It is very short. Do take a look.
Since it is so short, it won’t cover everything that you might want to know. That is easily fixed. Call us or email us with your questions.
It is very short. Do take a look.
Since it is so short, it won’t cover everything that you might want to know. That is easily fixed. Call us or email us with your questions.
Contact the Transport Security Administration (TSA) 72 hours prior to travel. You need TSA Cares and that phone number is 855-787-2227. You should request that they provide you with a Passenger Support Specialist (PSS). Your PSS should contact you on your cell phone sometime between 72 hours and 24 hours prior to your flight. If you have not heard from TSA 24 hours prior to flying, contact them again.
When your PSS does call you, they will make arrangements about when and where to meet them at the airport. If all attempts at prior contact with the PSS fail, tell the first TSA staff member that you encounter at the airport that you have requested a Passenger Support Specialist. They will contact your PSS or find somebody else to assist you.
Please remember that everybody has to be screened. You do, however, have some choices on screening method. If your child cannot stand in the full-body scanner on their own for a few seconds, ask to go through the old metal-detector arches. If your child might be disturbed by the alarm from the metal-detector, perhaps the body scanner will be the better option. Tell your PSS if a manual pat-down is something that will be tolerated or is something that will cause distress.
Empty water bottles and any water-filled toys before going through security and refill them afterwards. For medications in liquid form that exceed the 3 oz limit, try to bring them in unopened containers and have a doctor’s note saying that it is medically necessary. You may even be able to bring Play-Doh® or Thera-Putty® if you have a doctor’s note explaining the therapeutic use.
Please remember not to wear anything that might trip the metal detector. Ladies, do NOT wear an underwire bra. Although TSA gives you the assurance that you and your child will not be separated, setting off the alarm may cause confusion for everybody.
If traveling with two adults, send one through first, then the children and the other adult.
If you are flying domestically, TSA should contact you while you are away in order to set up arrangements with a PSS for your return journey. If you have not heard from them 24 hours before your flight, contact them again. If you are flying internationally, you cannot make these types of arrangement overseas.
Contact your airline, ahead of time, and request priority/early boarding. Airlines differ a little on their procedures for this so it will help to check before you get there.
Find your gate and speak to the gate agent as soon as possible. Tell the gate agent that you have arranged early boarding and ask when that will start. Sometimes this can be well in advance of the posted boarding time.
If, after checking with the gate agent, you have time to fill, you will be able to visit any food service outlets or shops that you wish. If you just want a quiet place to play, look for empty gates close to yours.
If the seating arrangements for your family include an aisle seat, it is probably best if your child has one of the other seats and not the aisle seat. Lots of strangers brushing past them may cause a problem.
As soon as you board, try to speak to the flight staff and tell them that your child has autism. They will probably need your input on your child’s needs and what help may be needed during the flight, if your child is having difficulties. It is a lot easier to explain this before, rather than after, it happens.
Check your airline’s baggage policies. Make sure that you understand both weight and size restrictions. Also, view our previous post: 10 Tips on Airline Baggage Fees.
Checked bags are obvious. For items that you carry on, you need to distinguish between larger items, which generally go in the overhead bins, and “personal items”, which generally can be stowed under the seat in front of you.
During taxiing, take-off and landing, you will not be permitted to stand up to access the overhead bins. (This also coincides with the time that you will not be allowed to use electronic devices.) Be sure to have things that you need to access during this period in the bag that you stow under the seat.
Items that you may need include:
Make sure you’ve packed the things that you’ll need quick access to, at any time, into your “personal item”. The others can go into the carry-on, in the overhead bin.
Where possible, arrange transportation that takes you straight to the terminal. If you drive yourself to the airport, you may introduce an unnecessary transition from the parking lot to the terminal, if that requires a shuttle bus.
If a friend or relative will take you and pick you up, that is obviously cheaper than car service. If not, look at the cost of parking, when driving yourself, versus the cost of car service. Airport parking can, sometimes, be very expensive and, if this is the case, car service may be cost effective as well as more convenient.
Most airlines offer online check-in 24 hours in advance. Where this applies, it will help you to do so. It will eliminate one extra line at the airport.
If, for any reason, you believe that online check-in will not work for you, try this. Where available, and where the flight is in a 2-cabin aircraft, call the airline to seek permission for you to use the business class check-in rather than coach class even when you are ticketed in coach.
