Spectrummy Mummy

Asperger's, Allergies, and Adventures Abroad

Posts Tagged ‘airplane

Air Rage

with 10 comments

It isn’t easy flying alone with young children with special needs.  I was returning back to South Africa from England where I went to pay my respects to a dear friend who died suddenly at Christmas.  Though I was traveling with a heavy heart, it felt a little lighter after the short connecting flight to Heathrow.

Pudding and I had embraced a whole new level of interaction.  I was writing short, simple sentences, and Pudding was reading them back to me!  I’ve always kept this blog with the intention of writing for her, not just about her, and every step forward in her language development makes my heart soar, higher than…well, higher than the plane we were flying in.

My kids are great travelers, though it hasn’t always been that way.  Pudding had visited 10 countries before she turned a year old, so we had our share of disoriented, overtired infant travel.  But more often than not, other people congratulate me on how well-behaved my children are on flights.  I just smile and nod, knowing it could just as easily be the other way.

Now though, with Pudding at 6 and Cubby aged 3, it seems easier than ever.  Pudding is content to draw, Cubby likes his little cars.  They both like free reign of the in-flight entertainment system, and they both even (miracle of miracles) actually sleep!

So we boarded the 747, and got ourselves comfortable.  The plane hadn’t even begun taxiing to the runway when the middle-aged man in front of Pudding and snapped at her for resting her feet on the bottom of the seat in front.  I was a little stunned because she wasn’t kicking his seat, she wasn’t pushing hard with her heels (both of which I’ve experienced from a child sitting behind me), but she was simply resting her toes.  Though she is as tall as a 10 or 11 year-old, her legs aren’t quite long enough to touch the floor, but are too long to keep up on her own seat without her knees pushing into the seat instead.

I asked Pudding to pull her legs up and she immediately obeyed, but moments later she forgot, and they were back on.  I gently moved them again, and repeat a few more times.  At this time I was distracted by Cubby, who was sitting on the other side of me, next to a stranger.  I wanted to remind him to keep in his personal space, and not to do anything to disturb other passengers.

I looked back over to Pudding’s feet, and saw that the man in front had reached behind to grab her ankles and throw them off.  Wait, no that couldn’t have just happened!  A complete stranger did not just touch my six year-old, right?

Pudding had clung on to me, and pulled in her legs.  We took off, with me holding on to her legs.  Cubby dropped his car, and when I went to reach for it, Pudding moved back.  A few minutes later her feet sneaked back into the forbidden position, and this time I watched in horror as the man again aggressively pushed her away.

She spooned back into me and I held her legs over myself and Cubby as the aircraft reached the point where we could take off our seatbelts.  I immediately took both children to the bathroom (no mean feat to have three of us in there!) to talk to them.  I told Pudding that she could not let her feet touch the seat in front.  Then I asked if she understood, and inevitably, she said no.

At this point, I figure my best option is to switch Pudding and Cubby’s positions.  His legs were too short to cause any trouble.  I returned to find the man in front has already reclined his seat, with over 10 hours of the flight remaining.  I put Pudding in Cubby’s seat, and before I even get her belt on, it is too much for her.  This is not her seat.  Normally flexible and cooperative, I’ve crossed a line.  Ten minutes of crying and screaming refusal convinces me that she could keep it up for the full ten hours.  I put her back in the original seat.

She exhausted herself with crying, and falls to sleep immediately.  I pull her feet up across my body, and Cubby joins her.  I daren’t fall asleep myself, so concerned am I with her feet touching the chair in front again.

Pudding actually sleeps for a good 7 or 8 hours of the flight, though the man in front was missing for most of that- I assume he had found a vacant seat elsewhere on the aircraft.  He returned for the last 40 minutes of the flight.  Before long, Pudding’s toes had again trangressed his comfort, and he again reached behind to remove them.  It was even more forceful this time, and after checking she wasn’t bruised, I took a deep breath and leaned forward.

In as calm and polite a manner as I could muster, I informed the man that she had poor body awareness due to a neurolgical condition, and was unable to help touching his seat.  But he simply replied that it was annoying him!

Now, I have a long list on any flight of things that annoy me, from the constant hum of the engines to people standing over me in the aisles, or even somebody reclining their seat for an entire 10.5 hour flight even though they weren’t sitting there most of the time, but nothing had ever annoyed me as much as this selfish, ignorant attitude.

So a little less calmly, I reiterated that she can’t help it, but if an adult like himself can’t help from touching a little girl inappropriately, then I needed to call a flight attendant.

