Tales from the World of Extreme Parenting - H is for Holidays

As a mother of two children with severe Autism, I have travelled from Brisbane to Barooga, Dubbo to Dublin and beyond many times in the last 13 years.

At this time of year, some of you might be lucky enough to be planning your summer break - and perhaps dreading it after a negative experience in the past.

However, if you prepare and plan properly, taking into account your child's special needs, then it can be an enjoyable experience for the whole family.

Firstly - don't think you have to stay local. With a strong likelihood of rain for 10 out of the 14 days you have  booked, you may find yourself cooped up in a holiday house with no broadband, no cable tv and the prospect of hanging around the local supermarket for entertainment.

D'amusements do not work for people with high sensory needs, and they are expensive anyway. And Long walks in the rain followed by an Irish Coffee in a local pub are for romantic weekends away. Not a family of 4 with no clothes dryer.

So take my advice and go somewhere sunny for your holidays. And fly!

1. Two Words: SELF CATER!

You will all be much happier.
Where I come from, Full Board is something that you surf on at the beach. 
I find it perplexing to hear parents complaining about the minefield of taking meals  in a busy dining room full of foods and table settings and people who frown and complain about the noise.

There are literally hundreds of great websites for choosing a villa or apartment to book yourself. We use Spainaway or Owners Direct but go on line and shop around. Really good bargains to be had and you need not be tied to Saturday to Saturday. Book your flights on the days that suit you (traveling on a weekday is much quieter) and then make the booking company an offer on the number of days.

We stay in Urbanisations with a mixture of terraced houses and villas, all with gardens with a high stone wall and lockable gate. Leave the windows and doors of the house open, put on a video or dvd and you can lie on a Tumbano in the sun in the garden while the kids amuse themselves in the house.  Add a garden house and a wading pool, fridge full of snacks and you need only leave to go for a dip in the communal and fully fenced pool. Then back to the house for more lounging. 

You do not  have to shop and 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.

Look out for outdoor cafes where a mess will be not only tolerated, but expected and the other diners will be families as loud and raucous as yours - maybe more!
You can also get excellent take-away like pizzas or asian/curries and my other half likes to take our son out for Tapas in the evenings, then bring home a take away for Gracie and me. Dishes go in the bin!

And if you book accommodation and travel independently you can organise your own transfers, by hire car or taxi and not be tied to waiting around for a tour bus that will stop at every resort en-route. Many of the booking companies will recommend or even organise transport for you. Just ask.

2. Prepare: With 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 rewarding activities to do along the way.

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 go here to the Autism Support Website Guide to planning your journey.
You can even download a story to your smart phone or iPad - here

3. Packing: 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 duvet covers and pillowslips.
When you get to the villa or apartment or even hotel room, go straight into the bedroom and put the pillows in the pillowcases and a sheet inside your quilt covers.
In the early days I actually took them straight off the bed so they smelt like home - important for our sensory sensitive kids.

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. 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, Peppa Pig or 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.

Bring familiar toys to scatter around but look for Beanie versions to save space when packing. Ask friends and family to look out for these 'doppleganger' toys in charity shops or check ebay. We make them choose one toy each for the plane, and put the rest in the hold luggage.

4. At the Airport Check In, Security and when Boarding: Bring your Brass neck!

What I mean is, don’t be shy in coming forward 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 Autism ID card, as it can be hard to explain to someone that these beautiful children have special and very challenging 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. You will be better off asking the Airport staff for help, rather than check in staff, 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. Those cheap fare airlines are fabulous  for singles and couples with no children, NOT FAMILIES!
It is supposed to be a HOLIDAY, so spend a few extra bucks and avoid nightmares.

Online check-in is also a fantastic idea. Less queuing. Happier kids.

When it comes to security, please be considerate of other travelers and have all your gear packed into the recommended sized bags. Ask your partner to empty pockets of coins and crap before you approach the security queues. Approach the staff and explain your situation and offer to remove shoes etc without being asked.
I send Mr Hammie through the metal detector first then each child whom he catches and I go last after stacking everything on the security belt. Open bags and remove laptops and liquids etc in the regulation see through bags as requested. Be cooperative and grateful for the help and thank everyone afterwards.

*In Ireland the Airport Authorities understand Autism and will give you the help you need, where you need it. In some other countries we've found ourselves brought through to the front of the queue, only to wait for 30 minutes with the other patient but mobility impaired folks on the flight. Sometimes it is better to make yourself known to the desk check in staff, then go off to walk around with the kids until the flight is actually called, rather than queue too early. 

5. Bring an activity to entertain them at the airport AND on the plane.

Laptops, Mini Dvd players and the iPod Touch are manna from heaven for the family on the move. . You can purchase and download a movie on your iTunes account once, then load it on to up to 5 devices so sync' it with your iPhone/iPod and the Laptop to rotate and use when queueing at any stage.

Your social story should include a treat that will be purchased in the airport. Whether that be a coke, book or Dvd you should honor that and ensure that your child is happy to travel again.

