How to Avoid Motion Sickness


Why is Motion Sickness Common in the Autism Spectrum?

As their parents would attest, children who are on the autism spectrum are especially prone to bouts of motion sickness. Extreme sensory issues are pretty common for those with autism- some might be sensitive to the sounds of creaking brakes, some might not be too fond of looking at moving lights, while the rest might not just like the feeling of being in constant motion.

All of this can be traced back to the vestibular system. This system, which is located in between the eyes and inner ears, primarily regulates our sense of balance and spatial awareness. When this vestibular system is over-responsive or not working as it should (as in the case of those with autism), the body's responses to stimuli can go haywire. 

During long-distance travel overseas, for example, the inner ears will tell the brain that the body is currently moving, while the eyes will report that it is not. This conflict in stimuli response causes what we call motion sickness.


Thankfully, we have a few tips that can help make the traveling experience a whole lot better for children on the autism spectrum who are prone to motion sickness.

Here are some of the things that parents can try out:

  • Keep scents to a minimum

Motion sickness gets worse when you have an overload of sensory stimuli. And yes, that includes scents too. If traveling inside a vehicle, it's best to remove all car air fresheners and scents at least a day beforehand and aerate the interiors thoroughly. 

Also, refrain from packing foods with strong scents (fish, curries, fermented food like kimchi). Family members are also advised to not use shampoos, soaps, and other products (e.g. pomades, lotions, etcetera) that have overwhelming scents.


  • Ensure that your kid has his or her eyes in front

Motion sickness occurs when the inner ears recognize movement and the eyes don't. To counter this, you can encourage your child to always look at the road in front of them. 

You can place his or her chair directly behind the passenger seat and in between them, thereby giving your kid an unobstructed view of the road. If you're not traveling with a passenger on the front seat, you can remove the passenger head restraint for a better view.


  • Distract kid with movies

Here's another trick: if you want to encourage your children to always keep their eyes on the road upfront, you can download their favorite shows and movies on a tablet and mount the device on the windshield on the passenger side. Just make sure that you have a long enough headphone cable for this to work (wireless Bluetooth headphones) will work too.

If you're not comfortable with the option above, that's perfectly okay. Distractions like movies on a handheld tablet and mp3 songs and music can work very well to distract kids from their motion sickness.


  • Try motion sickness bands

There are these devices called "motion sickness bands" that can minimize and even remove the effects of motion sickness entirely. It does this through the power of acupressure, so it's a nice drug-free alternative to motion sickness medication. 

You can try these types of bands for yourself. They are often inexpensive and reusable. They're great for kids too since they are usually adjustable and waterproof- meaning that your kid can have them on throughout your entire trip and vacation without any fuss.


  • Ensure your kid's comfort

If your kid is at his most comfortable wearing his favorite pajamas, then let him do so. Allow your child to dress himself or herself in their most comfortable clothes. 

Also, allow them to pick a couple of their favorite toys or plushies to ensure their comfort throughout the entire trip.


Vibes Earplugs for Autism


  • Always keep additional tools on hand

Always make sure that you're perfectly equipped on your trip. When you are traveling with someone with motion sickness, you can never have too many baby wipes. 

Also remember to pack a few extra towels, some extra bottles of water, and some change of clothes for "emergencies" if you encounter any along the way. Snacks like sugar-free candies can help too.

 You can also read: The Best Books for Children under the Spectrum & Neurodiverse Kids


  • As a long-time motion sickness sufferer, and a therapist who works with many children with autism, I can offer a few more tips. 1. If the child can understand, have them continuously look at figures in the far distance through the forward window. This reduces the ocular motion (eye movement) and eases nausea. This is why dancers who spin are trained to find one target at a distance and look for it each time around. It reduces dizziness. Side window screens can also help – just make sure the driver still has all needed visualization of the road and traffic. 2. Stay back far away from vehicles that put out a lot of exhaust, like large working trucks, school busses, or diesels. Those fumes, even if not especially smelly, can trigger nausea instantly. 3. SLOW DOWN. Drivers who don’t suffer motion sickness don’t feel the rotation as much, but frequent switching back and forth in lanes of traffic, starts and stops in city traffic, and winding/curvy/hilly roads trigger motion sickness quickly. Back up from the car in front of you for less jerking when braking, and go especially slow with controlled movement in the curves. Consider alternate routes with straighter roads when possible. 4. Discourage motion-sickness prone children from reading or looking at small objects up close (like hand held games or phones) while riding. The constant eye movement to keep the item in place visually while the car jiggles in typical driving can trigger nausea. Consider replacing with a book on tape or child’s favorite music. 5. Roll down the window for fresh air. This can help, but remember to keep looking ahead forward and not at scenery through the side window. 6. Chewing gum, if safe for your child, can be helpful, possibly due to keeping inner ear pressures stabilized. An alternative may be small ice chips if your child tolerates the coldness. 7. Travel when the child is sleepy. Going to sleep reduces the likelihood of severe nausea. 7. Ask your doctor if the problem continues to be severe. They can help make a determination if something medical would be more useful. 8. What I like to call “latent onset motion sickness” (my own made-up term) can occur a few minutes or even an hour or more after arriving at your destination. Your child may have nausea, headache, or irritability. Keep this in mind as you go forward into the day (or night). The child may not want to eat, may seem lethargic, or may complain of earache/headache. Don’t force foods, but provide cool drinks and alternative, calm activities as needed – maybe time to rest. So if you’ve just arrived at Disneyland, they may not be as excited in the first moments as you’d expect. Lagging motion sickness may be to blame. Just give them a little time, fresh air, and without a doubt, stay off the Spinning Tea Cups!

    Julie Johnson
  • I need to know more. My baby has autism

    Kemonica harris

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