And he didn’t touch her again…until we had already begun making our descent, and calling a flight attendant was no longer possible.  He and his wife gave me dirty looks, but I had the encouragement of several other female passengers in the vicinity and the man sitting next to Cubby, who made sure to tell me that there was no problem with the children on this flight, only the adults.

Because I took two car seats, I had a bit of a wait to get all my baggage.  By the time I’d collected all our belongings and made our way through customs to Spectrummy Daddy, there was no sign of this passenger.

You see, while my air rage was contained on the flight, it exploded once we were on the ground.  Here we were no longer vulnerable- a woman traveling alone with two small children.  Whatever this man’s problem, something tells me he wouldn’t have even thought about touching Pudding had a large man been sitting in my place.

On the ground, I didn’t need to worry about the consequences of venting my anger at this stranger.  I wouldn’t be separated from the children who needed me.  But on the ground, I’m left with an impotent rage that this ever happened, and I was unable to prevent it.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

January 7, 2013 at 1:09 pm

Fan

with 4 comments

 

Back when we first started planning our trip to England, I wasn’t working.  By the time the trip came around, I was employed, and things were busy.  Not only was I new to the job, but the last couple of months are the busiest time of year, and then because of certain organizational changes, and certain people visiting, things were even busier.  There wasn’t time to think in those last few days, let alone pack, prepare the kids, and prepare the office.  Which means it was perfect timing for things to go horribly wrong.

In the week leading up to our departure, Cubby was ill, followed by myself and Spectrummy Daddy in quick succession.  We all recovered, and were feeling well by Friday, the day of departure.  I hadn’t been in the office for long when the call came from Pudding’s school that she was ill.  I raced out to get her, and out to the doctor.  She was feverish, and looked miserable, which was just how I felt.

Pudding was much more defensive than she usually is with the GP- a sure sign that she was ill.  With much patience and coaxing, the doctor managed to assess her, and promptly diagnosed Tonsilitis and a chest infection.  I must have looked how I felt, because the doctor told me she’d give Pudding some medicine, and she’d be fine to travel.  Really?  Yes, because I was her patient too, and she knows how much I needed to get away.  Pudding could be treated, and would soon be back to full health.

I asked our Regional Medical Officer for a second opinion, and he concurred.  The trip was still on, we just had to get the medication inside her.

That was easier written than done.

Pudding refused all medications, both tablet and syrup forms.  We tried mixing it into drinks, we tried bribing her, she refused.  She was not going to take that medicine!  And I wasn’t, I mean I just wasn’t going to put her through that flight without medication.  I couldn’t.  I didn’t voice it out loud, but I mentally prepared myself for not boarding.  Time ticked on, and we were sent to the gate, still without Pudding taking her medicine.

And then I saw it….a Hello Kitty fan!

Now, Hello Kitty is the tops for Pudding in terms of special interests.  But fans are the most stimtastic things for Pudding.  She learned at just a few weeks old that if she screamed if the fan was turned off, we’d turn it back on for her.  I remember Pudding not engaging in most of the assessments during her evaluation because there was a fan in the room, and she just had to keep telling us about it, and staring at it, and spinning like it.  Fans?  Fans are big.  Hello Kitty fans?  Colossal.  I instructed Spectrummy Daddy to furtively buy one.

And moments before boarding, I showed it to her.  She could have it, but she had to take the medicine.  And this time, no fuss, no fight.  She took it all.  Her temperature started to drop immediately.  And for the first time that long day, she was all smiles.

As we passed through the entrance to board the plane, one of the ground staff asked Pudding if it was her magic wand.  And of course, Pudding corrected her that it was a Hello Kitty fan.  She was right, but it was my magic wand.  And to England we did go by the grace of that Hello Kitty fan.  We ended up losing it a week or so later in some motorway services in the north of England with some other Kitty paraphernalia.

I like to think that some magic rubbed off to whoever was lucky enough to hold it next.  Because in spite of that truly turbulent start, the rest of the flight was smooth…and Pudding recovered quickly, and well, I’ll tell you some of the rest of our magical adventures another time.

 

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

September 26, 2012 at 5:19 pm

The Journey

with 8 comments

Before we left for South Africa, I referred to our journey as The Flight, and much as it deserved capital letters, it disguised the fact that there were in fact two flights. The first was a tiny domestic flight under 2 hours, the second being a mammoth 15 hours. So in my preparations, I concentrated mostly on the big one. I assumed the first flight would be easy. I was wrong.

