If you’re travelling or heading out with an autistic person, it’s important to be aware of the considerations you should take before embarking on your trip. Whether it be a day out to your local amusement park, shopping centre, or a trip to the cinema, It’s handy to take note of the special services available to you and what steps to take to ensure you and your person of care have fun. Most tourist attractions across the UK are more than happy to accommodate to your needs, with some publishing special guides to ensure you get the help and support you require. It’s also handy to know of the services which are available to you!

We’ve put together a thorough guide containing everything from planning ahead, what services are available, where to visit, special events and more. Having fun-filled days out or travelling doesn’t have to be difficult and knowing the right information can help you and the person you’re caring for get out there and have fun!

We are always on the lookout for any new information or resources which may benefit you so be sure to keep a lookout for any new additions to our blog post!

It’s Important To Plan Ahead

When travelling with an Autistic person, it’s essential that more planning is involved before you head out to ensure you get the most out of your experience, wherever it may be! It’s for this reason that you will need to plan your day ahead of schedule. Here we have listed a number of ways in which you can prepare for your day:

  1. Contact the place you’re heading beforehand to see what support is available for autistic people. Most tourist attractions are happy to support you but it’s best to contact them beforehand so you can be prepared.
  2. Many tourist attractions will require proof of disability and care needs before they offer their concessions, particularly when your needs are invisible – as with an Autistic person. If you don’t have any evidence to provide, the best person to consult is your GP. If you receive Disability Living Allowance (DLA), Personal Independence Payment (PIP) or Carer’s Allowance, take a copy of the award letter with you. Any letter which states the diagnosis will be useful. A Disability Badge is also a reliable source of proof. Each of these are eligible proof providing they’re dated within the last 12 months and your Blue Badge is valid.
  3. If you’re planning to eat out, Think ahead and book a restaurant in advance. When booking, enquire about seating – is there a quieter or more spacious seating area available? Many restaurants now offer a menu for special diets to and most chains should be able to provide you with details of the ingredients in their products so you can check they’re safe.
  4. Whether it’s a family member, a friend or a person you’re caring for, it’s important to prepare them for the day or the trip which is different from their particular regime. Use various techniques and prompts to describe what will be happening. You will need to be aware of any risk factors which may occur whilst you’re in public. Look out for signs of anxiety and support the person to express what they’re feeling. Give them a chance to ask questions about the change. For helpful tips and techniques to use to help prepare for change, see here.
  5. If you’re planning a day out with an autistic person, you will need an accessible toilet. Many tourist attractions, restaurants and shopping centres facilitate Disabled toilet which are handy, however, you may need a Radar Key from the National Key Scheme (NKS). This is a large, silver-coloured skeleton key that opens more than 10,000 locked, disabled toilets in the UK. Smartphone apps including ‘Changing Places Toilet Finder’ can help locate the nearest facility in your location from your phone.

Autism Friendly Tourist Attractions in the UK

Now you know exactly what to consider before heading out, we have compiled a detailed list of tourist attractions in the UK which cater for autistic people and what systems they put in place to ensure you feel comfortable and are able to enjoy your time there.

Alton Towers

The Alton Towers Resort strives to ensure that their attractions are easily accessible to all guests. They offer special discount rates for up to three carers of guests with a disability. Guests with a disability will pay full rate but may be eligible for a Ride Access Pass meaning you can skip ride ques. However, the guest services team will need to see certain documentation before they are able to arrange that for you. If you have a Blue badge, a Personal Independence Payment Letter, a Disability Living Allowance or Attendance Allowance award letter – all of these are eligible proof providing they’re dated within the last 12 months and your Blue Badge is valid. This must be presented alongside valid photographic ID for the named recipient.

Alton Towers have also teamed up with an external accessibility expert who has helped the park install a modern Changing Place and a ‘Space For Change’ facilities on the park. They have been installed in key areas of the Resort, near to the main entrance and SkyRide, so that guests can easily reach the facilities no matter where they are on the park.

If you want to book tickets online, you can fill in the Additional Needs form and upload your documentation.

The London Eye

The London Eye Offers special discounted rates to disabled guests who are booking through the disabled line. The accompanying carers will also receive a free ticket for the same ‘flight’. To book tickets, use the disability booking line. You can call on +44 (0)871 222 0188 or email accessiblebooking@londoneye.com. Proof of disability may be applicable.

