Thursday, July 28, 2011

Flying the Friendly Skies.... At Least I Hope So

Traveling with kids is always a challenge.  But traveling with special needs children can add a whole nother layer of challenge to the experience.  Now that I know we're going to be flying to California in October, I have a little over two months to worry about Lily on the airplane.

So can you guess what I've already started doing?

If you said googling tips on traveling with special needs children, then you're correct!

And wouldn't you know it?  I've come across some pretty helpful stuff already.  And really, most of what I've found is helpful information for all kids and their parents.

Even though we're coming up on the end of summer, so many families travel throughout the year nowadays that I thought I'd go ahead and share some of the best ones with you.

Pick Your Seat.  If at all possible, book the first row of your section so that your child has nothing (or no one!) to kick but a wall.  Yes, you lose the storage under the seat in front of you, but you gain peace of mind in not having to tell your child to stop kicking the seat in front of him 362 times.  If you can't get the front row, maybe another adult or older (and very patient) sibling traveling with you might be willing to take the seat in front of your child.  At least then your child is kicking someone who loves him no matter what!

Take The Carseat.  Yes, it's just another thing to carry.  And it's not even an easy thing to carry.  Especially when you're thinking your kid might take off at any moment and you need to be light on your feet and able to react quickly.  But it's worth the trouble because if your carseat is anything like Lily's, it provides 5-point maximum restraint - something that will be much more beneficial than that little lap belt. And I'm not just talking for safety reasons here, if you get my drift.  That lap belt would take Lily all of three seconds to realize she could undo which she would then proceed to undo 362 times.  Fortunately, Lily likes her carseat and she's comfortable with it so it will remove the "new seat" factor that an airplane seat would present.

Tape a Picture Over the Lap Tray Latch.  This tip I LOVE.  How many times have your kids discovered that sliding that little latch over releases that little tray and it falls down?  And then they put the tray back up and repeat the whole process 362 times?  As soon as you get to your seat, before your kid realizes what that white thing on the seat back is, tape a fun picture over the whole tray table that covers the latch and leave it there the whole flight.  I've even seen those hanging seat organizers with pockets for crayons, coloring books, handheld games and the like that you might put there, especially if you know the person sitting in the seat in front of your child.

If At All Possible, Fly Non-Stop.  It's hard enough waiting in line to board and getting settled in your seat without having to do it multiple times.  Depending on how much it is, it just might be worth the extra money you spend in order to prevent possible meltdowns.  

Bring Lots of Stuff.  Lots.  Handheld games, iPads, iPods, DVD players, laptops, headphones, crayons and coloring books, puzzles, books, magnetic games, lacing cards, stringing beads, non-staining playdough, Barbies... whatever will help keep your child busy and happy.  Don't bring it all out at once.  And don't let your child see all of it.  Just hand him one thing.  Or ask if he wants to color or do a puzzle.  Then as you see him start to get a little restless, put that thing away and bring out something different.  Make each thing last as long as you can.

If You Need Help, Be Specific.  As parents of special needs children, we've had lots of time to learn the ins and outs of caring for our kiddos.  Just saying your child has autism might not mean anything to the gate agent.  Be specific.  For example, if waiting in a crowded terminal overwhelms your child, briefly explain that to the gate agent and ask where there might be a quiet corner where you could sit with your child until time to board.  Be nice and remember - you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.  Who knows - if you're really nice, you might get a better seat.  I've seen it happen with my husband multiple times.  He has the gift of schmooze and it comes in handy!

Give Yourself More Time Than You Think You'll Need.  Rushing around will only make you more cranky and frantic and therefore your children more cranky and frantic.

I don't really know how I feel about this next tip yet.  

We've all been out in public, seen a child having a tantrum and and made an automatic judgement call about how we would handle that kid if he belonged to us.  I've done it myself.  Of course, my eyes have been opened and I now understand that I don't know it all!  I'm not so quick to judge anymore and I'm much more likely to offer help.  

To address this judgement issue, I know a couple of moms who have resorted to having their children wear special t-shirts when traveling.  T-shirts that let people know their children have autism and that some of the behaviors they exhibit are attributed to that.  

For example, look at these tees from Cafe Press:

Autism is my Superpower T-Shirt

Not Rude (Boy) T
Think Before You Judge Autism T-Shirt

They even have shirts for moms or dads to wear if you don't want to put one on your child:
Autism Behavior Shirt

And then some of the shirts have a little more direct message, I guess you could say:
I Have Autism - T
Staring? T-Shirt

Hey Keep Staring At Me And You Just Might Cure My

Weird Autistic T
My Child Has Autism T-Shirt

While I have felt like saying some of the things that are on those last five shirts, I don't think I would ever actually wear one.  Or put one on Lily.  If I'm asking people to be understanding or seeking to educate them, I don't think I'm going to accomplish that by being antagonistic.  Though staring and rude comments directed to me or my child can be perceived as antagonistic, I certainly don't have to sink down to that same level.

A large part of me thinks it's no one's business and if Lily has a meltdown, then she has a meltdown. We deal with it and move on, just like we would if we had a child without special needs who was having a tantrum.  But the way we handle these situations is what makes them a little more unique.  For example, if we needed to do a holding position with Lily to calm her down, it's going to look a little strange to outsiders.

