ Merci pour votre comprehension.


My son is not being naughty. He is a child with autism/He is autistic. Please show some understanding.
Mein Sohn ist nicht frech. Er hat Autismus. Bitte zeigen Sie etwas Verständnis und Mitgefühl.

My daughter is not being naughty. She is a child with autism/She is autistic. Please show some understanding.
Meine Tochter is nicht frech. Sie hat Autsimus. Bitte zeigen Sie etwas Verständnis und Mitgefühl.


My son is not being naughty. He is a child with autism/He is autistic. Please show some understanding.
Mio figlio non e' cattivo. E' autistico. Per favore, siate comprensivi.
My daughter is not being naughty. She is a child with autism/She is autistic. Please show some understanding.
Mia figlia non e' cattiva. E' autistica. Per favore, siate comprensivi.


This boy is not being naughty, he has autism. Please show compassion and understanding.
Mi hijo no es travieso. El es autistico. Por favor, un poco de compasión.

This girl is not being naughty, she has autism. Please show compassion and understanding.
Mi hija no es traviesa. Ella es autistica. Por favor, un poco de compasión.


Useful contacts

Access Travel
Tel: 01942 888844
Please note that Access Travel will only insure you if you travel with the company.

Equality Advisory and Support Service

Able to provide advice on the Equality Act and what it applies to, including transport.
Helpline: 0808 800 0082 

Her Majesty’s Passport Office
Passport Adviceline: 0300 222 0000

Sun Protection
Tel: 01477 537596
Contains lower levels of the substances that may irritate a child’s sensitive skin.  Unscented and does not leave grease on the skin, which may be helpful for children with sensory issues.

Unique Travel Insurance
Tel: 01603 828201

References/recommended reading

Debbaudt, D. (2001). Autism and airport travel safety tips: a guide for parents and carers. SATH. Available at:
Focuses on travel within the USA but has some useful tips.

Manchester Airport, with the help of the NAS, has produced an information guide called Airport awareness: travel advice for parents and carers of children on the autistic spectrum. The free guide uses images to show what to expect on a journey from arriving to checking in, to going through security and returning home. It is available to download from the airport website.

Holidays: autism-friendly venues
This provides information on holidays in the UK and abroad which may be suitable for people with an ASD. Also lists a number of useful contacts, including those organisations which provide financial help.

Holiday help for people with learning disabilities
Booklet listing a wide range of holiday contacts for those with disabilities. Also includes details of grant making organisations. The booklet is free for people living in Edinburgh and for others is #5.
Available from FAIR Multimedia: visit or call 0131 662 1962.

Guidelines for airline staff
This is in a letter format and can be customised to include the name of your child. It explains about ASDs and advises airline staff about what help they can provide. Available from our Autism Helpline on 0808 800 4104 or email

Social stories and comic strip conversations
Provides information about writing social stories, which were developed by Carol Gray to help children with an ASD understand social situations.

Understanding behaviour
This includes some behaviour strategies.


Last updated: July 2013

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