#TIL: What is it like to travel with autism?
By Apoorv Kulkarni
April is celebrated as the World Autism Awareness month, so we decided to celebrate it by taking a look at travel experiences of autistic people.
But wait, what is autism?
Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, speech and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviours or interests. Challenges with social skills may include difficulty in understanding how to behave in different social situations. Examples of repetitive behaviour may include heavily depending on set routines or rituals and wanting to take the same route.
According to a 2018 study, the prevalence of autism ranges between 0.4% to 1.8% in India. Experts believe that this too might be a conservative estimate. About one of six families approached for study had declined to participate in it. This might be on account of the social stigma associated with autism and disability.
Autism and travelling using public transport:
Many individuals on the autism spectrum around the world use public transport. For instance, “There are around 700,000 autistic people in the UK who rely on trains and buses to travel to school, work and social and cultural events/activities. Access to reliable public transport becomes all the more critical as many of them are unable to drive on account of their condition. However, autistic people experience certain challenges when travelling using a public transport mode such as buses and trains:
- Independently finding one’s way to the bus stop or the train station
- Boarding the correct bus/train
- Disembarking at the correct stop
- Anxiety resulting from unexpected events such as cancelation or route change
- Sensory sensitivity on account of various elements such as bright lights, ambiance noise, fellow passengers, etc.
Here’s a video which will help to empathise with the travel experience of an autistic person:
So, what can be done to improve the travel experience?
Tips for autistic people:
- Use a script to map the entire journey. This script could include pictures representing each step of the trip. It could also include coping strategies in case a bus/train gets cancelled, or if one’s favourite seat or driver is unavailable, etc.
- Block out noise with headphones: use headphones playing one’s favourite soothing music to help cope with sensory overload.
- Carry a familiar object: a book, or a toy or a handkerchief, etc. which can help in calming &/or distracting oneself. Similarly, dedicated apps for autistic people may be helpful in this direction.
- Where possible, travel during non-peak hours: This might not be always possible, but avoiding rush hours can make traveling using public transport less stressful.
- Planning and Practicing making trips: This will increase familiarity and building a routine which can be especially helpful for people on the spectrum.
Ways for transport operators to support autistic people:
- Conduct training & sensitization programs for customer facing staff such as drivers and conductors so that are equipped to support autistic travellers.
- Run passenger awareness campaign to increase disability awareness and prevent hate crimes against autistic persons.
- Make available accessible assistive technology solutions: Operators can invest in apps which can help in scripting a complete journey and include coping strategies. As of the time of writing Aubin, a new journey planner app for autistic people is looking to partner and white label it. They can also build virtual reality experiences allowing an autistic person to simulate the journey in a safe and controlled environment.
- AUTISM PLANNING AND DESIGN GUIDELINES 1.0. (2018). KNOWLTON SCHOOL OF ARCHITECTURE CITY AND REGIONAL PLANNING PROGRAM. https://knowlton.osu.edu/sites/default/files/pdf/Autism%20P%20and%20D%20Standards_reduced.pdf
- Katsnelson, A. (2018, September 27). Study quantifies prevalence of autism in India | Spectrum | Autism Research News. https://www.spectrumnews.org/news/study-quantifies-prevalence-autism-india/
- New measures to make transport more accessible. (2018, July 25). National Autistic Society. https://www.autism.org.uk/get-involved/media-centre/news/2018-07-25-transport.aspx
- Rezae, M., McMeekin, D., Tan, T., Krishna, A., Lee, H., & Falkmer, T. (2019). Public transport planning tool for users on the autism spectrum: From concept to prototype. Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology, 0(0), 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1080/17483107.2019.1646818
Today I learnt (TIL) is a weekly series by OMI that brings you interesting nuggets of information that you didn’t know you needed.