Eight Public Transit Tips For Kids With Autism – Toronto Edition

Navigating Toronto’s public transit with children can be a challenge in its own right, and for parents of children with autism, it there’s a whole separate set of considerations. The sensory-heavy and unpredictable bustle of Toronto’s public transportation system can be overwhelming for neurodivergent children. However, with thoughtful planning and preparation, transit journeys can potentially become an enjoyable experience (knock wood).
Here are eight ways to tackle the Toronto transit experience for children with autism, with a few tips for parents and caregivers.

1. Practice, Practice, Practice
Consider trying out some trial runs or simulations at home to get familiar with the systems up ahead. For instance, you could walk through: how to find a seat on a busy bus; how to use a ticket or card in the machine; and how to know your way around transit etiquette. A few dry runs can enhance their confidence.
2. Be Mindful Of Sensory Overload
The Toronto metro is full of noise and commotion that many of us take for granted. So be sure to always consider sensory sensitivities. Bring comforting toys, blankets, and/or accessories such as noise-canceling headphones, and even sunglasses to help create a soothing environment for the child during transit.
3. It’s About The Journey, Not The Destination
Slow things down. You’re not out to “make good time.” Be sure to factor in breaks during the trip, allowing the child to stretch, move, or divert from the travels with a calming activity. These little rest stops can prevent sensory overload and ensure a smoother transit experience.
4. Transit Staff Are Your Allies
It’s not a bad idea to take a moment to talk to transit staff to let them know there’s a neurodivergent child onboard. This can help to give them a heads up about relevant information that could aid in creating a supportive environment. Many Toronto transit systems are familiar with passengers with autism, and can offer assistance for individuals with special needs.
5. Celebrate The Little Things
It never hurts to acknowledge and celebrate small victories after completing each leg of Toronto’s underground labyrinth. You did it. Positive reinforcement can build confidence and make future trips more fun and manageable for both the child and parent.
6. Think Like A Scout
Before embarking on a transit journey with children with autism: be prepared. Show them the time tables, routes, and schedules. Familiarize them with what to expect in the environment. (Here’s what not to touch, and here’s where not to stare.) Discuss the upcoming trip in detail to reduce any anxiety.
7. Consider The Timing
It’s advisable to avoid peak hours to minimize crowds and noise. This will create a more comfortable experience for children with autism who may be sensitive to sensory overload.
8. Think Visually
You can check out some images online or watch a few videos before you go. The Toronto metro website also has aids such as maps, schedules, and tips and pointers which can be very useful. Use these tools to walk your child through the journey, to put them at ease and create a sense of familiarity.
One day your child may be ready to take Toronto transit by themselves. Empowering them to know their way through the maze involves careful planning, understanding individual needs, and creating a supportive environment. Through these eight considerations, it’s possible to create an inclusive and accommodating transit experience for all.