Traveling and Autism 2/2 | 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 first of which was published last week, on August 2.

And that’s what it’s like when you FINALLY get on the plane.  Where do you sit? Close to a bathroom or away from one? Where’s the closest EXIT? Do you sit in the aisle, the middle, or the window? Do you have assigned seats or is it a rodeo free for all? Do you go on first with ‘medical, military and families with small children’ or, and this is scary, do you go in the first four rows of ‘peanut free’? I recently asked an airline why they still serve peanuts and the response was so bad that I can’t even fathom to replicate it.  How about some gluten-free pretzels or potato-chips that aren’t made in a peanut facility? Just an idea. A snack just about everyone can enjoy without the unthinkable happening? I can only name few autism families that don’t have allergies.  So, you find your seats and you get all snuggled in to your super comfy seats that don’t itch or stick to you.  And the armrests make it even roomier.

Now just sit there for thirty minutes as the pilots ‘taxi’ the runway.  After your bags are thrown under you in the belly of the unknown.  Good thing you packed your carry-ons with your essentials.  Uber prepared.  It’s time for lift-off.  You made it! How is your family doing?  So far, so great. The beloved iPad stayed charged the whole time, your flight was only an hour long, you only crossed over one time zone and the other neuro-typical members of your family slept during the flight because you filled their bellies! Rejuvenation has occurred! Now it’s time to land! Yippee.  Except there are a lot of other planes landing and it’s very congested on the runway.  It takes almost half of an hour to get the plane parked in the proper gate. 

Something went wrong.  Your cognitively delayed loved one starts to have that panicked look that sinks your heart down to your feet.  You’re prepared, but no one else on the plane (except the rest of your family) is ready for what is likely to occur.  Yelps, screams, clawing, hitting, kicking, whining, loud-boisterous-blabbing, object throwing, face slapping, hair pulling and crying. About half-a-bag of ‘tricks’ are pulled out of your kid’s sleeve for this show.  It’s not as bad as you thought.  Your awesome kiddo sat in the seat for two hours without ‘freaking out.’  Everyone else around you would have thought s/he was a ‘normal’ kiddo.  Now they all know.  The stares.  The open mouths.  You don’t even see them.  You don’t even care.  What you care about is your kiddo.  Your sweet baby who sat for two hours, displaying the most amazing “socially appropriate” behaviors one could ask for out of any human being during such an experience.  Calmness enters and peace is restored.  Time flies when you’re having fun because before you know it, you’re off the plane in a whole new uncharted territory: a new airport.  

You get off the plane and walk to baggage claim. All is well. All of your bags magically appear on the cool circular belt thingy that has bright ads flashing out of the glass displays.  Your rental car or people picking you up are there, ready for you to get on your trip.  You made it! Your family made it! Although you are extremely proud of yourself for not losing your cool and going all ‘autism parent’ on someone, you are even more proud of your loved one with autism.  Forget the social stories, forget the schedules, forget the new places, forget the people, forget the lines, forget the planes, forget everything – you and your flock made it through the airports.  Give yourself a round of applause.  If you can, take a bubble bath with your favorite music playing because you feel like you have won the best award in the whole world.  You “adult-ed” and your family survived the airport traveling!

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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