Finding our Wings.

Over the summer, many special needs families went on vacations.  I read with longing as each embarked on a faraway adventure.  Although each special needs child is different, I looked at every one to find the courage to take my son on our own adventure.

So many stories. Travels to Disneyland, Jamaica, Sanibel Island, across the world, a bloggy friend moved to South Africa, another from the UK to America, a trip to Greece, to Myrtle Beach…  Not perfect vacations but vacations nonetheless – with lots of good stuff!  And I’m sitting on my rear at home, afraid to leave my perch.

My dream?  To take my son to Hawaii where my husband and I were married and walk on the beach in the sand at sunset, to look out at the ocean with him.  I want to explore the beauty, sounds, and serenity that is like no place else on Earth.

But I have many concerns (fears).  Let me give you a little list:

The airport, flight, rental car (he never rides in any car but one (we have four vehicles), the strange room, the food, the beach, the sand, the ocean, the lack of NIck Jr. on TiVo, swimming, swimming in a foreign pool with water slides, going to a luau, riding on a boat to go whale watching, possible allergies (he has asthma) sleep issues, time changes, medications (taking a nebulizer and multiple meds)…

Despite all that, we have booked the trip – for early next year.  The ABA staff is working with us on programs to prepare.

I have signed Toots up for “adaptive” swim lessons, twice a week.  He gets a one-on-one swim instructor who will teach him while other children are in a group with one instructor.  One of his ABA tutors will also attend.  He’s excited!  The classes are in a gigantic indoor pool near our office.

But the major fear is still the airport and flight.  Given that he doesn’t even want to get into any car but one, I am very nervous about his reaction to the sounds, smells, sensation and confinement of a six hour flight.

I bought books and toys about the airport.  But that is not the real deal.

Lucky for us, we can participate in a program that lets Toots practice getting on a flight!  And so, last Saturday, Toots, hubs, me and our ABA tutor headed to the Sacramento International Airport to join “Wings for Independence”, a program designed to help families of children with special needs prepare them to experience flying on a plane!

“Wings for Independence” is a local program.  You can learn more about it here.

It was amazing.

Toots meets the airport.

I hadn’t been to the airport in so long that I did not even know the new terminal had been built!  When we got inside, we headed for the ticket counter where we were instructed to “check in”.  We got boarding passes! The wonderful employees of Jet Blue have partnered with Wings for Independence and provided the check in and the plane for the program.

We were told to bring a small unpacked suitcase.  Given that we have never traveled anywhere, the only “suitcase” Tootles had was one he spied in JC Penney when he was about two years old.  I did not want to buy it but he went into meltdown mode and so I forked over the $20 for this:

It has sat upstairs in a cabinet for about 3.5 years.  The hubs knew right where it was and brought it down to me on Saturday.  On a whim, I checked inside and lo and behold, I removed this stuff:

Dart gun – remote for long defunct helicoptor and dart…

Apparently, my hubs wants Toots on the “no fly” list.

Once emptied, we checked little Elmo as our luggage, and the lovely staff took a shine to Toots and offered to weigh him on the luggage scale (thank goodness we don’t really have to get weighed for a flight, eh?)

Next, we caught up with our group and looked at this awesome Spiderman bunny in the middle of the terminal.

We took a huge escalator up to catch the tram to the boarding gates.  Toots never rode anything like that tram and I was sweating bullets that he was going to freak.  Instead, he calmly boarded, clutched the rail like nobody’s business and stayed completely quiet for the 30 second fast trip across the terminal!

The worst of it all (which wasn’t bad) was waiting to get through security.  Toots was extremely fidgety.

His ticket was checked with mine.  We took off our shoes and put them in a plastic tub to ride through security.  It was only after he took off his shoes that I learned that children under the age of 10 do not have to take their shoes off!  One less thing to worry about for the real deal.

Hubs was required to go through the full body scan, a pat-down search and they swabbed his arm for some reason – you see what happens when you pack a dart gun in your child’s Elmo suitcase?!  Too bad my camera was going through the metal detector at the time!!

We then found our gate and waited for a flight from Long Beach to land and deplane.  Toots ran up and down the aisle, looked at planes out the window and played with his iPad.

We boarded and were given headphones.  I haven’t been on a plane in so long that I did not even know they had TVs in the seats!  Toots loved it and kept asking me what show to watch.

He “held” his pee so he could use the airplane restroom!  He had heard about it in the social story and wanted to try it out!  His ABA tutor went with him for that one and he did a great job!

Jet-setting with some apple juice.

Jet Blue went through all the boarding instructions just like an actual flight, brought us snacks and drinks (!) and when Toots deplaned – he got a bag full of little goodies including airplane junior crew wings!

We went to baggage claim, picked up his Elmo suitcase and headed home.

This program is amazing!  I really think there should be something like this at every major airport everywhere.   It’s taken a load off my mind.  Of course, take off, turbulence and landing can’t be “practiced” but as long as I have the air sickness bag nearby – I think we’ll make it!

Moon over the wing of the plane as we began our “practice”.

Aloha! Hawaii here we come.

The only question is whether I’ll be able to get on a plane to come home…


About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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25 Responses to Finding our Wings.

  1. Allie says:

    I’m so happy for you! I think the trip will be fabulous!
    The other day I found an article online about a similar airplane program in Boston and thought it sounded really neat. Glad to hear they have them other places too. It stinks they don’t have something like that here yet but we are small-ish city so it’s no surprise.

