[Long before my son received his autism diagnosis, I felt "grounded". I could not imagine taking a vacation with this little person who was so different than I ever thought he would be.
Autism demands rigid routine in our household. Things need to be the same to ensure the anxiety levels are low. Low anxiety prevents panic and meltdown. With a "vacation", everything about routine is lost. I didn't think we could do it.
As I read and watched other blogger parents take their children with autism all over the world, I had to reconsider. Were they all higher functioning, or better parents, both or neither? Was it me?
To the blogger parents who know I'm talking about them, I thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for sharing all your adventures around the globe. It was all of you who gave me the fortitude to try something new and enrich my son's life.
Nervously, we ventured onto a plane to travel some 21oo miles from home. This is what happened.]
Bogged down with what felt like 50 pounds of electronic gear, entertainment and food, I stood waiting for my boarding pass to be scrutinized against my driver’s license. As I felt the strap from the bags digging straight through my shoulder, I was finally given the green light. My son and I headed down the corridor to board. Daddy was still in line.
This was the culmination of six months of planning, and 12 years without a vacation. Nervously and suddenly, I was alone in my parenting role, with one hand on my son, and the other holding everything else. I walked forward. I held back my fear and the cough which was desperately trying to escape my lungs. You see, two days before boarding, I’d caught a virus.
I couldn’t have timed it better. I’d planned, modified, and prepared for this trip for six months. The virus planned inside me for a mere week, and exploded full force into laryngitis, the night before we left. My son appeared immune. My husband equally so. Murphy’s Law.
Walking down the corridor to the plane, my little guy did not appear hesitant. As he got to where he would step on the plane though, he stopped. I bumped into him. With a nudge from me, he got on board. “Welcome!” greeted Donnie, our flight attendant. I wondered how long that smile Donnie had would last.
Despite boarding early, we were still behind others. Knowing my son’s propensity to yell, “Fire truck!” when in line, I tensed up, as we stood waiting for the seat. He was quiet, unaffected by the short wait.
Short, because we sat in row three, where there were two seats on each side of the aisle. I was assigned the window seat. On the practice run with Wings for Independence, the little guy insisted Mommy sit next to the window. But, during the practice run, the jet’s engines were never on. I was afraid the sounds or sensation might send him into a panic. Intensifying my worry, as we got to our row, he headed straight for the window. Confirming his choice, I gave up the window seat, figuring I could switch later if need be.
As I assured he was properly buckled in, he played with his iPad and his DS. He kept asking, “Your ears will not hit the window? Your ears will not hit the side of the plane?” I was confused.
At first, I told him that the seat belt would protect him. When he kept asking, I said it wouldn’t be such a rocky ride that he would hit his head. The epiphany came with this: “Your ears will not pop off and hit the window?” Aha. When I told my literalist that his ears may pop as the plane took off, he formed a visual I never intended. He thought his ears would pop off his head.
Once we were in the air, he relaxed. I did not. The flight was six hours. This was an entire school day. Would he go stir crazy? Only time would tell.
Early into the flight, he wanted me to find some of his beloved internet sites on his iPad. There was no wi-fi over the ocean. Instead of not understanding, he played iPad apps quietly. He switched between iPad and Nintendo DS but the iPad was always preferred.
He had difficulty drinking out of the glass as he is used to a straw in a water bottle. He fell asleep for a short time, having gotten up early to get to the airport. He wanted his sweater off. Minor details. Nothing out of the ordinary with any child or adult.
As Mom and Dad dined on Chicken & Mandarin Salad, Toots ate Hershey’s Kisses, M&Ms and Sunkist Fruit Snacks. He wanted no part of that ‘foreign’ food but he was content.
We made 3 or 4 trips to the tiny plane lavatory, partly to assure he did not have an accident, partly to let him move around. Oddly, the sensory distress that should have been caused by the loud flush of the toilet plane was overshadowed by the thrill of pushing the flush button, something he wanted to repeat over and over. He obsessed on the sink, pushing the faucet and letting the water drain, but he stopped when asked. He tried to open the door when it was my turn to use the toilet, the key there being “tried”.
About halfway through the flight, he decided stretching his legs by pushing on the seat in front of him was a great idea. Despite being told multiple times to stop, he was compelled to do it again as soon as I looked away. That seat was occupied by a childless woman in her 50’s. She never turned around or gave us any “looks”. The man sitting next to her got up to let her pass to the lavatory, at one point, and politely asked me to ask Toots to stop kicking his wife’s chair. All I could manage to squeak out with laryngitis was, “I’m trying.” After that, realizing that it was time for another dose, I whispered across the aisle for Toots’ daddy to get down his ADHD med from the carry on above us (I’m pretty short for overhead duties). After that, Toots’ compulsion to press forward with his foot was over.
Much of the plane ride, he kept the blinds to his window down. At first, I think he was afraid to look out. When I tried to show him outside, he held my hand away. I let him alone. When he heard we were landing though, he pulled up the blinds on his own.
We were treated to some incredible sights through some small white clouds.
He was mesmerized, as were the rest of us.
It was a smooth flight. Not much turbulence from the plane or the child. Donnie’s smile lasted the duration of the flight. Donnie gave Toots his wings.
We landed quietly to 77 degrees, an ocean breeze and a small airport. The adventure had begun.