Traveling with a Child with Autism

My son was only 5 months old when we took a 1-hour and 20-minute flight to Manila and then a 2-hour international flight. I don’t remember him ever crying on the plane.

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For the next five years, we flew an average of 8 flights a year, and though there were a couple of times he did not want to sit during takeoff or landing, most of the time he behaved himself well. The bigger he is getting though, the more worried I become about travelling with him because of how he behaves, not in the plane, but in the airport where he loves running around. But so far, for the past 9 years, I have always been grateful at the end of each trip that both of us made it to our destination safe and sound.

Going through security check

I can’t remember what year the pat down at the airport that we often go through started, but when it did my son who, back then (ages 4-7) was easily scared by strangers who tried to touch him, would scream and try to run when an officer approached him. A couple of times, a supervising officer yelled at me to hold my son and calm him down even after I explained that he was autistic. That was 4 or 5 years ago, and the officers doing the security check have since become more understanding and crouch down to my son’s eye level and do the check while I rhythmically say “pat, pat, pat, pat” with him. Whew.

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In December last year, we took a train to another city and also took the subway several times which meant going through security checks several times. By the time we had to take a flight home, he had gotten so used to the pat down that it didn’t bother him anymore.

Practice makes perfect.

Gadgets and toys

Unless he is very sleepy or very tired, my son would never sleep while traveling. He likes being in a car, train, bus or plane and look outside the window, singing. But if there is nothing interesting to see, then that’s when he asks for the iPad. I always make sure the gadgets are fully charged whenever we travel because some planes still do not have power outlets/USB ports in the seats.

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My son always needs to have something in his hands to play with and always wants to be chewing or biting something. He started biting his hands and fingers about a year ago, so we bought him chewy tubes which have been a blessing. