Archives for May 2013

Flying to see Janet – Part 2

Vickers - flying to see janetTaking a family vacation when one, or more, of your children has autism can be very difficult. Many families restrict themselves to whatever they can reach within driving distance of home. If only they could fly.

Flying gives you infinite range. But how can you make the flying experience work ?

The book Flying to see Janet – written by Laura Vickers and illustrated by Peggy Wargelin is a great way to help. Laura wrote this book for her niece, Janet who has Asperger’s syndrome and severe anxiety. Peggy is Janet’s mother.

The main section of the book is a social story that will help many children on the spectrum before they fly. It also has some really useful suggestions for parents and those suggestions are reproduced here by kind permission of the publishers, Jessica Kingsley Publishing.

They provided me with a link to their site so that readers of this blog can order the book directly from them and receive a 20% discount. In order to receive the discount, use the Promo Code: TRAVEL. This offer is valid until the end of June 2013. The link is at the end of this post.

What could be better than 20% off ? Free would be good, wouldn’t it ? Any family that books a vacation with flights and a 3-night or longer hotel stay with ASD Vacations, will receive a copy of Flying to see Janet, absolutely FREE.

Here are the remaining 3 sections of “Suggestions for parents” from Flying to see Janet. The first 2 sections were  posted earlier..




If possible, have the child help make the plan for dealing with sensory issues and choose what they’d like to bring in the “Go Bag”. If Janet feels she has something she can do in a situation, it gives her a sense of control that reduces her anxiety.


Especially in places with high ceilings and lots of people, for example check-in and security, there can be a lot of echoing background noise. Noise reduction headphones or listening to music from headphones can help. Ear plugs come in many different styles; you may be able to find one that your child likes. Bathrooms can be noisy, especially with the loud, unexpected flushes. Carts used by the airline to transport people emit a loud, piercing beeping as a warning.


If your child is feeling overwhelmed and needs more space in a crowd, we have found it useful to use our adult arms and bodies combined with luggage to create at least a small breathing space around Janet. She doesn’t like to be touched when stressed, so we can’t just pick her up to raise above the crowd.


Strong smells can happen anywhere, especially in crowded places. As discussed in the book, brining something with a strong flavor to chew or favorite perfume or smell to put on a tissue to hold up to your child’s nose can help. Places to be especially aware of are drop off/pickup areas (where exhaust builds up) and bathrooms. Also, if it is a warm day, be aware that an aircraft has limited electricity from the time it pushes back from the gate until just before takeoff; there may be several minutes without air conditioning.


You can bring a first aid chemical cold pack and use it to cool down your child if they become too hot. A battery powered mini-fan can also be useful in the heat. If it is cold, don’t count on a blanket or pillow to be provided on the plane. Bring lots of layers, and perhaps chemical warming packs. If your child likes to touch everything, or has allergies, like Janet, bring some antibacterial wipes and wipe everything that the child might touch.






When booking, make sure that you get the seat type that your child needs (window, aisle, center). Many people will trade seats on the plane if you need them to, but don’t count on it. Seats near the back can have very loud, constant engine noise. Seats near the bathroom can feel crowded as people stand in line. If the window is over the wing or engine, you may not be able to see any scenery.

Sometimes the airline will change the plane type after you buy the ticket. What was a great seat in the middle of the plane may now be in the back, or what was a window seat may now be a center seat.  We usually aim for near the front (but not at the front) on the left side; seat “A” remains a window seat, no matter what.

Ask for (and watch for the start of) early boarding. Many people board early even if they don’t need to so, make sure you really are “early”, stand at the front of the line as soon as it looks like they are getting ready to announce. Don’t wait until they actually do.

In addition to smell, another potential bathroom issue may be the loud (scary) noise of the toilet and sink water being sucked out when you flush it. You may want to flush the toilet for your child after they leave the bathroom. Be aware the sink also drains noisily, by suction.

Bring gum or something to chew to help with ear pain as the pressure changes. Motion sickness medicine might be a good precaution.

If your child reads the emergency card or is distressed by the safety briefing, try to explain the “just in case” aspect of it and then distract them.



Bring food your child likes. Don’t plan on food being available. On one of our trips there had been a trucking strike and the restaurants had no supplies. You might be delayed on the plane before takeoff or diverted to a different airport. Better safe than sorry.

Bring lots and lots of things your child might like to do—some new, and some familiar and comforting; some to do with you and many to do alone. We found that a laptop with lots of games loaded and a WiFi connection to get online worked well. The laptop can be used to show DVDs. We also brought a Nintendo DS with many spare games. It was a special treat for Janet to have basically unlimited electronic game time. It was nice for us, since brining extra games didn’t require extra weight or space. Don’t forget the charging cords and/or extra batteries. Sensory toys are also good, as are drawing supplies, stickers, puzzle books, a portable CD player, etc.


Good luck. The first time is always a challenge, but good preparation makes it a lot easier. Janet now loves to fly. We hope your child will, too !



Here is the link. Don’t forget that the Promo Code is : TRAVEL

Reprinted by permission of Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2012, Laura Vickers, Illustrated by Peggy Wargelin, Flying to See Janet: A Fun Guide to the Airport Experience, ISBN: 978-1-84905-913-8,

Click Here

Flying to see Janet – Part 1.

Flying to See JanetSocial stories are used very frequently as a means of assisting autistic learners. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a good social story to help kids on the spectrum when it comes to airports and flying ? Just possibly, wouldn’t it open up a whole new world to them ?