We’d had a couple of hiccups before boarding. The van that we booked to collect us was late, and we were all waiting in the DC summer heat for over half an hour. To say that the kids became irritable doesn’t really do it justice.

Going through security was tough for Pudding this time. She refused to let Kelly doll be subjected to the x-ray machines, then became anxious of the (male) security guard. Fortunately we’d chosen the special screening area and there was hardly any other passengers around to add to her distress.

We pre-boarded, and I retrieved one of the Flying Fairy’s wrapped up gifts: a pad of paper and markers. She was delighted, and began to draw. She drew the best rainbow yet, along with a few other sketches. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the gift occupied her.

Once we were airborne, the attendant came around offering a drink, and we pulled down the tray for the first time. When she finished her water, she moved her pad to the tray and continued drawing. She drew a train “for Cubby”, and then a princess. The princess’ gown needed dots.

She raised her hand and with too much force brought it to the paper. I quickly told her it was too hard, and held her hand to help her gauge the amount of force required. But this wasn’t a teaching moment for our heroine. She was incapable of changing her motor action, and again and again she raised her arm for more dots.

The woman in front turned around and told Pudding to stop kicking her chair. Pudding’s legs had not moved until that point, but when she feels threatened she reacts violently. Pudding was scared by the tone of the lady’s voice. I knew the legs were going to kick from that point on.

The woman continued staring at Pudding, waiting for her response. She would have waited a long time. I apologized, and explained that my daughter has special needs and may not have understood. This was not acceptable. So Spectrummy Daddy and I avowed that we would do our best to prevent Pudding from disturbing her peace.

Of course, now that Pudding was ruffled, preventing her from disturbing the peace was easier said than done. Though I managed to prevent her from touching the seat in front by holding her hands and legs, she became very vocal (and loud) in her discontent.

The woman and her husband continued to turn around, give us “the look” and sigh, but I resolved not to make the situation any worse. Still, every stare was a challenge to Pudding. The more they turned around, the worse her behavior became. She was desperate to get off the flight. So was I.

Loud as Pudding was, we’ve seen much worse in other children. Evidently the couple in front had not. I’ve had my seat kicked for the entire duration of a flight, and I don’t think that drawing dots on paper really compares. They complained to each other for the remainder of the flight, making sure it was loud enough for us to hear. I became particularly rattled when the woman wondered aloud why “they are allowed to fly.”

How I wanted to scream at her! Who shouldn’t fly? People with autism? Any special needs? Children in general? Who are “they”? Just anybody who is not the same as me?

But as I’ve written before: when Pudding is worked up, I don’t have the luxury of rage. My only job is to comfort her, because the last thing we all needed on that flight was a meltdown, and we were flying perilously close.

Pudding eventually calmed, and returned to drawing. Her storm had passed, but mine still raged on. The lady became air sick, and I felt my first stirrings of compassion. It is bad enough feeling sick without being disturbed. I was glad Pudding was preoccupied at that time, she tends to repeat that somebody is sick over and over. There is nothing worse, let me tell you, if in fact you are sick at the same time she is pointing it out, ad nauseum.

Soon it was time for the final descent. The husband called for a flight attendant, wanting to know where he would be able to collect his wife’s wheelchair. The attendant explained that they could wait until everybody had disembarked and it would be brought to the cabin door. Instead the wife opted to get off at the same time as everybody else and walk on her crutches.

Her husband moved on ahead quickly (presumably to collect the wheelchair) as the wife moved slowly and painfully through the tunnel to the terminal. Spectrummy Daddy had waited behind to collect our stroller (push chair) and I followed directly behind the lady with Cubby and Pudding.

With her two crutches, there was no room for other passengers to pass. Now I felt for her. Others were trying to get by, in a rush to leave the airport or make their onward connection. Once she had started there was no way to change her mind. She had to keep going until she reached the terminal, no doubt feeling the humiliation of a body that can’t do as she wishes.

Behind me I could hear others becoming impatient. Maybe some were thinking that she shouldn’t have been allowed to fly, much as she had said a little while earlier about Pudding. This woman’s disability had been hidden while she was seated on the plane, no wheelchair or crutches in sight. Pudding’s disability is hidden all the time. Sometimes her autism can inconvenience others, but never as much as it causes difficulties for my girl. This lady and Pudding have more in common than she would ever have realized.

I was still angry, and scared of the impending 15(+) hour flight. I needed a drink to calm my tempest. We made our way to the next terminal, and found a coffee shop. After a short while, the couple arrived and sat a few tables away from us. This lady who had seemed so formidable an hour earlier now looked elderly, frail, and beaten by her efforts. Pudding, no longer hyperactive, looked tired and defeated too.