Check in as early as you can. In any event, do not be late for check-in. Most flights are full, or close to full, and the airline may reallocate your seats, if you are late.
If a mock flight/practice boarding program is available at your airport, do take the opportunity and try this. It will help you when it comes to the “real thing”.
The original such program was Wings or Autism. The Arc of USA is rolling it out nationally. Look for it at your local airport or via your local Arc affiliate. If you can’t find one, contact us. We’ll see if we can locate one for you.
If such a program is not available at your airport, try to arrange your own “dry run” to the airport. This will give you some familiarity with the route there and with the terminal, at least on the ground-side of security.
If visual stories help your child with other activities, prepare a visual story for your trip. You can contact the airport authority and/or your airline’s community relations department and request photographs. Your child’s special education teacher, therapist or other professional support may be able to assist you when putting this together.
Practice all of the possible techniques for dealing with pressure change that are not already familiar to your child. You won’t know, until you are in the air, which ones are going to work so you need your child to be familiar with all of them. (See “During the Flight” section for more details).
If your child is very sensitive to noise, you probably already have noise-cancelling headphones. If your child has less sensitivity but has occasional trouble with noise, try some so that you can be sure they will be tolerated.
Where possible, visit you airport’s website and download a map of the layout. This should enable you to look in advance for things like food and beverage outlets, shops and possible play areas. Look also for details of your destination airport. For arrival, it will help you to know about ground transportation and for your return journey; you’ll want all of the same information as you did for the flight there.
Try to plan as far in advance as possible.
Flights are priced based upon availability. Availability decreases as time goes by. This is even more important when trying to utilize frequent flier miles or other award travel.
Consider which dates will work best for you.
If you have some flexibility in the matter, mid-week flights may be less crowded, and more affordable, than weekend flights.
If flying to a resort, check out their rates according to the day of the week. You may be lucky enough to find more affordable room rates to go alongside the less expensive airfares.
If flying to a port city in order to board a cruise, plan to fly the day before the cruise. Flying involves a lot of transitions and so does boarding a cruise ship. This will help to space out those transitions. Additionally, you don’t want to risk to missing your cruise on account of flight delays on the day of departure. For similar reasons, you should consider an overnight stay at a hotel near the port, before flying home.
Try to use non-stop flights at all times.
Take-off and landing are the most stressful parts of the flight for children with ASD. Keep your trip to 1 of these in each direction, if you possibly can. Additionally, missed connections will leave you stranded at the intermediate airport and with no plan for dealing with that problem.
It is better to drive a further distance to an airport that offers you a non-stop flight than it is to drive the shorter distance to one that only offers connecting flights.
Look for small airports.
Small airports are, generally, less crowded and less noisy than big airports. If you can do so, fly from a small airport and into a small airport.
This consideration is secondary to “take non-stop flights” above.
Decide what time of day works best for your family to fly.
The first flight of the day is, usually, the one with the least delays. If, however, your child is not a “morning person”, you should consider a later flight.
If your child gets fatigued later in the day, try to avoid flights that will arrive too late for them and remember to allow for flight delays when considering this.
Try to seat your ASD child behind a family member.
If your airline allows advance seat reservation try to seat family members in 2 rows, one behind the other. Many children on the spectrum will kick the seat in front of them as part of Stimming. Family members won’t complain if this happens. Strangers might.
BOOK USING OUR FLIGHT ASSISTANCE PACKAGE!
We take all of these factors into account when you book with our flight assistance package. In addition, you get all of the following benefits:
If you have concerns about taking your child on a commercial flight, for a vacation or just to visit family, be encouraged by Jesse Saperstein who is our guest blogger today. He has Asperger’s and he’s tried skydiving.
Of course, Jesse has done much more than that. He’s a best-selling author, motivational speaker and autism advocate. His first book, Atypical: Life with Asperger’s in 20 1/3 Chapters, was published in 2010 by Penguin Group (USA). His second book, Getting a Life with Asperger’s: Lessons Learned on the Bumpy Road to Adulthood, is due to be released on August 5th, 2014.
We asked Jesse to share his thoughts on what it was like to take a vacation for somebody who has autism. Here they are:
THE MAGIC OF ASD VACATIONS
Vacations are supposed to be a break in reality. At least, that is what they are designed to serve in our harried lives. They are meant to be a period when the unrelenting realities of the real world back off for at least a few days. But for individuals who are on the autism spectrum, it is usually never that simple. When you live under the cloud of autism, traveling is often synonymous with suffering and nothing feels like a gentle day at the beach!
