Autistic people worried by public transport

Autism web

Fears over unexpected delays and negative reactions from other passengers are driving those with autism away from public transport

27th March 2018 by Gareth Jones 2 Comments

More than half of autistic people avoid public transport due to fears of disruption.

The National Autistic Society is encouraging the public and transport organisations to find out more about autism and the small things they can do to help people.

To mark World Autism Awareness Week, the charity has launched a powerful new survey and film which reveals the hidden isolation faced by many autistic people across the country.

Research carried out by the society found that 75% of autistic people say that unexpected changes – such as delays, diversions and cancellations - make them feel socially isolated. Fear of experiencing unexpected changes had stopped 52% of respondents from getting the bus or train.

Two thirds of those questioned said they felt other passengers had a negative reaction as they used techniques to try and calm themselves down and 96% of autistic people said that public transport causes them anxiety.

Fiona McGrevey of the National Autistic Society Scotland, said that autistic people feel judged on public transport.

“We can’t make the trains run on time,” she said. “But we can all make a big difference this World Autism Awareness Week, by finding out more about autism and the small things we can do to make the world more autism friendly.

“For instance, if you see someone having a hard time, just like the character in our film, you can help by understanding that the person could be autistic and not staring or giving them a bit of space.”

The film follows an autistic woman who is so anxious about her train journey to work that she feels unable to leave the house at all.

She becomes completely overwhelmed as she imagines all the things that could go wrong: delays, diversions and cancellations, loud crowds and the tuts and stares that come when her discomfort becomes visible.

Christopher Miller, 28, is autistic and lives in Girvan. The video reflects many of his own personal experiences of travelling on public transport. :

He said: “On one occasion, while taking a journey on the Glasgow subway, I had to cover my ears and eyes due to the loud noise and shaking of the train – I just wanted it to end and to leave the train. This was very embarrassing as everyone was looking at me. It made my anxiety even worse.

“I feel isolated from using public transport and worry about using it. Being on-board a train or bus can make me feel trapped, and in turn, it can be an effort to breathe.”

13th March 2020 by Ray

I'm autistic and like trains but with all the noise and big things moving I can't cope with stations. There may not be enough staff these days to implement it but the sunflower lanyard scheme works in supermarkets. If they could show a person wearing a lanyard which train to get on and write down the station they need to get off at it would be wonderful.


I've had awful experiences on trains but I think all I need is to be shown which train to get on and the station that I need to get off written down: then the process repeated at each connection. I get sensory over load but with the above I think I could handle a journey by myself.