Originally Published May 2008. We just booked this year's trip for next month, so thought it was time for a review:
"As a mother of two children with Autism who have travelled from Melbourne to Malaga, Brisbane to Barooga and Dublin to Dubbo several times in the last 6 years, I felt I might have a few tips to share. Here are some things that work for me:
1. Social Stories,
If your child can read then write a story on the computer, double-spaced and with pictures to represent each stage of the journey. Make sure you build in reinforcers that can be picked up along the way. For example:
1. Drive to the Airport
2. Take the bags to the desk and get a boarding pass, then go to McDonalds!
3. Then go to the big gate and take off your shoes…..etc
Your child will go through each boring step in order to get to the next interesting step.
You can read the story together several times before the trip and ask teachers and other carers to read and talk about it too.
Finish with a photograph of the villa or apartment that you will be staying in, which is easy to obtain from the web. And the mantra “Holidays are Fun!”
For a pictorial social story I cannot stress enough that it is always preferable to use drawings to represent the stages of the journey, rather than photographs.
I use PECS or Do to Learn drawings and if I can’t find something I draw it myself in the Paint programme on Windows.
Just ask my friend what happens when you use a photo of a green aeroplane and you get to the airport to find that the airline is using a blue aeroplane and now your darling son won’t board. Goodbye Disneyland Paris.
Email me if you need a badly drawn picture of airline food or a seat belt. (actually, the drawing of the airline food is about as good as the food itself).
2. Bring home with you!
I am not mad, I just mean bring a few choice items that the kids particularly associate with home. I always pack a few favourite, washed a million times, duvet covers and pillowslips with the kid’s favourite characters on them.
When you get to the villa or apartment or even hotel room, go straight into the bedroom and put the pillows in the pillowcases. You can put a blanket or even a sheet inside a quilt cover, which is great if you are somewhere too hot for duvets.
For the first trip away I actually took the covers off their beds, so the smell would come with us as kids tune in to the familiar like that. I also take a couple of story books, the ones that you like to read to them, and as many kids magazines as they have (CBeebies, Disney etc), as you can leave those behind at the end of the holiday.
You will be particularly glad of these if you are going abroad. First trip to Spain I had to read “We’re going on a Bear Hunt” every night for 14 days. Also bring a few familiar toys.
We have the mini "Beanie" versions of the Teletubbies, Bear, Hoobs, Muppet and Tweenies Toys, etc so it saves on space. Bratty tends to scatter these around the room when we get there and creates a bit of a nest for herself.
It really helps to have doubles of favourite toys just in case they get lost in transit.
I spent a very anxious afternoon looking for Groove the Hoob in Cefalu, Sicily a couple of years ago. Now we travel with several Grooves. We make them choose one toy each for the plane, and check the rest through.
Oh and and for any of you thinking of half board in a B&B or a Hotel........
Two Words: SELF CATER.
You will all be much happier.
That way you can feed yourselves and the kids for most of the day in peace without worry. Breakfast in particular in hotels can be very crowded and stressful and involve a lot of foods and table settings that are very unfamiliar and could inspire experimentation.
My little Boo cannot resist a salt cellar and does a nice line in eating the middle of sugar packets, AND PUTTING THEM BACK. Yummy for the next person.
If you have to avoid additives or colorings, or have the kids on a special diet it can be difficult to avoid contact in a busy buffet.
By self catering you can go to the supermarket and buy or even bring over all their preferred foods. But don't feel you have to cook every night. The great thing about holidays outside of Ireland is that you can feed the whole family in a restaurant for less than it costs for a dinner for two here.
Many holiday places have outdoor tables where a mess will be not only tolerated, but expected. Seriously, give yourself a break and go out.
3. Bring your Brass neck!
What I mean is, don’t be shy in coming forward at the Check in or Security when it comes to telling people you have a child with special needs. We get there early, but approach a member of Airport staff and tell them that the kids “don’t do queuing” and they generally help us through.
It helps if you have an i.d. card, as it can be hard to explain to someone that these beautiful children have special needs.
But remember Autism comes from the latin, so you will be understood in Spanish, French and Italian.
Remember, the airport staff would rather facilitate you than face the risk of a meltdown, so please have a thick neck and ask for help.
As a final tip, you will be better off telling Airport Authority staff, rather than the check in staff themselves, especially if you are flying a "cheap fares" airline.
Better still, don’t fly with cheap fares airlines. Go with someone who offers pre-flight seat allocation so you can choose seats that will suit your family, Before you travel.
It is supposed to be a HOLIDAY, so spend a few extra euro and avoid nightmares.
Online check in is also a fantastic idea. Less queuing. Happier kids.