As is often the case, the bad vacations stand out in my mind far more than the rare vacation filled with uninterrupted euphoria. There was the trip to Disney World in fourth grade when I drove my family nuts because they took us to EPCOT Center for two days instead of the Magic Kingdom. (I was expecting the same rides as two years ago.) Or there was the week at the beach that was nearly ruined by a case of Athlete’s foot that had to be treated at a doctor’s office while in Ocean City, MD. For some reason, I did not have the sense to tell my family about the problem nor speak up at least a week ago when it could have been treated at my sleep-a-way camp’s infirmary. The same anger, rituals, and occasional tantrums related to provocations like video games pursued us during the one week of the year that should have been a reprieve from any madness that plagued us at home.
It helps to understand that autism rarely, if ever, takes a holiday. Therefore, supports are needed even during vacation periods to assist with “crisis” like ice cream melting too fast, travel delays, sunburns, airplane air pressure distress, and lack of video game stimulation. Individuals with autism drink and bathe in predictability. With that said, a vacation can be the most unpredictable situation imaginable that invites a conga line of meltdowns. It also offers a chance for problems to arise that seem to defy reality. For example, one family in Minneapolis had their child maneuver the Internet to extend a family vacation by at least a few days while also changing the room to his preference after memorizing the credit card numbers. And try explaining to a TSA agent why their child blurts out a wisecrack about their family smuggling drugs. Instead of doing the sensible thing by “letting it go,” the TSA agent may strip search every family member.
What are we saying? Vacation can be difficult for anyone including the most seasoned traveler. Who has not wanted to experience the short-term joy of throwing a chair against the window of an airport that would be inevitably followed by the long-term consequences of incarceration in “Airport Jail”? This is usually provoked by the Catch-22 situation of a plane delayed in increments of half-an-hour for at least eight hours. Life is not fair, but there should be limits to how unfair life can get for the long-suffering individual who needs just one week where nearly everything goes right. The frustration and reaction will be multiplied by at least ten for those struggling with autism.
It is uncommon for supports to be extended during vacation periods for families who deserve to jump into that Wonderland Rabbit Hole away from reality. Autism never takes a holiday, but it should at least take half-a-day off once in a while for the sake of family togetherness. In my new book, “Getting a Life with Asperger’s” I discuss how my case of Asperger’s syndrome affected the life of my sister, Dena who is two-and-a-half years younger. It must have been unbearable for her to have my neurosis intrude upon a perfectly good vacation that required the attention of our parents at exotic restaurants and others places that should have been synonymous with undiluted joy.
How amazing is it that there is actually a company that caters to this obscure niche in the special needs world? Society has come a long way, but we still have light years of progress remaining. In the future, there should be an abundance of restaurants dotted with the puzzle piece-checkered autism logo indicating that staff are trained in recognizing the condition and will be ready with compassion as well as autism-friendly toys to enhance the dining experience. Karen Kosack, who founded the Hudson Valley Autism Society, blossomed with the inspiration to create the organization after visiting Disney World. She and her children were mercilessly heckled by other park guests when they were allowed to circumvent the infamously long lines for the rides. They could have used an advocate who would reassure them that the guests could not and may never understand. Or for the most relentless complainer, this advocate could have further explained the situation and provided a card with a phone number in which to make a ridiculous complaint to the park.
It would have helped in my life to have ASD Vacations during the throes of autism. An advocate could have taught me coping strategies that would avoid spoiling the magic that would-have, could-have, and should-have been pure. As an individual gets older, these seeds of coping mechanisms will flourish. The strategy of a “Practice Vacation” is ingenious especially considering it is better to have one-fifth of a vacation robbed by autism as opposed to the entire week. ASD Vacations send the message that hotels worthy of our business should be required to make reasonable accommodations and allow themselves to become educated. One must have their hand held before they are able to cross the street on their own. As an adult, I have an unusually heavy travel schedule due to my public speaking career, and the hardships that I endured as a child have seasoned me to meet these challenges. There was the time I narrowly avoided trouble that could have been a YouTube-worthy moment. I had asked an airline employee whether she would mind me leaving my belongings on a chair and then asked, “Will the police come to blow it up?!” Apparently, they had issues with the words, “blow it up” even though it was obviously used in an innocuous fashion.