If the person you’re caring for is unable to queue or do not understand the concept of queuing, you may be able to utilise the Assisted Boarding Service. You will need to speak to a member of our team onsite regarding assisted boarding. For any more queries, visit The London Eye Official website.

As huge advocates for Autism, the Team at the London Eye are aware that 27th March – 2nd April is Autism Awareness Week and Sunday April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day. In this event, their wheel lights up pink.

Blackpool Pleasure Beach

Blackpool Pleasure Beach will do everything possible to ensure its guests have a safe and pleasurable day. For those guests who have a recognised medical condition which prevents them from being able to queue for access to a ride or attraction, The Pleasure Beach are able to offer guest a unique Entry-via-Exit (EvE) wristband. This allows the wearer and one other person who has either a valid ride wristband or ride tickets to enter the ride via the exit or Speedy Pass gate. The ride staff will then permit entry when safe to do so.

There are no discounted rates for guests with disabilities however if the guest requires the assistance of a carer, they will need to purchase a ride wristband which is offered at a Junior Price oppose to an adult. If your guest has only purchased a Park Entry Pass, then the carer/helper will be issued with a Park Entry Pass (maximum of one) free of charge.

See above for proof of eligibility or visit the Blackpool Pleasure Beach site for more information.

Merlin Entertainment

(Covers: Sea Life Centre, Madame Tussauds, The Blackpool Tower, Alton Towers, Thorpe Parks, Legoland Windsor Resort, Chessington World of Adventures, The Dungeons, Shrek’s Adventure, Jurassic Skyline, Warwick Castle)

If you’re purchasing a Merlin Annual Pass, there are no discounts for disabled guests. However, if you’re a carer, you will receive a complimentary carer pass. You can obtain your Annual Pass through purchasing online or your local attraction. The complimentary carer Pass will then be issued when you visit your home attraction (the attraction you chose to collect your passes from). Please note that the carers pass cannot be used without the presence of disabled passholder it belongs to. Proof of disability is essential. See Above for Details.

Each Merlin attraction has different systems in place including disabled facilities and Ride Access Passes to cater for disabled guests. For full details on each location, see here.

Special Cinema Screenings

Cinema’s in the UK have began holding Autism Friendly Screenings making it possible for autistic adults or children, along with their carers to have an enjoyable cinematic experience!

What is an Autism Friendly Screening?

  • Lights will remain on during screening
  • The Volume is at a lower level, avoiding any extra stress
  • You can move around the cinema, if you’re not keen on where you are sat
  • No trailers are included
  • You can bring your own food and drink
  • Tickets prices tend to be much cheaper

Which Cinemas are Autism Friendly?

Each cinema varies. Some may have lower or higher price points and different films may be shown at different times. We have compiled a list of Where you can go, The costs and what you can expect at some of the mainstream UK cinemas:-

Odeon

ODEON cinemas proudly host specially adapted Autism Friendly Screenings of new releases on the First Sunday morning of each month. Over 90 ODEON cinemas throughout the UK and Ireland participate every month. The hope is that, as guests with sensory difficulties become more familiar with the cinema environment, at some point they will feel comfortable with attending standard screenings.

You can find out the details of the screenings at your local cinema by simply selecting the “Autism Friendly Screenings” filter when viewing the performances at your cinema. If no performances are displayed, there may not be any Autism Friendly screenings that week – in that case you can contact the “Disability and Accessibility Helpline” who will be able to advise you further or you can ask in cinema.

Start your search here.

VUE Cinemas

Participating VUE Cinemas host Autism Friendly Screenings on one sunday morning of each month. Dates and times vary but can be found one your local cinemas website. Vue is dedicated to giving each and every one of our guests an exceptional big screen experience so although booking your seats, Autistic guests are encouraged to get out of their seats, move around and make noise!

Find your next Autism Friendly Screening at you local Vue here.

Cineworld

Cineworld provide Autism Friendly Screenings every month across a selection of participating cinemas. Screenings will be at 11am on the first Sunday of every month.

For further information, please ask in your local cinema! Alternatively, Cineworld along with Odeon Cinemas and Vue Cinemas work is association with Dimensions UK to offer Autism Friendly Screenings. Keep up to date with Autism Friendly screening info via the Dimensions Autism Friendly newsletter.