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. However a lot of walking prior to boarding is a good thing..

When Booking Your Seat Allocation: - Mark Your Man!

If travelling with 2 adults and 2 kids, don't put the kids in the row of three and allow your partner to sit across the aisle. He will ally himself with the other passengers and put on the "Headphones of Invisibility" that block out all sounds of turmoil in the seats across from him while you struggle with the kids alone.
Book 2 on 2 with the Seat Kicker of the family (there's always one) seated behind a family member. Match one parent to one child from the moment you reach the airport and stay on them until your reach your accomodation or home. Transfers must be agreed to by both parties and only in case of emergencies like going to the toilet.
If you can book the back row even better - you will have the kids surrounded!

My best tip for onboard entertainment 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!
Just make up a story with their favourite characters 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.

6. On board food, drink and other stuff.

This is really hard with the new restrictions! We have a doctor's letter to explain why Bratty would only drink one brand of apple drink which is not sold at the airport or on the plane. We put a 6 pack in a clear plastic bag with the letter which the Airport Authority advised us to get, and we place it outside the carry-on bag on the security belt.

If you are considering pre-flight sedatives, 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.

(Getting a little something to keep your partner calm and happy is also a good idea I find!)

Crisps and things in a packet are still fine for bringing on board. 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 a towel or even better a sarong or shawl to cover up if the child does get pukey. There are no extras like blankets on cheap flights these days. 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 swell. (just don’t wear socks with sandals or you will be stopped by the fashion police)

7. Safety.

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 phone 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 phone number on Boo's arm. I also dress them in World Autism Day or Saplings School for Autism T-shirts. It can actually help with "the Look" that some people give you, and makes strangers a lot kinderl.

(I have yet to find a "Obsteferous when Moved" T-shirt for Mr Hammie

8. 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!!

If your kids are verbal, teach them to say Hello, Please and Thank you in the local language and prompt them to use it wherever you go. Boo orders his own food in the cafes and kiosks where he thinks all the waiters are called "Gracias".

 If our break coincides with the local school holidays we sometimes find ourselves surrounded in the pool by Spanish kids who don't realise that Gracie can't talk much and who just want to play. I use a visual sign to prompt her to say "Hola" and she gets along great with them.

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."


Jean said…
T'riffic advice, but I have a chef, a butler and a legion of nannies to care for the Little Dears (oh dear, am I drunk again???).
Seriously, really good stuff there.
Nan P. said…
So Hammie, when are you putting this in practice again?

Very sound advice, with a lot of common sense that any parent could use, autism or not! And sometimes, looking around any airport, it's obvious some parents do not know how to travel with their kids!
Lisamaree said…
Nan, we took our break in June this year. Longing to get away again so you never know. Thanks for the compliments. I often think the same and indeed flight attendants on Long Haul will often tell us the Liam is one of the better "managed" kids on the plane!

Jean jeannie- IF ONLY! I got to sit in the middle, as opposed to the back of the plane last trip to Melbourne and I gotta say a Business Class hostie is pretty damn close to a Butler!!
I agree with Nan, there's lots of advice here for ALL parents. On a related topic, Angel has been reminding me of the first time we moved house - and she just returned from her childminders to a new home: we'd forgotten to tell her! A social story might have been very useful x
Anonymous said…
Great advice - for all parents! Had to laugh at your fashion advice too. Came here through Clive, the Assistance Dog.
Lisamaree said…
Candi: yep, a social story is handy when you are doing anything new, and it isn't negotiable!

Ladyfi: thanks for dropping by, nice of Fiona to link me like that. BTW, Murray is the boy who wouldn't get on the blue aeroplane, because the social story had a picture of a green one. xx
Holiday Rentals said…
Very nice and imformative article - geat advice - well done for lots of effort put into it.
Holiday Rentals said…
This is a really good article with lots of useful advice. I can see a lot of time and effort was put into this.
Anonymous said…
I'm hopping over from Blog Gems. THis is very timely advice, we're preparing for a huge move in six months and it is good to read your experiences (I'd forgtten all about taking shoes off at the airport, my God!).
Also, a friend just asked me for advice about flying with her childre- I can just send her over here!

Really useful stuff- great job. :-)
Anonymous said…
I'm hopping over from Blog Gems. THis is very timely advice, we're preparing for a huge move in six months and it is good to read your experiences (I'd forgtten all about taking shoes off at the airport, my God!).
Also, a friend just asked me for advice about flying with her childre- I can just send her over here!

Really useful stuff- great job. :-)
The Henrys said…
Hi, I'm here from Blog Gems.

Thanks for writing this fabulous post! I love all of the information and tips that you wrote here. I have never flown on a plane and I am too scared to go the first time with the kids. Maybe with all of the tips you put here, I may actually try it.
Anonymous said…
I am flying to LA with my kiddies in September from Australia...I have bookmarked this so I can keep referring back to it...
thanks so much!
(i'm here from blog gems btw)
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