Traveling is just another skill that must be mastered by those living with autism, and it is accomplished the same way as any other skill. Through experience and the willingness to accept feedback, it is possible to alleviate suffering in the future. Some of the greatest victories will be achieved when a person with autism understands they have the power to navigate new territory and deal with minor setbacks as they come.
It is also a fallacy that maturity will flourish due to age and the natural development of the human brain. Maturity is definitely a phenomenon that must be earned by putting oneself out there and creating Tinker Toy blocks of confidence. I remember the first time I drove home in broad daylight from Staten Island in heavy traffic! Traffic and the possibility of getting into a car accident have always been a potent fear. But the experience was conquered one step at a time until I found my way home where the familiar surroundings embraced me like a blanket. As human beings, we are instinctively attracted to environments that offer predictability, which is why certain franchises will be forever popular even if the food is essentially the equivalent of edible sewage. But once in a while, it is a good idea to escape from that cocoon where everything is in its place to experience a real adventure. Trust me…it will be worthwhile when the rewards finally come.
Last year, I decided to drive a friend of mine with Asperger’s and myself to the quasi-paradise in Wildwood Crest, NJ. We ended up checking out of a motel after the first night, which we should have researched beforehand. If I had bothered to type in two words on the trip advisory site then I would have read the seventy-five one star reviews describing it as the most dilapidated, dirtiest place in Wildwood. With my back singing out in pain from the uncomfortable bed…I ended up laughing off the experience and checked into another motel that was sheer paradise compared to the place we had just escaped. These days, there is a Garden of Eden’s worth of resources compared to the primitive technology available when I was a young boy. Internet on cell phones and GPS devices definitely shave something off the distress that is inevitable when one travels. But the greatest resources are those garnered from years of traveling and uncertain vacations. I am now aware that there will be difficulties, and they will be surmounted just like nearly all of my life obstacles.
Hopefully the purpose of ASD Vacations will be to teach youths how to congratulate themselves for rising above certain challenges that would have previously been crippling in nature. Everyone deserves at least a few days a year where the less-favorable of autism may not disappear, but at the very least it is placed on a backburner.
Mr. Jesse A. Saperstein (845) 635-3809 Cell Phone: (845) 325-6152
Choosing the most suitable hotel and then the most suitable room at that hotel is one of the big challenges in vacation planning for anybody. That challenge can be even greater when traveling with a child with ASD. Here are some tips to help you.
Tip 1. The advice to everybody is to choose a property that offers the activities that you want or that is close to those activities. (If you want to visit lots of museums, you won’t want a cabin in the Rockies.) For families with typically-developing children, they know which activities will work and which new activities will be worth trying. For you, for us, we probably know extremely well one activity which will work and have no way of predicting which others might.
Once you have found a property that includes any activity that you know will work, look for the biggest variety of activities that you could, at least, try. Let’s illustrate that. While every child on the spectrum is different, we do find that the vast majority enjoy water/swimming. If that applies to your family, you’ll want a place that has a nice pool. This will give you an “anchor” activity and allow you to try as many other activities as you can, thus improving your chances of finding something that really works.
Tip 2. When it comes to grade of property, a long standing piece of advice has always been that even the least expensive room in a high-grade hotel is better than the best room in a lower-grade hotel. Why is that? Hotels are graded by the amenities offered and the service level offered. In that high class hotel, no matter which room you occupy, you have access to all of those amenities and to that level of service. In the best room in a low-grade property, you don’t. (Think about the Presidential Suite at Bates Motel!). You, however, may need to “adjust” this advice.
You also need to take on board the general principle that the cheapest rooms in any property are probably the smallest and the most expensive rooms at any property are probably the biggest. You may need more space than other families and, consequently, a bigger room may be worthwhile provided that the sacrifice of amenity and service isn’t too great. (Do avoid Bates, no matter what!).
Tips 3-7. Sensitivity to noise is a frequent concern for those on the spectrum. Noises are also, frequently, accompanied by other stimuli that can lead to sensory overload. This comes up often enough that we have 2 tips regarding choice of property and 3 more regarding choice of room.
Tip 3. In general terms, smaller properties are usually quieter than bigger properties. There is, however, a trade-off. Again, in general terms, the bigger properties tend to have more activities than the smaller ones. Balance this tip against your needs as in Tip 1.
Tip 4. All other factors being equal, reckon that low-rise properties are quieter than high-rise properties.
Tip 5. This applies particularly if you’ve opted for a low-rise property. Most of the amenities (restaurants etc.) will be clustered in a central location and rooms located away from those amenities should be quieter than those close to it.
