Spectrummy Mummy

Asperger's, Allergies, and Adventures Abroad

Posts Tagged ‘airport

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.

Advertisements

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

August 8, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Flying with Young Children on the Autism Spectrum

with 16 comments

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