22 Jan 2010

Planning for Disney World with Autism: The Flight

We've done this before so I have a better idea of what I need to improve to make this flight across the Atlantic as painless as it can be for everyone. Last time we flew via London and Duncan was fine on the first short flight from Belfast but very distressed on the second leg of the journey. He had it in mind that once we arrived in London, Disney World would be just a taxi drive away. (This was a reasonable assumption since it's what had happened when we'd gone to Disneyland Paris.) The flight was delayed at London and we had paid to wait in a lounge (Virgin V Room) with good facilities for families. I'd hoped that as Duncan played about loads in the soft play room, he'd be tired and fall asleep on the plane. But he didn't even want to board the cavernous and to him, scary Virgin plane. I'd opted to sit in the bulkhead seats with him thinking that we'd have slightly more space and no one in front to be bothered by his kicking their seatback. These seats are sought after and were allocated to us because of Duncan's disability. However they were a bad choice. We were sitting next to a baby who cried which upset Duncan. The little girl sitting next to me had a packet of sweets of higher value to Duncan than the hard lollies I'd packed for him to suck. We were also exposed to the rude and contemptuous stares of strangers all around. Duncan fussed and whined and occasionally wailed for HOURS and the poor child was so unhappy. I was worn out and the attitude of other passengers near us added to his distress and my stress.

Before boarding the return flight, I had him sit in his stroller and I pushed him about the airport for ages until the plane was ready. It was an evening flight and I tried to keep stimulation to a minimum. We opted for seats in a row of 3 alongside the galley which reduced the number of other people near us. Duncan sat between me and his dad and the other 2 children had to sit alone beside a stranger behind us. I knew that I had to have Duncan surrounded by people who cared and protected from the looks and tuts of paediaphobes/disabled people haters. It was an evening flight and he'd had plenty to eat and been active all day, but was chilled out and relaxed from being pushed about in the stroller. I'd changed him into comfortable clothes and brushed his teeth. When we sat on the plane, I cuddled him and his dad stroked his feet and he fell asleep before we'd left the runway. Success!

This time I have planned like a general. I've booked a flight from Dublin direct to Orlando so no transfer worries. I plan to take some of his absolute favourite sweets and snacks. There are times to worry about healthy eating but when you're in a metal box hurtling along 12km up in the air, that's not the time. Just do what it takes to get by. I will have DS games and his Gameboy. I will fill my Ipod with his favourite movies in case the in flight entertainment is inadequate. I am making him a book showing exactly what will happen at each stage of the journey from leaving our home to arriving at the villa. He will have a travel bag with some favourite small toys and books as well as colouring pens and a notebook in case I need to write out or draw further instructions. We have arranged to sit so as to have Duncan as sheltered from strangers as possible. He will have ear defenders and a neck cushion.

Duncan has outgrown his stroller but he still needs a safe place to retreat to and I need a way of reducing his tendency to run off. I have just received his new and long awaited wheelchair. It's just the right size and will enable us to have a much more relaxed and enjoyable holiday. I've informed the airline of his needs and that he'll be using a wheelchair until we get to the plane. It will make navigating the airports that much easier. I will also use his autism alert card to show any officials who can help us get through the potentially tricky security and immigration rituals.

Best of all my sister is coming with us this time so there'll be 3 adults and 3 children so everyone will be well cared for. I want this to be fun for him and the others, so I will try to be alert but not stressed. Hopefully all this planning will help me strike the right balance.

Tell you what, I can't flippin' wait!


bullet said...

Hope you all have a good time and that the flight goes ok for everyone. I've only flown once and never with the children and I'm not brave enough yet to do it.

Ed said...

I hope everyone has a wonderful time Sharon.

kristina said...

Thinking of all of you (especially as we've decided, for the nonce, to forego air travel). Safe travels!

AnnB said...

Well done you Sharon, there's nothing like forward planning! Before we went to Euro Disney, I tracked down the French distributors of Rory's special feeds, to ensure local supply, just in case the airlines or security wouldn't allow our suitcase full of fluid on board! Like you, I need to imagine the worst case scenario and have a plan up my sleeve to deal with it.

I hope you all have an absolute ball you deserve it.

Venus said...

Cant wait to hear all about the trip. I hope you all have a fabulous time. I will be using your tips for flying with Barney in the summer when we go to Italy. Hes already stressing out about it. Have a safe trip. xx

Yumi Kubo said...

I hope you all have a great time!

Sharon McDaid said...

@bullet, thanks, not long to go now! I 1st flew the day I headed off to university in London aged 18 and have been on planes going back and forth from there loads of times since. I soon got used to it- the ferry/train took all day and cost as much or more than flying so there wasn't much choice.

If you don't like to fly and can have fun holidays a drive away then there's no need to bother!

@Ed, thanks. I think it will be great.

@Kristina, thanks. All this planing will hopefully help at least a bit!

@Ann, did the airlines allow his food in the end? I would hope so. All your planning paid off anyway!

@Venus, I'll be putting up another post soon about the social story-video we made to help Duncan understand what will happen.

@Yumi Kubo, thanks. I think we will!