Traveling and Autism 1/2 | Organization for Autism Research

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In this original blog, autism professional Elisse Bachman lays a humorous eye on traveling with a family member on the spectrum. This blog is divided in two posts, the second of which will be published next week, on August 9.

The beginning….I’d like to say, congratulations if you are traveling with an autistic family member.  Especially if the family member is your child.  Traveling with children in general can be difficult, but add on a spectrum disorder and you have yourself set up for a really exciting set of memories to add to the photo album – real or imaginary.    

The bags have been tightly organized, Tetris style, in the van. You are pretty sure you have everyone’s documentation such as birth certificates, IDs and medical information. You have all of your electronic devices, chargers and cords.  You even have an extra back up charger in the case of your other back up charger going missing or dying.  You get the family into your van and you are on your way to the airport.

You go through your lists in your head and double check everything twice.  You’re like Santa or the Easter Bunny, things just appear out of your bag whenever a family member asks. Mary Poppins has nothing on you, parent or caretaker of a child on the spectrum!

The exit for the airport is coming up, as your GPS lady yells at you in a high-pitched voice, and you go over your strategy in your head.  You are ready to face the airport head on like the ever-popular Bible story of David fighting the giant Goliath.  You feel like you have a sling and three stones, and that is it.  You park the van.  You walk into the airport, all family members accounted for. There’s a long line ahead of you for check-in, but you take it as an opportunity to practice useful social skills such as waiting in line, waiting your turn and standing around strangers without touching their clothing. 

You manage to keep your family in one central location while keeping an eye on all of them.  Your kiddo on the spectrum is scripting along with the 20-second segment of their favorite movie.  Then there’s the TSA walk through.  Next up: how to get your family through the security checkpoint? No worries, you are a pro, you have this gig down packed. 

Now the question arises, should you explain to the workers that your kid has autism? Let things happen naturally? Is there someone who can read body language and just get it – someone who will walk through the steps with you while checking your family for safety persuasion’s sake? You all make it through the metal detector, or, if you’re like me, and you have a medical issue, the “Hokie Pokie turn-about” box thingy.  All bags are accounted for.  No “meltdowns” or “tantrums.”  The stimming was kept at a minimum as to not point a large blinking neon arrow over your kid, “AUTISTIC! WATCH OUT!” I think the next time I travel, I am going to wear a bright neon shirt that reads, “Ask me about autism,” and see how many people actually do.  Now there’s something to point a large blinking neon arrow at! Educate, don’t discriminate.

TSA behind you, multiple people surrounding you, announcements over the loudspeakers in 14 different languages and your family is still on the same page as you – get to the gate and get on the plane! Then your family gets hungry.  Can’t get them any more off the regular schedule or else.  You know the ‘or else.’  Someone will flip out, someone will not sleep, someone will start flapping arms and someone will just express themselves to the best of their ability while the thousands of strangers surrounding your family stares at you with mouths wide open.  That ‘or else.’  The public scene one.  Dreaded by all.  My grandma used to say “Stop! You’re making a scene!” It would drive me nuts. Little did she know, I loved making a scene.  Attention seeking behaviors! Who doesn’t love attention?

The meltdown expectation is prepared for by no one else but you and your other family members.  Smartly, you mapped out the food places that your family will eat at that in the wing your gate is located.  Lucky you, said places are open.  There are options! FOOD! You get food.  You feed your flock.  You get your group their meds.  Bathrooms are used.  Drinks are gulped.  And everyone is happy.  With the iPad back on, same 20-second segment playing, keeping things as ‘normal’ as possible, you travel through this maze called ‘airport.’

You get to the gate and check-in at the desk to triple-quadruple check that everything is ‘cool.’  If you have no delays, you should play the lottery. Seriously.  You don’t have to wait long and your ticket numbers are called to walk through the hot, humid, sloped tunnel with a single door that lets you enter the tin can.  Feel like a sardine yet? Claustrophobia has nothing on you because you’re so keyed into your family members that you forget about your own existence.  Smooth sailing is your goal in this very moment.

The second part of Elisse’s post will be published on OAR’s blog on August 9, 2017.

About the Author

IMG_0185Elisse is a behaviorist at heart who lives in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with her husband and toddler son.  Elisse currently works as a professional elementary school counselor and has almost a decade under her belt of working in mental and behavioral health, primary and secondary education, and higher education.  Her passions include volunteering, especially at her church, photo-journalistic photography, and autism awareness.  Her favorite things to do are playing outside with her son and traveling to visit family and friends. She has a loved family relative who is on the spectrum that sparked her interest in autism awareness and education. Please visit her LinkedIn profile to get a better snapshot of Elisse!

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