Tip 6. This is more likely to apply if you’ve opted for a high-rise property but holds good for some low-rise establishments. The last room in a given hallway should be quieter than any other in that same hallway. Why? Firstly because there will only be a room on one side of you and not on the other. The remaining rooms have a room on either side. Secondly, as the hotel is allocating rooms they, in very general terms, tend not to put people at the far end of hallways and you have a slightly better chance that even that one room next to you may not be occupied.
Tip 7. This is a variant on tip 6. If you are in any property that has more than one floor, asking to be located on the top floor will give you the guarantee that there is no room above you. There is a caution to this tip. In many properties, particularly high-rises with good views, there may be quite a premium for top-floor accommodations.
Tip 8. If your child doesn’t like small spaces or doesn’t deal well with close proximity to strangers, you should look for a room that won’t require use of an elevator. These will be rooms on the first floor or, at least a low floor.
Tip 9. If your child is sensitive to strange smells/odors, you will want to ask for a room that is located away from the restaurant(s) and the accompanying air vents.
Tip 10. If your child is prone to wandering off, you will need to look at rooms that are far from the main entrance to the property. This won’t stop them wandering (you probably have some counter measures for this already) but it will slow them down in terms of being able to leave the property altogether. This can be particularly important if that main entrance is located close to a main road.
Tip 10 ½. As you see there are many considerations that need to be balanced against each other in order to come up with the choices that will be right for you and for your child. How do you figure that balance? Ask a professional travel agent for help!
Is fear or anxiety a part of autism? It doesn’t feature in any clinical definition and yet it is usually there. Do parents of kids with ASD have fear or anxiety? Are you kidding? That’s the source of the stress that we almost all have. We have found that 3 fears/anxieties crop up very frequently when parents are considering traveling with their ASD child.
Fear # 1. I don’t like to share our diagnosis with strangers. This is understandable but shouldn’t be a barrier. Prevalence is now 1 in 68. Autism Awareness month events are all around us. The whole of the general public knows that autism is there, even if their understanding of what it means could improve.
You have lots of practice in sharing your diagnosis with every new physician, therapist and clinician that you meet. Of course, you do have the reasonable expectation that they know what autism is.
What about the travel industry? Let’s start by giving it its full title. It is the travel and hospitality industry. That word actually does mean something. Travel industry people are, by definition, welcoming and hospitable. What we’re saying here is that, if you talk to them, they will listen. You may need to give a little more explanation of what you need and why it’s important to you than you would with, say, a new clinician. However, most of the people that you speak with won’t judge you and will be eager to help.
For our last word on the subject we have to toot our own horn. When people come to us, they are sharing their diagnosis with a parent that is in the same situation and, from there, we take the strain and speak to the airline, TSA, the transfer company, the resort or the cruise line and you’ve only had to share your diagnosis once instead of half a dozen times.
Fear # 2. I worry about other people’s reaction when my child has a meltdown. This can be big, particularly if meltdowns are frequent, very visible or both. We face this everywhere and every day. It isn’t just something that is isolated to vacations.
So let’s look at a possibility that might work for you equally at the local supermarket or at the airport. Take a look at the Autism Button. The wording is very straightforward: I’m not misbehaving. I have autism. Please be understanding. Also, do take a look at the story behind it. The button was invented by a typically developing sibling who wanted a way for his non-verbal brother to be able to let strangers know that he wasn’t just being a brat.
We don’t use the Autism Button ourselves but use a little of the same thinking. When traveling, we all wear tee-shirts that have the slogan “Autism affects 1 in 88” across them. Of course, we now need to discard those and get some new ones with 1 in 68 on them!
In part, you’ll also have addressed this fear if you already tackled fear # 1. When you tell your resort/cruise ship about your diagnosis, you also get the chance to explain a little about potential meltdowns.
You can also address this fear, in part, by traveling with other families who have children on the spectrum. It’s highly likely that you are friends/acquaintances with such families. This does 2 things for you. Firstly, you are taking some part of your support network with you. Secondly, if your child is having a meltdown, your friends can give some well-needed education to frowning, tut-tutting strangers while you assist your child. You will do the same for them when it’s their turn.
Of course, you can take the logic of traveling with others to its ultimate conclusion and vacation with an entire group of families with kids on the spectrum. These are, not yet, very common but you can get a good feel for the idea by taking a look at our Magic For Autism project. That will be fully 50 families traveling together and not 1 of them wanting to judge you.