We’re on the same journey, and yet finding it so hard to really see those traveling with us.

Our table was right next to a piano, and a gentleman arrived to perform. The kids were pleasantly distracted by his music, and before long, I was too. I noticed something around his neck, and realized he was wearing an autism awareness lanyard, and I almost cried. In recognition, relief, solidarity….I don’t know what. When it was time to go to our gate, I gave him the remaining dollars I had left in my purse and thanked him, not just for the music.

And you know, the second flight was better than I’d anticipated. A passenger even apologized to me for disturbing Pudding when she had fallen asleep. We made it.

This can be a Hell of a journey, but it eases considerably knowing that we don’t travel it alone.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

August 8, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Flying with Young Children on the Autism Spectrum

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We just flew for the first time since Pudding was diagnosed with an ASD almost two years ago.  However, it is definitely NOT the first time we have flown with a child with autism.  Before we returned to the US, we were real jet-setters, and Pudding racked up more flights in the first two years than most people do in a lifetime.  We have experience, but as with everything autism, we are still learning.

On Thursday we flew to Florida to spend a few days with family.  I looked at it as a trial run for our upcoming move, and with that in mind, the trip went perfectly.  On the flight out, Pudding was (mainly) a model child, on the return…let’s just say it was quite the opposite.  Between the two extremes, I’m armed with a better idea of what does and doesn’t work for her.  If you plan on flying with young children on the spectrum, this might just help you get off the ground too.

Preparation

Do: Read books about flying and airports.  Play at packing backpacks and luggage.  Practice going through security.  Find out what the facilities are like in the departing airport and at the destination.  Some airlines will even list their meals and snacks as well as in-flight entertainment.  Use all this information to get them excited about the experience.  We read a book about airports for a few weeks, then on the day at the airport I kept pointing out to the kids what part we were at, and what was coming next.  Shame the book ends as the flight begins though.  We need a social story to see us through the rest of the flight.

Don’t: Leave it until the last minute.  You’ll not have enough time to do it well, and get stressed out.

Security

Do: Find out if your airport has a separate screening area for people with disabilities.  If so, use it.  The agents there will be more understanding if your child has a meltdown, and nothing causes sensory overload like going through airport security.  Warn the staff about potential difficulties such as taking off shoes, walking through the metal detectors and putting toys through scanners.  Make sure these are in the social story!  Do arrive with extra time.  Nobody needs to be rushed at a stressful time.

Don’t: Use diagnoses or words that don’t have meaning to those unfamiliar, like “high-functioning,” “PDD-NOS,” or “Asperger’s.”  Your child has “autism” or “special needs” and that is all the security agent needs to know.  Don’t get stressed!  Your child will too.

Cubby riding the trunki. He loved it until he fell off.

At the Airport

Do: Use the time to get exercise/sensory input.  Carrying a backpack, or pulling a trunki will provide some proprioceptive input to calm and organize.  Walking around will burn off some energy for fidgety little ones.  If you have enough time, get something to eat before the flight, even if meals are provided.  You don’t want to have a hungry child, or a picky eater who refuses the in-flight options.

Don’t: Expect your child to sit and wait patiently before the flight and then do the same during the flight.  It won’t happen.

Toys

Do: Let your child pick a couple of favourite toys to have with them on the flight.  Also, find some travel games, books, crayons, colouring and stickers books that they’ll enjoy.  Here is my tip: if your little one likes getting presents, wrap them up.  Every once in a while let her pick out a new toy.  They don’t have to be expensive, they just have to keep their interest.

Don’t: Let them have the bag, they’ll likely open them all immediately.  Don’t take loud electronic toys that will annoy fellow passengers.  You’ll feel conspicuous enough without attracting more attention.  Unless you don’t care about the pieces getting lost, don’t take things with small parts.

Sensory

Do: If you provide a sensory diet at home, think of the flight as a sensory banquet.  You’re going to need all your tricks to keep your kid regulated.  Weighted vests, lap pads and blankets can work wonders.  Never underestimate the noise of the engines, both ear protectors and regular headphones are useful.  Pudding normally resists her “chew toy” but chewed on it for most of the outbound flight.  For the next flight I’ll take her chewelry as well.  Anything that works, and a few things you haven’t tried yet.