4. Bring an activity to entertain them at the airport AND on the plane.
The old laptop is invaluable at the Airport and we save the DVD batteries for on the plane.
The DVD can be plugged into a television in the apartment when you get there if you bring a scart adaptor. Bratty just loves the fish tank at the Crème de La Mer cosmetic counter at Dublin Duty Free so we do a bit of a walk around there. Boo likes the Bookshop too.
(very handy for Mummy to buy pretties at the duty free too.)
And my Boo will sit anywhere if you buy him a coke. Boo is allowed to buy one outrageously overpriced DVD or book in the airport, which he will look at on the plane.
It is important to get to the gate early so the crew can board you ahead of anyone else, so don’t dillydally in the shops for too long.
My best tip is to bring a hard cover copy book, and a some colored pencils. (Markers and pens tend to leak in the pressurized cabin) The hard cover is for the time before you are allowed to pull the tray table down, which if you are queueing on the runway before takeoff, can be AGES!
Make up a story and write it out together while drawing simple pictures.
And finally, don't assume that you have to wait until the fasten seat belts light has gone off before switching on the Portable DVD players. Usually it is just after the plane levels out and you can hear the flight crew getting out of their seats. Press the buzzer and ask a Flight attendant to be sure, but don't be shy. The sooner you get the entertainment started, the better the flight is for everybody.
But be sure to incorporate the need to switch off the entertainment, into your social story.
Finally, if you are flying somewhere cold, bring along a pillowcase. You can then put the kids parka jackets into the pillow case and make them a cosy cushion. (Anything that encourages sleep!!)
5. On board food, drink and other stuff.
This is really hard with the new restrictions! We ended up getting a doctor's letter last time to explain why Bratty would only drink one brand of apple drink which is not sold at the airport on on the plane. We put a 6 pack in a clear plastic bag with the doctors letter which the Airport Authority advised in case we had to open one carton chosen randomly by security and taste it.
For the pre-flight sedative, get a doctor’s advice as Phenergan and Valium can have the opposite effect. And test all meds at home 1-2 days before the flight.
Or, You try taking the sedative drugs yourself and you won’t care if the child is up to 90 for the duration of the flight.
Crisps and things in a packet are still fine for bringing on board. as far as I know. Check with Airport authorities on line. Bring lots of little snacks, but try to limit the additives and sugar content as you do not want a pukey hyperactive child in a packed aeroplane.
Bring wipes and a sheet or beach towel to cover up if the child does get pukey. There are no extras like blankets on the cheap flights these days. I have learned to pack a sarong or shawl for this. You can tuck it around the kids to encourage sleepiness or wear it around your waist to cover up all the food stains on your trousers as you disembark.
Also; anti-bacterial hand gel is useful as the toilets can be a bit manky in the airport and on the plane. And Bring Wipes!
Light clothes in layers are the best idea, that you can add on when you are leaving home but remove and put in a bag on the plane and when you get to your destination.
The children will not thank you as they swelter at the baggage carousel in Malaga in their best “travelling clothes".
Sandals are great as you can get them on and off easily if your feet smell, I mean swell. (just don’t wear socks with sandals or you will be stopped by the fashion police)
Make sure the children have I.D, on their person. God forbid they should get away from you, but if they do, be sure they have their name, age, condition and your mobile number on their person.
On the advice of a friend I dress Boo in stripes, which are easy to see from a distance. It is so easy to become engrossed in something in a bookshop or at the duty free, only to look up and find they have wandered off. And there is no guarantee that they will be able to tell a stranger their name or yours. Be prepared!
For long journeys I actually use an indelible pen and write my mobile on their arm.
7. Enjoy yourself when you get there!
The great thing about holidays in Latin countries is that children are very visible. Spanish children seem to be more indulged and we often find ourselves in the happy situation where the boldest children in the café are not ours! Seriously, the child lying on the floor having a tantrum outside the supermarket is going to be Someone Else's!!
We run a tab with the guy who runs the pool kiosk in Spain, Bratty points to the ice cream on the picture menu and the pool guy gets it for her no questions asked. He even gets her a plate as Bratty likes to eat ice lollies with her fingers. And he thinks she is fabulous! Boo can order his own toasted sandwich and coke, but he thinks that all waiters are called "Gracias".
(think about it)
In the Mediterranean countries I have visited, you will always see parents with their children. Not just lying on a sun lounger and glancing up occasionally but actually in the water splashing about. So, exuberant behaviour in a public place is not so frowned upon. And everyone including people with special needs, gets to enjoy themselves.
Because that really is the main thing. To E.N.J.O.Y. yourself."