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Traveling With Autism

July 11, 2011 32 comments

It is the time of year when we all begin to think about planning some down time – maybe even a vacation! Most families report that PREPARATION is key to a smooth successful vacation. Do you have a “success tip” to share with other families as they prepare to enjoy some summer fun?

Curious to know more about Travel Tips? Check out this Community Connections!

A little planning goes a long way: individuals with autism and their families get ready for holiday travel!

December 2, 2010 3 comments

This is a blog post by Marianne Sullivan, the Assistant Director of National Outreach and Resources for Autism Speaks. Marianne is the mother of an 18-year-old young man with autism.

Holidays are the busiest time of year to travel by plane. Preparing a child, teenager or adult with autism spectrum disorder for plane travel, and new security techniques used at airport security checkpoints, can make a huge difference in making plane travel a more enjoyable experience for all involved.

Start by providing the airline with advanced information. Offer to email or fax information to let them know you will be traveling with an individual with autism and the challenges the individual may face on travel day. A good place to start is to prepare a one page document with information stating the diagnosis, know allergies and medications, and other special information (i.e. communication ability).

Persons with autism should always carry identification. Make sure an id tag is attached somewhere on the individual. You can order medical bracelets, necklaces and tags to attach to shoe laces. If the individual carries a cell phone, activate the GPS device as a safety precaution.  Adult passengers (18 and over) are required to show a U.S. federal or state-issued photo ID that contains the following: name, date of birth, gender, expiration date and a tamper-resistant feature in order to be allowed to go through the checkpoint and onto their flight. Acceptable identification includes: Drivers Licenses or other state photo identification cards issued by Department of Motor Vehicles.

To help prepare the individual for the trip bring a special item to make the individual feel more comfortable. A favorite electronic devise or book an help focus the individual during the travel days, which are often filled with lots of waiting, Remember to rehearse or discuss the travel plans with the person prior to travel day. Having special foods readily available, rather than standing in long lines, will help things go smoothly.

Traveling by Plane
I called the airport and explained that my 6-year-old son Marcel has autism and had never flown before and we were planning a trip in December. Before our travel day, airport personnel allowed[a1] my son to do a simulation of what would happen when he went through security checkpoint step by step. This made all the difference for my son. If you can’t do a practice run, at the very least, alert security about your child’s issues[a2] ?!
Marcy Mullins, Cincinnati, Ohio

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Transportation Security Administration (TSA): Getting through the security process!

Every individual has to be screened regardless of age or disability, before going through an airport security checkpoint. Security techniques include; walk through metal detectors, Advanced Imaging Technology (ITA), pat-downs and other types of security measures. Be sure to check the TSA website for airport listings and techniques being used. www.tsa.gov/index.shtm

What triggers a pat-down?
Pat-downs are used to resolve alarms at the checkpoint, including those triggered by metal detectors and AIT units. Pat-downs are also used when a person opts out of AIT screening in order to detect potentially dangerous and prohibited items. Because pat-downs are specifically used to resolve alarms and prevent dangerous items from going on a plane, the vast majority of passengers will not receive a pat-down at the checkpoint.
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“Family members or traveling companions can advise Security Officers when they are traveling with someone who has a hidden disability, which may cause that person to move a little slower, become agitated easily[a3] , and/or need additional assistance.”
TSA website www.tsa.gov/index.shtm
Parents or guardians of children with disabilities should…

  • Inform the Security Officer if the child has any special needs or medical devices.
  • Inform the Security Officer if you think the child may become upset during the screening process as a result of their disability.
  • Offer suggestions on how to best accomplish the screening to minimize any confusion or outburst for the child.
  • Ask the Security Officer for assistance during the process by helping you put your and the child’s carry-on items on the X-ray belt.
  • Know that at no time during the screening process will you be separated from your child.
  • Know that if a private screening is required, you should escort and remain with your child during the private screening process.
  • Tell the Security Officer what are your child’s abilities are. For example: can the child stand slightly away from equipment to be handwanded, walk through the metal detector, or needs to be carried through the metal detector by the parent/guardian.
  • Know that at no time should the Security Officer remove your child from his/her mobility aid (wheelchair or scooter). You are responsible for removing your child from his/her equipment at your discretion to accomplish screening.
  • Know that if your child is unable to walk or stand, the Security Officer will conduct a pat-down search of your child while he/she remains in their mobility aid, as well as a visual and physical inspection of their equipment.

