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Traveling with Sensory Processing Disorder

I’ve been traveling a lot lately, and I’m worn out. While waiting to board my latest flight home, I pretty much sat at the gate in a sensory stupor while the gate agents droned on the speaker about checking your carry-on bag. Because I have Sensory Processing Disorder, I needed an afternoon (or more) to reset my nervous system and return to the real world as a functioning human being. Unfortunately, airports have very few places in which to hide from the noise, movement, and general chaos of airport activity. (But for help finding those rare spots, check out sleepinginairports.net)

Dyspraxia, SPD, and Airports

And, it’s not just the crowds of people that are overstimulating- it’s also the tasks you have to do in order to get onto your flight. These tasks fall under the concept of praxis. In the context of Sensory Processing Disorder, dyspraxia refers to difficulty with planning complex movements and tasks. It falls under the Sensory-Based Motor Disorder subtype of Sensory Processing Disorder.

Tackling Motor Planning Challenges

I have symptoms of dyspraxia, so encountering uncertain situations can be stressful and draining for me. Standing in lines is okay for me; it’s ordered, it’s neat, and the most difficult part for me is identifying which kiosk just opened up (might take me a little longer, but I’ll get it eventually). Security is a mess. People crossing from the main line to a security line across the room, the choices involved in preparing your things to go through the imaging machine (should I take off my shoes first? What about my belt?), and then all of a sudden the line has moved ahead and I’m the dam holding back a flood of grumpy people trying to catch their flights. At least, that’s what I always worry will happen. In reality, it usually goes more smoothly than I expect, and I imagine we look more like ants, focused on our own tasks with occasional hiccups but somehow hurrying around one another to reach our destinations without incident.

Airports Have All the Sensory Stimuli

Airports are visually busy, and with loudspeaker announcements, children crying, businessmen talking shop on their cell phones; it’s a barrage of auditory assaults for people with sensitive nervous systems. Not to mention the vestibular hurdles- the moving walkways clogged with people, the escalator that somehow jostles you up and down while also transporting you diagonally to the next floor. Too much of this, and I begin to get vertigo, letting me know that I’m nearing my limit.

Tips for Traveling with Sensory Processing Disorder

Airports are challenging places to navigate for people with Sensory Processing Disorder. Luckily, there are strategies you can use to make your airport experience less stressful.

  • Get organized the night before to set yourself up for success.
    • Print your ticket.
    • Organize your belongings so that essential items are easy to grab.
    • Double check your arrangements for transportation. Have parking, shuttle busses, or your ride from a friend figured out in advance.
    • Consider writing down important information in one easily accessible place. Having your terminal, gate, airline, flight times and numbers, and your itinerary at the ready can help you feel prepared.
    • Wear clothing that makes getting through security simple.
  • Bring things that ground you.
    • Mints, hard candy, gum.
    • Strong smells such as in diffuser jewelry or a travel deodorant.
    • Weighted lap pad, compression socks, hats, and other clothing that calms you.
    • Headphones and a supply of music or your favorite content.
  • Give yourself time to recover after your flight.
  • Be patient with yourself and others.
  • Take care of the needs you can control.
    • Food and water.
    • Wear layers.
    • Bring travel toiletries.
    • Try to be rested before your adventure!

Traveling with Sensory Processing Disorder may take a little more planning and some extra self-care, but with any luck, you’ll get to your destination as cool and self-regulated as possible.

2 thoughts on “Traveling with Sensory Processing Disorder

  1. All good suggestions for managing stressful air travel. I’ve found noise canceling ear phones or ear plugs to be a necessity in larger airports and on planes.

    Liked by 1 person

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