The great news is that this does exist. This is, precisely, the nature of the book Flying to see Janet – written by Laura Vickers and illustrated by Peggy Wargelin. They cover the whole experience from packing to bag claim (via turbulence and on-board bathrooms) and put lots of emphasis on coping with sensory issues. The whole thing is beautifully written and superbly illustrated.

Hold that thought. Couldn’t the book be even more useful if it had plenty of practical suggestions for parents ? Wouldn’t you know it ? It has that too. I was impressed by this section. It covers almost everything and the tips are clear and easily followed.

I liked the suggestions so much that I contacted the publisher and gained permission to reproduce them on this blog. The publishers, Jessica Kingsley Publishing, have also provided me with a link to their site so that readers of this blog can order the book directly from them and receive a 20% discount. In order to receive the discount, use the Promo Code: TRAVEL. This offer is valid until the end of June 2013. The link is at the end of this post.

Here are the first two sections of “Suggestions for parents” from Flying to see Janet. The remaining 3 sections will be posted soon.



Try to visit the airports ahead of time, or have someone else do so:

  • How will you get there ? If in a car, where will you park ? If with a friend, in a taxi, public transport, etc., what will that be like and where will you be dropped off ?
  • Can you find a map of the airport ? Which terminal(s) does your airline fly from and are there any neat spaces your child might like ? Boston airport has spots with kinetic sculptures that Janet finds fascinating. Detroit airport has a tunnel between terminals with a rainbow light show and relaxing music that you watch as you ride along the moving walkways. Many airports have fountains. A calming , quiet place with something interesting to see may be worth some extra time at the airport to visit.
  • What food is available in that terminal ? Different terminals may have different restaurants. Which, if any, chain restaurants are there that you could try away from the airport beforehand to find something your child likes to eat ?
  • How do you get around in the airport ? Most have moving sidewalks, elevators and escalators, but some have buses and monorail/subway trains. This may be a challenge or entertainment, depending on your child.
  • Bring two adults, if you can, for as much of the trip as possible. One can attend to the child and the other can:
    • Scout for paces to sit, eat, etc.
    • Handle paperwork at check in, security, boarding, and baggage claim
    • Clean things before the child gets there.




  • Avoid wearing anything that will trip the detectors. Women, do NOT wear an underwire bra. Once you’ve made it through the scanner, you aren’t allowed to come back. I was stopped at a scanner, and was then required to go to a second, different one. Because I had sent my child through first, she couldn’t come back to me, even though I had to go to the other scanner !
  • The United States Transport Security Administration ( has a page devoted to traveling with children with disabilities.  It has a comforting statement that “at no time during the screening process will you be separated from your child” but as demonstrated by the “underwire scenario” above, things may differ in practice. Knowing what is supposed to happen may help if something comes up on your trip.
  • If you have two adults, send one through with all the bags. When you can see the first is ready, send the child through, and then the second adult goes through.
  • Be sure to read and understand the regulations for what is allowed in carry-on luggage in your area and for your flight ahead of time. Completely empty water bottles and water-filled toys before going through security, and refill them afterwards.
  • There are exceptions to the security rules for medications, infant formula, or anything medically necessary, but you must present each item separately to security personnel. For Janet’s nut allergy, we carry an Epipen® with full prescription label on it, and a note from her pediatrician stating that it is medically necessary for her to have it with her. You can probably get a therapeutic item through security with a doctor’s not stating that it is medically necessary. We once had Play-Doh® confiscated because it looked like plastic explosives, but we had no note.



Here is the link. Don’t forget that the Promo Code is : TRAVEL

Reprinted by permission of Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2012, Laura Vickers, Illustrated by Peggy Wargelin, Flying to See Janet: A Fun Guide to the Airport Experience, ISBN: 978-1-84905-913-8,Click Here


The Autism Passport

Dining Choices, Turks and CaicosI had the privilege of hearing Dr. Brenda Smith-Myles at the Northeast Regional Conference on Autism. Her keynote address concerned Transitions. Although the address covered many techniques and tools for helping with transitions, one really struck me.

This particular tool was The Learner Snapshot which she had developed with Judy Marks. Her point was that a teacher could spend a whole year figuring out the strengths and challenges of a student and then, when that student moved on to the next grade, the new teacher could spend the next year learning all of the same information. The Learner Snapshot provides a framework for one teacher to pass on their experience to the next and to make the transition that much easier.

In one of those “aha” moments, I realized that something similar would help parents when dealing with hotels, resorts and cruise ships. Parents are the experts when it comes to their children. They know, well, the challenges and strengths of their own child. They need to communicate those to caregivers who will be assisting their children wherever they are vacationing.

Starting with their document as a base, I was able to remove things like Learning Style and add items like Sensory Challenges.  The other difference that we needed was to try to give the intended recipients just a little background on some common issues for autistic people so that they had a frame of reference. Special Education teachers, of course, already know these things. The resulting document is The Autism Passport.

I’ve had it reviewed by a number of experts in the field. Feedback has ranged from GREAT !!! to Dr Myles’  own “Very cool !”.

I’ve also shared it with a number of resorts. Their feedback has varied from “yes, we would welcome this” to that plus “can we get a copy in advance of the guest arriving ? It will help us to prepare ahead of time.”

So here is the Autism Passport. Please use it, if it will help you. Please let us know, if you think that it can be improved.

Autism Passport – 05.01.13

Autism Passport – 05.01.13 – Printable

Prints on letter size paper and should be folded to make a half-letter sized booklet.


Thank you Brenda and Judy for the inspiration