Travel can be challenging, unpredictable, and yet so rewarding – often a combination of all three, writes researcher Julie Peake.
We all tend to have favourite places that we want to visit and things we like to see. Overseas travel may provide opportunities for autistic people to immerse themselves in a special interest that may not be available in Aotearoa New Zealand. Overseas travel requires good preparation and research, things that autistics are good at. Another benefit of overseas travel is that being in another culture can be relaxing – especially if you find your own culture exhausting!!
In 2013 Hend M. Hamed, a tourism studies researcher, completed an exploratory study as a way of supporting tourism companies on how to provide the best services for autistic travellers.
The study sought the views of autistic people and developed a questionnaire that could support travel organisations to improve experiences of travel. Some of the practical strategies evolving from the study were to offer quiet accommodation options and specific trips such as nature tourism and travel focused around specific cultural and historic sites.
Hamed highlighted that overseas travel can offer opportunities to build on the strengths and talents of autistic people such as: detailed thinking skills; expansive long-term memory; and the ability to analyse complex patterns in the social and physical world.
Neo and Flaherty’s (2019) article suggested the travel industry facilitate safe and enjoyable travel experiences for autistic people and look at ways to remove barriers frequently faced by autistic travellers. They identified some initiatives that have been established in Ireland such as a video modelling process to prepare autistic children for airplane travel and a sensory room adjacent to departure lounges. They noted that some tourism companies have tried to cater for autistic travellers by making website content easier to navigate and include more icons and symbols.
A book written by Australian autistic man Garry Burge (2017) discusses his travel experiences and provides many helpful suggestions for travel planning including working with a travel agent who has some understanding of autism.
Factors to consider.
- How will I cope with being on an aeroplane, train, boat, bus for long periods of time?
- Airports and crowded destinations may pose some auditory/sensory overload – what could I do to reduce the possibility of this?
- Travel plans can be unpredictable – for example flights can be postponed or changed – what would I do if this happens?
- How will I manage in unfamiliar environments in relation to communication, any medication that I take, and making sure I get enough sleep?
- What will I do if I have to queue for a long time?
Overseas travel provides a range of exciting opportunities for exploring special interests and exploring cultures that may be more relaxing than our own. It appears that some areas of the travel industry are taking steps to better meet the travel needs of autistic people. Ideally this area is given more research attention with methodological approaches that are based on the desires and needs of autistic people. In the mean-time Bon Voyage!!
- Julie Peake is a researcher for Parent to Parent/Altogether Autism
Burge, G. (2017). Travelling on the autism spectrum.
Hamed, H. (2013). Tourism and autism: An initiative study for how travel companies can plan tourism trips for autistic people. American Journal of Tourism Management. 2 (1) 1-14.
Neo, W., & Flaherty, G. (2019). Autism Spectrum Disorder and Global Travel. International Journal of Travel Medicine and Global Health. 7 (1) 1-3.