Other Resources on Travel and Autism
Autism Speaks Community Connections: Travel Tips for Individuals with Autism
www.autismspeaks.org/community/family_services/travel.php

You can write TSA with your Suggestions or Complaints at:
https://contact.tsa.dhs.gov/DynaForm.aspx?FormID=20

E-mail – tsa-contactcenter@dhs.gov
Phone – 1-866-289-9673

Download an app to your mobile phone that tells you in real time the waiting time at security checkpoints.

Visit our Resource Guide. We welcome new submissions as we continue to build the National Resource Guide of Autism Resources

Tell us about your travel experience! E-mail us at familyservices@autismspeaks.org.

Ten Tips for Vacationing with Your Child – Part 3

July 30, 2010 2 comments

This guest post is by Elaine Hall, author of the memoir NOW I SEE THE MOON: A Mother, a Son, a Miracle and founder of The Miracle Project, a theatre and film arts program for children with special needs. She is also the mother of a fifteen-year-old son with autism. Discuss the book on Facebook and follow Elaine on Twitter @CoachE.

This is the final post in a three-post series about vacationing with your child who has autism; read the first post here and the second one here.

Tip # 7 Staycations: Same place, different experiences. Customize!

When I was a child we went on a family vacation every year, usually to the beach. One year, our finances were particularly low and we couldn’t get away – so my dad made a fun time of “Vacation at home!” My dad and mom set it up so that each child and parent got “their day,” and the other family members went along.  My dad’s choice was fishing at a nearby lake, my mom, “vegging” out at a local pool, my brother chose an amusement park, my sister a movie, and I chose going to an art museum. This special week stands out in my memory as one of the best vacations in my life.

Let your child be part of this planning process. Use a dry erase pad and write down possible ideas. Let your child circle or point to where they would like to go. For kids who are nonverbal – there is a new app for the iPad called Proloquo 2Go, which “provides a full-featured communication solution for people who have difficulty speaking.” Find what communication system(s) work best for your child so that your child with ASD can have a voice in choosing where they wish to go. Let each child feel special. If possible, you can bring along a teen volunteer to help out. For moms – maybe your special day can be going ALONE to a spa day, while the rest of the crew has a picnic. Refuel. It matters.

AMC theaters now offer Sensory Friendly films where our kids can walk up and down aisles, make noise, and just be themselves.

Tip #8 Get a special pass when you go to an amusement park (or other busy venues like concerts, plays, etc.).

Some children with ASD love amusement parks; some find them too stimulating or overwhelming. Again, preparation is the key to success. Before taking Neal to Disneyland, we showed him photos, went online and let him do a virtual tour. Once we arrived there, we had a pretty good idea of what he wanted to do. Remember too that your child’s interests may seem odd but they are his or her interests. (Neal could go on Space Mountain 10 times!)

Most of the major amusement parks have a special disability pass where your child and family members do not have to stand in long lines. Don’t be proud!  Get this pass! In fact, Neal is one of the most popular kids on our block, when it comes to going to Magic Mountain, his now favorite amusement park, since everyone in his party doesn’t have to stand in line!

Tip # 9 Enjoy the great outdoors.

Neal loves to be outside. I have seen him the happiest when he can be out all day long. Go camping, to the beach, hiking, have picnics, do things where your child can feel boundless with few opportunities to have to say “No,” or manage inappropriate behaviors. Today there are many outdoor programs that families with special needs can enjoy:

Leaps and Boundz
FACT Family
Surfers Healing
Autism on the Seas (look for the new Miracle Project on the Seas, next summer!)
Camp Surf in San Diego
Extreme Sports Camp

Tip #10 Be Here Now (wherever “Here” is that day)!

Give yourself the present of being Present. Enjoy this precious moment. I once attended a family surf camp where the dad had spent hours preparing his son for surfing: practicing standing on a surfboard, paddling in a pool, etc. However, once at the beach, his son was so excited about being in the ocean, that he just wanted to play and dance in the waves, he didn’t want or need to surf as planned. The dad moped on the beach, feeling this situation as one more failure. I suggested that he stop for a second and look at his child who was in complete joy. The father soon realized that it was his own need for his son to complete the task at hand, rather than enjoying the moments with his son.  He realized as we all do from time to time, that the gift of the present is sharing time, experiences, and engagement with each member of our family … in their own special way, and in their own special time.

As I look back, even that first seemingly “failed” beach trip where my mom and Neal spent time on the patio together, was actually a beautiful bonding time between grandchild and grandmother.

Enjoy the moments. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift that is why it is called the Present.

Vacation is in part, a state of mind.

Enjoy your summer. And please let me know how your vacation goes!!!