Fear # 3. Traveling involves so many changes and my child doesn’t “do” change. Here we are dealing with an inherent contradiction. Travel is all about broadening horizons and experiencing new things. Many kids on the spectrum don’t deal well with new things. Can this be a challenge? Yes. Should you let it be an insurmountable barrier? Absolutely not!
Let’s step back a moment and look at our job as parents. Our function is to prepare our kids for becoming adults and giving them the best opportunities that we can. It is our duty to make change as acceptable to our kids as is possible for them. The world is an ever-changing place and we are preparing them for it.
So, let’s look at how we make that challenge more “doable”.
First things first. Each child has their own specific thresholds when it comes to change. If this is a really big challenge for your child, try to break it down into smaller steps.
You could start out with just 1 night at a local hotel. You could move on to a short-stay weekend/3-4 day stay at somewhere further afield. If your child hasn’t flown before, you could look for one of the Practice Boarding Programs that are around. Try analyzing your “dream vacation” into a number of steps and practice each of them. By the time you come to realize your dream, some components of it can be familiar.
Next, is your child a visual learner? Kids on the spectrum mostly are. Can you create a visual story that will help to prepare your child for some of the changes to come? See our prior posting 4 people who can help you prepare for your vacation for some thoughts on this.
Of course, it will pay to keep constant those things that can be kept constant. There are many, many examples. Let’s just look at just a couple.
Hotel bedding is different, in the sensory way, from bedding at home. You can pack some familiar bedding and ship it ahead of you. This may be particularly useful if your child isn’t a good sleeper anyway.
Think about rental cars. It may be smart to rent a minivan while you are away, if you drive a minivan at home. If you drive a compact car at home, rent a compact car while away.
As we say, there are many possibilities for keeping some things constant. You are looking for those things that are portable to take with you or easily replicable at your destination, if too big to transport.
Fear # 4. We promised 3 and give you 4? Absolutely! We always try to go the extra mile. Here is the big thing. The biggest fear is fear itself. Heroes aren’t people that have no fear. They are people that overcome their fear.
In the end, it comes down to: Confront Your Fear. Overcoming it is empowering.
We’re not trying to compete with Google or Bing. There are, of course, a huge number of sites out there that may help you. What we are giving you here is a selection of sites that don’t always rank highly with search engines or that you might not even think to include in your search.
You may find that only some of them help in your unique situation. That is why we’ll tell you a little about each. We hope that you’ll find something that truly helps you among them.
In a previous post (Which flight? Which Seat?), we suggested that it might be wise to reserve your seats with a family member seated directly in front of your spectrum child. This way you’ll be sure that any kicking of that seat won’t create an upset with a stranger. This site also points out some “undesirable” seats. For example, too close to the bathrooms – possible crowding, loud noises from flushing etc. Take a look at: http://www.seatguru.com/. By the way, it also comes as an iPad app.
We love the book Flying to See Janet by Laura Vickers. It is a 30-page visual story about the whole flying experience and it also has 3 pages of good, solid tips for parents. It isn’t just us; this has received great reviews from others too. Find it at: http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/book/9781849059138 .
The CARES Airplane Safety Harness, which was designed for children between 22 and 44 lbs, has now had a special version approved for use by kids, teens and adults with special needs. This is their homepage: http://kidsflysafe.com/ . Look for the CARES for Special Needs button.
We have posted before (Airport Practice Programs) about how wonderful these are. You get the chance to practice checking in, going through security and boarding a plane. Since this is, probably, one of the biggest concerns for parents who haven’t yet flown anywhere with their child, it is a great way to test it out at zero cost. Of course, these programs aren’t everywhere yet but the National ARC is gradually rolling the program out across the country. Their site is: http://www.thearc.org/wingsforautism .
If you don’t get the chance to practice via one of the programs above, you can still get help from the Transport Security Administration (TSA). Their site can be particularly helpful in letting you know what to expect and what special arrangements are available to you. Find them at: http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/travelers-disabilities-and-medical-conditions .
Once you’ve cleared security, you still have to navigate your way around the airport terminal. It may help to know which food concessions are located where and what other facilities are available. This site may not be able to tell you whether play areas are suitable for your child but it will show you where they’re located. Also look for areas where there are very few facilities. Those areas should be quieter. One word of caution, some of the airport maps take quite a bit of work to get all of the information that you might want. Look at: http://www.flightstats.com/go/AirportTerminalMaps/airportTerminalGuide.do.