Don’t: Imagine you can possibly pack light.  I took a few fidgets that Pudding never had any interest in, but another time they might have saved the day, and my sanity.  Instead she was happy to play with a few inexpensive lacing and beading toys which distracted her on taking off and landing, and worked her fine motor skills at the same time.

iPod Touch or iPad

Do: Beg, borrow, or buy one if at all possible.  Then load it up with books, apps, TV shows, podcasts…anything and everything to entertain your child.  It needs to be fun, not just educational.  I handed Pudding my iPod Touch on our 10 hour flight back to the US, and she may have been the only toddler ever to do a transatlantic flight without tears.  I was concerned about her having too much screen time, but she mixed it up with other things I’d brought.  This time she had her own iPad.

Don’t: Forget to charge it.

Books

Do: Bring a couple of familiar favourites and one or two new books.  During take-off and landing you need to switch off electronics.  Books are also good for transitions if you want your child to go to sleep during the flight.

Don’t: Take heavy hardbacks.  If you haven’t already worked it out, you’re going to be carrying a lot of stuff!

Snacks

She overlooked the fact that it was her brother’s special interest when she found it was full of tasty treats.

Do: Carry on the party theme and use party gift bags to package your treats and snacks.  I filled a little bag with healthy snacks and a couple of treats and let Pudding have the bag during our last flight.  She liked having control, and I was certain everything she ate was allergy-safe.  The party bag just made a few pretzels, raisins and sweets a bit more special.

Don’t: Assume your child will be okay with the food or snacks provided by the airline.  Sometimes a taste of the familiar can offset a new experience.  Don’t take treats with you unless you’re prepared to let your child have them all.  If they see goodies but you deny them, you’re going to hit turbulence.

Special Interests

Do: Make good use of special interests of favourite characters.  Toothbrushes, clothing, backpacks and luggage are much more appealing with a superhero or princess.  Try incorporating them into a social story about appropriate behaviour while on the plane or at the airport.

Don’t: Try to introduce more “age-appropriate” interests.  So what if they are too old for Elmo?  The goal is to keep the kid happy and calm.

All that matters is their comfort.  That is my mantra when flying.  When they’re comfortable, so are we.  In fact, we’re ready to soar.

Happy Flying!

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

July 7, 2011 at 7:28 am

The Airport

with 17 comments

Own photo

Image via Wikipedia

I think I established in yesterday’s  post that our flight has the potential to go pretty badly.  Pudding has actually flown quite a lot, though not at all since her diagnosis.  She used to love it, and I developed a few tricks for occupying toddlers on a plane.  In fact, when we flew from Europe back to the US, people actually congratulated us on how well Pudding (aged 2 1/2) had behaved on the 10 hour flight.  We know it could just as easily have gone the other way though!

We’re not the first spectrummy family to take a long flight, nor will we be the last.  So rather than continuing to dwell in panic and fear, I’ve decided to take a more proactive approach.

I thought it would be great if we could all share our knowledge about traveling to make it easier.  I’m going to create a little series of posts where I ask you to share your tips.  We can all benefit from one another’s advice.  If you are a blogger, just add your link.  Otherwise, write a comment.  You don’t have to have children on the spectrum to chip in.  Our kids are all pretty different, something that appeals to one can be repellent to another, but you just might have the trick to help a family get through this challenge.  And if your tip helps our family, I will lavish you with gratitude.

Travel is a really huge area to talk about, so why don’t we start with just the airport?  The lovely DQ sent me this link which is a guide to Manchester Airport (UK) for children with ASD.  It is really useful, I would LOVE it if every airport produced something similar, but this would be pretty useful as a guide anyway.  We live less than 30 minutes away from the airport, so we plan on taking a drive out there one weekend to watch the planes, and take photos for a social story.  We also have a Fisher-Price airport playset to role play.  Cubby was only 4 months old on his last flight, so he really doesn’t have the concept down yet.  Playing helps him to prepare for what will happen.

After our last flight, we purchased a trunki ride-on rolling suitcase for Pudding at the airport.  We haven’t flown since, so I can’t vouch for how well it works, but it might alleviate boredom, and is cute enough for kids to want to pull themselves.  My plan is to put her weighted blanket in there, so she could get some good proprioceptive input as she walked around the airport.

Alright, there you have a couple of tips from me about airports, but I’d love to hear some more.  Does anyone have any sage advice for dealing with airport security?  How do you make waiting in queues more bearable?  What helps prevent sensory overload in airports?  Anything you can suggest to help pass the time at the airport?

I’d love your help.  So would Pudding and a lot of kids like her.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

March 8, 2011 at 7:19 am