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Ten Tips for Vacationing with Your Child – Part 2

July 28, 2010 6 comments

This guest post is by Elaine Hall, author of the memoir NOW I SEE THE MOON: A Mother, a Son, a Miracle and founder of The Miracle Project, a theatre and film arts program for children with special needs. She is also the mother of a fifteen-year-old son with autism. Discuss the book on Facebook and follow Elaine on Twitter @CoachE.

This is the second post in a three-post series about vacationing with your child who has autism; read the first post here.

Tip # 4 Expect the Unexpected. Go with the Flow (as if we had a choice!)

As well-prepared as Neal was for his flight, once he got to the airport, he was so excited he couldn’t contain himself. At the airport, as we waited to board, Neal stared at the huge planes out the windows. He had great anticipation. I turned my head for a moment. I then heard the sound of an alarm. Neal had raced to the exit door and tried to open it so that he could go outside and be with the airplanes. He panics. People glared at him. Security raced over. “It’s okay sweetheart,” I told Neal, trying to comfort him.  To the security guard and the concerned onlookers, what could I say? “He has autism! He just likes airplanes!”

I remember early on in our diagnosis becoming outraged at others for making what I thought were “stupid comments” about my child and his behavior. Too, I resented their judgment of how I handled unexpected situations based on Neal’s reactions to circumstances. Now I understand that such reactions come from ignorance (just plain lack of knowledge).  I now try to use every occasion as an opportunity to educate and sensitize others to the special needs of my very special child and others like him.

TACA (Talk About Curing Autism Now) has cards that you can present to strangers to help them understand autism.

Tip #5 Call the airline (cruise line or hotel) in advance and let them know you are traveling with a child who has special needs.

Our choice to go with the flow continued throughout the flight. Once we boarded the plane, Neal remembered all that we had practiced (backpack under his chair, seatbelt snapped closed, and ears covered at take-off). Success! Until beverage service does its thing in the aisle, blocking the path to the bathroom in coach (where we are seated) and Neal indicates that he needs to go NOW. This we hadn’t practiced.

At my husband’s suggestion, Neal and I make our way forward to the first class restroom where the flight attendant recites the usual “first class passengers only” spiel. As I try to explain the situation of my son’s special needs, a man from first class, clearly able to overhear our conversation, heads into the bathroom, pushing ahead of Neal. “He’s going to have to wait like everyone else,” she prattles on. As I start arguing with her,  Neal sees an opening. He darts towards the bathroom door. And yet another man jumps in front of the door with the cocky condescension of a first-class citizen. Neal tantrums. “Return to your seats,” demands the flight attendant. Neal grabs her eyeglasses off her face. She panics and calls for security. All this happens within twenty seconds. I’m losing it. My husband steps in. He calms me and quiets Neal enough to get him to wait behind the cart as it passes each seat. He then takes Neal to the bathroom. I return to my seat, fuming. If that stupid flight attendant hadn’t been so stuck on her rules, if that guy in first class hadn’t been so arrogant, none of this would have happened. How can people be so cruel?

Now I know to phone the airline in advance and tell them about my child’s special needs and apprise the flight attendants, that if something unusual presents, they need not be afraid. My child has the best intentions and he has autism. Things happen. I believe that people really do want to help families like ours if we tell them how by sensitizing them to our circumstance.

Airlines are becoming more accommodating. When I do the work beforehand, they offer comforts including letting us board early, being kind, patient, and attentive to Neal. I have found that, generally, fear of the unknown creates discomfort and anxiety which manifests in judgment or unkindness. The more we proudly travel with our children or go to movies, malls, or neighbors’ homes, the more they too will come to learn compassion, understanding, and non-judgment, just as we have.

Tip # 6 When traveling long distances prepare activities to keep your child engaged.

For older children, this might include computer games, DVDs, magazines, etc. When Neal was younger, I wrapped up little “gifts” in aluminum foil and let him unwrap them periodically on the trip. I remember going to a party supply store and buying bags of favors, little match box cars, airplanes, bubbles on a string, animated characters, plastic pretend food, etc. Unwrapping each package took up to three minutes.  He would then take another three minutes to play with the toy car, spin the wheels, flicker it in front of his eyes, and then line the cars on the tray before he would get bored again. I also wrapped his favorite foods in little packages, a couple crackers here, a piece of string cheese there, three apple slices. Once we we’re in the air, he was intrigued and distracted by his little presents. Once in a while he ran up and down the aisle. I just ran with him. Life happens!

Check back later this week for the rest of Elaine’s tips and subscribe to the Autism Speaks Blog to make sure you don’t miss out!

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