In another of our previous posts (Protecting Sensitive Ears), we spoke about EarPlanesTM . They help to reduce the discomfort from cabin pressure changes. In order to do this they have to be inserted into the ears. Obviously, they will only be of any use if your child can tolerate this. You can check out their site at: http://www.cirrushealthcare.com/EarPlanes-Kids-P58.aspx.
Once on board the plane, wouldn’t it be nice if you could give your child a protective screen to reduce the impact of some unwanted sensory issues? There will be something, soon. Check out the Sensory Shield. It is still in the prototype phase but should be available in the near future. Take a look at: http://www.sensoryshield.com/ .
If you have worries about your child’s safety in a strange hotel room you might want to check on the Travel-Tot Safety kit. Although it was designed with the safety of toddlers in mind, it sometimes works well with spectrum kids that are well beyond being toddlers. Why? Because most of the kit requires fine motor skills and executive planning skills and these are areas where our kids are frequently delayed. If that, kind of, applies to your child, this will be worth a look:http://www.travel-tot.com/ .
Many parents voice their concerns to us about their child’s behavior being misunderstood by strangers and the accompanying stares and “tut-tuts”. If this is your concern, you might want to take a look at: http://www.autismbutton.com/ . Some people are never going to understand what we go through but this might just make a few of them less judgmental.
We said, at the beginning, that this was just a small selection. We know that you’ll find others. When you do, please let us know about them. We’ll then be happy to share those with everybody.
We are not talking here of the obvious people like your travel agent (you expected us to say that, didn’t you?) or Guest Services (airline, cruise line or hotel). This is, after all, the travel and hospitality industry and our/their entire job is to help you. We are speaking of some people that you might not otherwise think of.
Your child’s physician. You shouldn’t need a doctor’s note for requests like a room in a quiet location because your child doesn’t do well with loud/strange noises or you want a room that is well away from food establishments air vents because your child doesn’t like strange smells. Your request should be good enough on its own.
Where you will need help is with things like a note saying that an EpiPen® is medically necessary or that medications in liquid form need to be in containers above the 3 oz limit. In fact, if your child has pretty much any co-occurring medical condition, you may want to tell their doctor about your plans in order to anticipate needs while you are away.
Your child’s Special Ed teacher. This is somebody that should know your child well and understand how they deal with new situations. We’ve had Special Ed teachers ask us for pictures of a destination so that they could help by preparing a visual story. Ask your child’s teacher if they could do this for you.
You might also ask them to build something into your child’s studies in advance. Can they make your trip relevant to social studies? Can they relate it to new people and different cultures? Can it be related to their history lessons? That’s distinctly possible for some locations. Think, for instance, if your trip includes Washington, DC.
If your child’s teacher is willing and prepared to help, the sky is the limit. (Pardon the pun.)
If your child has an Adaptive Phys Ed program, talk to the teacher/coach that works with your child. Tell them about recreational activities at your destination and ask them to be involved in preparing your child for those.
Your child’s behavior therapist. One of the biggest concerns that parents voice to us is the fear that their child will have a meltdown caused by an unforeseen event/situation. Your behavior therapist knows your child. If you walk them through all of your plans, they should be able to help you prepare in advance. That preparation may involve how to avoid some situations or how to deal with other situations as they arise.
Maybe the therapist needs to find out more about particular elements of the trip. Does this have HIPPA implications? Are they allowed to have a conversation with your travel agent or the guest services desk at your hotel? Ultimately, HIPPA compliance is a matter for them. That said, there is no reason for them to disclose information to the service provider about your child. They should be able to ask as many questions as they need to and still not contravene any regulations.
Your child’s music and/or art therapist. To an extent, the thoughts here are much like those for a Special Ed teacher. If your child does music therapy, can the therapist suggest music/iPad apps or anything else that might help?( Do be aware that even if they recommend that your child plays the cymbals to pass the time on your flight, that other passengers may not share that opinion!)
If you child does art therapy, can the therapist suggest some easily transportable art supplies that your child can use? If your child’s teacher couldn’t or wouldn’t help with a visual story for the trip, it is possible that an art therapist could do this for you.
In summary. You have many/some/just a few supports at home. To the extent that you have them, try to engage them in your plans. Your child is still your child whether they are at home or half-way around the globe. And, of course, ask your travel agent for help. That’s always a good thing.