    • solodialogue says:

      Hooray for the expansion of the idea! You aren’t that “smallish” where you are! Sacramento seems an unlikely place for the program too if you ask me! I’m sorry I have not been around as much to respond to comments – it’s been hard working full time, writing and keeping up with everyone – I have a conference in an hour! But I did want to tell you that the PacMan shirt came from Nordstrom – early in the summer – I checked the inside of the tag and it said the maker was “PacMan”!! Not a lot of help… xoxo

  2. I really am very excited for you. The worst part for us was going thru airport security. Once we got thru that, we were able to keep our kids distracted and excited enough that the rest of the traveling stuff didn’t bother them. You really have done a lot of prep work. More than most ppl do I think. I’m sure it will pay off and you’ll have a great time.

  3. Wow! What an amazing experience! Tootles looked like he had fun – even in the tram. I am really happy and excited for all of you! I find that H enjoys trips because it is so different from his everyday. While it may not go exactly planned, I’m always surprised by how he can adapt to new situations. You are doing great prep work and I hope things will go swimmingly. Hawaii??? So jealous! 🙂

  4. This is great to know about this now. We have stuck to car trips since Sensi was 2 and Random was 6. We had a hard time with the security in the airport and I really didn’t want to deal with that again. It is nice to know there is a program where our family can practice. Maybe we’ll try Hawaii too. Great post!

    • solodialogue says:

      Well, my dear, you’d have to drive out to Sacramento to try the program as it is still just local! If you want, as I suggested to Lisa, you can like the FB page and make a comment offering assistance to get one set up at your local airport! There is a nice brochure that Wings did that encourages parents to let the TSA and airline staff know your child’s needs. Most are very accommodating and you’d be surprised to learn how many people in this business have children with special needs!

  5. Lisa says:

    That was amazing! I am jealous of that would have been so helpful for us! Tate struggled with taking shoes off and walking through the scanner without touching the sides. This program would have helped tremendously! Have a great time planning for your trip. Hawaii…how wonderful!!

    • solodialogue says:

      Lisa! Tate does not have to take his shoes off til he is 10 years old!! Advocate! The woman who put the program together is in the process of getting it put in place elsewhere. You could always like the FB page “Wings for Independence” and give her a comment – you may be able to help set up a “Wings” branch in your area!! Wouldn’t that be awesome?

  6. Teresa says:

    This makes me feel SO happy this morning. I love travel and truly believe that if you never go anywhere that you will never go anywhere. What a wonderful program, mahalo Jet Blue. T will have such a good time in Hawaii. Aloha!

    • solodialogue says:

      Yes!! Yay for Jet Blue – thanks to them and to Wings for Independence! When we’re faced with 40 degrees and rain, we’ll be leaving for the beauty and excitement of whale watching season. Can’t wait!

  7. Lizbeth says:

    That is an amazing program!!! Now if they only had a Four Season’s that would let you practice, then you’d be in business.

    Hawaii holds a special place in my heart–we were married there as well, on Lanai. I miss it terribly and have not been back since we had the diagnosis for Alex. It’s too much of a trip for him and we don’t want him to be without us while we travel so we don’t go.

    I’m so excited for you!!!!

    • solodialogue says:

      Ha! Four Seasons to practice – THAT would be awesome! I was happy with some mixed nuts and a warm Diet Coke!

      We were married on Maui and stayed at the Four Seasons! Someday- you will make it back there with Alex and the girls – just start practicing now! I’m sure you could find some good science stuff for Alex to be very curious about – and think of the shelling!! xoxo

  8. wow, I am soooo excited for you! I second the airport security thing being the worst, they really should have some sort of special needs fast track on that. I can’t wait to hear about your trip next year. Go Karen!

    • solodialogue says:

      Thanks! The Wings for Independence group told us that we can let TSA in on our special needs kids and they will try to get us through with the least amount of discomfort. I know that rather than the whole wand thing they can just walk through the metal detector… once they get there in the line! We’re actually finally looking forward to it now that the practice run seemed to go so well. 🙂

  9. Look at the wonder in his eyes! That’s so beautiful.
    I am excited for you guys already and I am also glad WE don’t have to get weighed! lol

  10. Jen says:

    This is SO great!! Way to go T!! The headphones and tvs in the seats will really help kill the time. I’m sure his iPad will help even more. I hope they have a program like this at O’Hare. I’m definitely signing my kids up. We have all the same issues with flying. We had to drive from Chicago to Orlando for our Disney trip because of them. It wasn’t so bad but I would love to fly next time. Hawaii sounds heavenly!

    • solodialogue says:

      Yay for all the technology for the plane ride! And yes, the iPad better be fully charged for take off! If you want to inquire about a program for O’Hare, you could always drop Wings for Independence a post on their FB page! I hope that such a program spreads across the world for all special needs families. It was a great thing! 🙂

  11. Ooh, that was me, that was me! I LOVE that they do this program. And I love that you’re going to Hawaii, it will be awesome. There was a book that we bought about airports that my kids loved and served well as preparation too. I’ll see if I can remember it. You know where I am if you have any questions!

  12. eof737 says:

    It will be a fantastic trip… trust it. 😉

  13. Sue says:

    Fi at Wonderfully Wired wrote an excellent social story for her boys before they flew to Disneyland. I don’t have the link, but I bet she would be glad to share it. I think things will go well for you because you are preparing and you are not traveling through the night. Traveling with a nebulizer should not be a problem, but you can get a letter from your doctor to be sure. The only concern might be that vog is much worse than is used to be, so make sure you do bring his meds. Hopefully the winds will blow the other way during your visit.

  14. virginia says:

    my 10 year old son
    Jimmy did so wonderfully with this experience too, what an awesome idea!!! Now we are so ready to fly to Long Beach for our next cruise in Hawaii!!!

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