Raising Tim - Air travel

A trip to Hawaii, YAY!!! Trying to get Tim out of bed at 4:00 am to be at the airport by 5:00 am, BOO!!! While I am thrilled to be going to Hawaii, anyone with kids knows that air travel with their little monsters can be a downright nightmare. Try taking a kid with autism on a long flight and well...let’s just say, you’ll do just about anything to make sure you arrive at your destination and try not to become one of those internet stories that go viral. So there we are at the airport at 5:00 am, and the place is packed! I mean super packed, like it’s Thanksgiving, but it’s not Thanksgiving week. It’s just a regular Wednesday morning. Go figure. Anyhow, I’m worried that the whole ordeal is going to be too much for Tim, the noise, a number of people, the lines, the urgency from people trying to get to their flight, the sensory overload was insane. But my sister, the seasoned traveler stepped up to the plate and took over - thank god. Probably, the most brilliant thing she did was wear an Autism Awareness t-shirt while escorting Tim around the airport. The shirt explained our whole situation without saying a word, and no one questioned a thing after reading the t-shirt and observing Tim’s behaviors. The TSA agents took us aside and gave us the space he needed to complete the screening task. Now, I’m not sure if this is a new protocol or if we just were lucky, but we were extremely grateful.

Another helpful tip we’ve learned along the way is calling the airline company in advance to explain the situation. Let me write that again. Call. The. Airline. Seriously, being proactive and letting people know beforehand has helped us out immensely. Ok, back to my story, during a trip to Canada we called the airline ahead of time to request seats that either allowed someone from our small group to sit behind us or to get the seats in the last row. Reason why? Tim is a rocker. Not Steven Tyler rocker, but a kid who rocks back and forth in his seat and he is somewhat of a violent rocker. Parents who have kids with autism who rock know what I’m talking about. Tim has rocked in his seat so hard and so often that he’s broken several dining room chairs and one bed frame -I’m wondering how much longer our couch will hold out. Anyhow back to the airline, I explained the whole rocking behavior to the airline- United, by the way, if you’re curious to know- and they (i.e., United) told me that they have a row specifically for individuals with disabilities. Thank you, United Airlines. They booked us the seats and allowed my mom to sit behind us, so Tim could rock back and forth as much as he wanted and my mom got to hold her drink rather than use the built-in tray. A small sacrifice to keep the Timster happy and quiet.

Another thing we do before flying is talk about the flight to Tim. We drive him by the airport and reacquaint him with planes, flying, and where we are going. We also use a calendar to mark down how many days are left till the flight, so he is not caught off guard. For those who have younger kiddos, you might want to write a quick social story. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just have some pictures of the family, expected behaviors (e.g., good sitting, quiet voice), what the inside of a plane looks like, where you’re flying to, what sensations to expect during takeoff and landing, and who you might be visiting. Google social stories and flying and you’ll get a million examples or templates to choose from. Oh, and we also bring an iPad with all of Tim’s current favorite movies. I know that reducing screen time is important, but this is one of those times, I do whatever is necessary to keep Tim happy and everyone safe, so we don't get kicked off the plane. If you need to do the same, do it. Last words of advice, arrive early, bring snacks, extra medicine, noise reduction headphones, and don’t forget the gum.

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