I'll have to think on this one a little more.

Any travel tips you want to pass along?

And what do you think - T-shirt or no t-shirt?

Talk to me!


  1. A cute t-shirt - maybe even one you word yourself and have printed.

  2. I would have a t-shirt on Lily at least. People READ t-shirts. Whether you want to wear one or the whole family wear one that you have printed is up to you of course. Neat ideas.

  3. Good tips...especially tape a picture over the laptop! Our challenge is Max continuously kicking the seat in front of him. Haven't solved that one yet except to warn the person in front of him and offer to trade seats. Eep.

    I think the t-shirt idea is interesting. I would prefer to wear a t-shirt myself than put one on my child and single him out in a crowded airport—I recently did that post on about what parents would put on their special needs t-shirt, it got interesting responses:

  4. Lana, we were recently on a plane trip with a single mom whose two-year-old son was completely and utterly out of control on the plane.

    I have a question to you, and I know you can't answer for everyone, but I'd be interested in your input:
    I desperately wanted to ask the mom if I could help (hold him and walk him up and down the aisle, play with him to distract him, something!) but I did not follow through on my urges. Had I been sitting directly next to her or in front or behind, I absolutely would have (I think). (I was a couple rows back and across the aisle.)
    How do you think you would respond if a stranger offered you help (not judgement or advice)? Is it even MORE embarrassing and/or contributes to the problem, or, do you think it's a welcomed response?

    I ask, I guess, because, for those of us who do not have special needs kids, we don't always understand; we may judge, and assume the parent(s) can't or won't control their kids (whether special needs or not), and we need help in knowing how to best respond in that type of situation. Offer help? Or just stay the heck outta the way?

    What do you think?


  5. I can't recommend this product enough:

    We bought it before an international trip, complete with a layover and many trips through security and customs. It's super light, and folds flat. I used a bungee cord to "install" the carseat on it, through the seatbelt path you'd use to install it in a car. Then, when J was either not interested in walking, or interested only in walking the wrong way, we would harness him in and use the whole thing as a stroller. When he was on foot, we'd pile all our other stuff in the seat. It was an absolute life saver, and has been put to many other uses since!

  6. I don't think you have to share with strangers in the airport anymore than you want to, but I think a shirt is a neat idea.
    The only other thing I would suggest is to have something she likes that isn't electronic for takeoffs and landings. Our nine month old isn't into electronics yet, but I know it must be hard to have to cut things off during those times.
    Good luck on your trip!

  7. We fly with our three children a few times a year and have used this seat belt for a couple of years now. It's so much easier than traveling with a car seat, just a recommendation for you. You are more than welcome to borrow one of ours for your upcoming trip!

  8. Oh and tips - try to get a bulk head seat, bring lots of snacks (you can never have enough!). Here is another site that I've used sometimes. You can preorder things to be shipped to your hotel room, really cuts down on disposable things like diapers for your luggage!
    Also, don't worry about what people are thinking or wondering. Think of the plane ride and the airport as a field trip for Lily. If you board early she might be able to get a sneak peak of the cockpit and get to meet the pilot. We try to board first so that we can get all settled and meet the whole crew. I think it helps make the crew a little more patient and understanding if you take the time to meet them, tell them your children's names and thank them for serving you today. Goes a long way :)

  9. I think the t-shirt is a great idea. I can see it going a long way in helping the people who read it to be less judgmental even in the future when they see a child "acting up" and realize they don't know everything going on with that kiddo. And I bet it will make people more patient and kind with her and the rest of your family during the trip.

    I can't think of other tips -- games, snacks, movies, etc. Maybe something to suck on during take-off and landing so her ears don't pop. A sippy cup or something? If you take her car seat, you will probably want to get a carrier bag with wheels so you can easily transport it through the airport. If you need to have certain foods or drinks with you, or perhaps medication that might seem suspect to security, you might want to have doctor's notes/prescriptions so they don't raise eyebrows. Wear shoes that are easy to take on and off.

  10. How about, "Jesus Loves Autistic Kids." and if you're in a bad mood, you can put on the one that says, "Jesus Loves Autistic Kids, In Your Face, Bucko!"

    Just my opinion.


    Honestly, what gets me is people who complain about kid's on a flight at all. Who said a flight is supposed to be quiet anyway? It's nerve racking for adults, much less a child who is so nervous, confused and excited.

  11. Thanks to all of you for your great tips! I'm leaning towards a t-shirt and thinking I'll be the one to wear it, rather than Lily. Haven't decided for sure yet or which one.

    Cecilia - yes, electronics are an issue. I hate those few minutes when you have to turn them off because they seem like an eternity to a child whose favorite things are mostly electronic. But I'm already working on finding some items that peak Lily's interest and then I'm hiding them until the flight for those exact times!

    Michelle and Leslie - I'll check out both your recommendations online today and let you know what I think. Thanks for passing on the info.

    Ellen - Thanks for your comment and if any of you are interested in reading more about the t-shirts, be sure to check out the link she mentioned above.

    And Allison - I love you, bucko! :)

  12. I know you prayed for my friend when she flew with her darling with autism. Their trip went great. Please know I'll be praying for you all when it's your turn. I'm praying the anxiety will be far, far worse than the flight. :)


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