Autism Friendly Airports

Manchester Airport

As Autism is classified as a Hidden Disability, the team at Manchester airport have been working on ways in which they can improve the airport experience for vulnerable passengers who may not want to share details of their hidden disabilities or use their assistance service. If this applies to you or someone you’re travelling with, Manchester Airport can offer you a special lanyard to wear on your journey through the airport. This will identify you to staff as someone who may need additional support or understanding. All staff have been specially trained to recognise the lanyards and act accordingly.

This lanyard also permits access to the family and priority lanes at security as well as the use of the special assistance lanes at the UK Border on arrival in to Manchester Airport.

To pick up your lanyard at Manchester Airport, you will need to go to one of the Assistance Reception areas. These are available within the Check-in halls in Terminal 1 A and B, Terminal 2 and Terminal 3. See here for more information on Disability Access at Manchester airport.

Birmingham

The team at Birmingham airport understand that airports can be a very stressful environment for autistic passengers. In order to assist these passenger, the staff work closely with Autism West Midlands and their special Assistance provider, OCS to produce videos which detail each step of the journey to enable the view to experience the sights and sounds of the airport before they travel!

Two booklets have been published, one for children and one for adults which you can download right here. The first booklet is for children with Autism and shows the journey through the Airport in pictures and words, there are boxes to tick throughout the journey and a few fun facts along the way! The second booklet contains top tips for adults with Autism and also for parents and carers of children with Autism.

More Autism Friendly UK Airports:-

Autism Friendly Shopping

Supermarkets can be very busy and noisy, and can make those with autism feel uncomfortable. It’s for this reason that many supermarkets outlets including the likes of Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Marks and Spencers have all tried out the ‘Quiet Hours’ scheme where for 60 minutes the lights are dimmed and the music is switched off to create a more peaceful shopping experience for autistic people. Check with your local Supermarket to see if they run a ‘Quiet Hour’.

Asda

Some Asda stores run a weekly quiet hour, here is a great blog post by Asda Goodliving discussing the success and the reasoning behind it!

Asda have also introduced ‘Happy Little Helpers’ shopping lists which are available to all children however were specifically designed for children with autism! The handy Happy Little Helpers shopping lists are now available in over 300 Asda stores to help make trips to the supermarket less stressful for autistic children.

A mother of an a child with autism came up with the idea to help keep her son, Charlie interested and engaged when shopping. Jenny’s colourful shopping list shows a range of shopping choices such as milk, bread and bananas that the child can tick off once they’ve been added to the trolley. She came up with the idea after seeing how Charlie’s school uses symbols and pictures to help him communicate.

The Entertainer

A Trial for a ‘Quiet Hour’ was rolled out across all Entertainer toy stores back in February where the lights were dimmed and back music was muted to help Autistic children feel more comfortable in store. Following the pilots success, The Entertainer will be introducing a weekly Quiet Hour that will take place every Saturday morning in all its UK stores to create a more welcoming environment for children with autism.

Check your local store for more details!

Intu Trafford Centre Manchester

Intu Shopping Centres have recently formed new partnerships with the National Autistic Society and a Manchester based charity Together Trust, to create the UK’s first autism friendly shopping centre at the Intu Trafford Centre in Manchester which is transforming the way staff interact with and support families impacted by autism. Every staff member at intu Trafford Centre now receives training to both better support customers affected by autism and raise awareness around the condition with other shoppers.

They have also produced autism-friendly guides that help customers during every stage of their visit with to the Trafford Centre, with specially designed cards that they can use at their discretion to quickly explain to staff members or the public that they have autism.

You can download your Autism Friendly Guide here and see more information on the Services and Accessibilities for disabled guests.

M&S

Marks and Spencers stock an ‘Easy Dressing’ school uniform range which is designed to make school uniform easy for autistic children to wear all year round. Buttons on shirts are replaced with a hidden panel of soft velcro, pull up trousers which don’t have any buttons or zips and labels removed from the neck area! The collection is designed to ensure autistic children are not distracted by any features of their uniform.

Shop the whole collection here.

We hope you have found our guide useful and begin to feel more confident and comfortable about visiting places you perhaps avoided at one time! Whether you’re caring for an adult or a child, new and busy environments can be daunting and we hope we have fuelled you with some handy tips and guidance to combatting those fears.

For more information on Autism Friendly Day Trips, Special Events, Key contacts and charities, visit the National Autistic society website for all you need to know about autism.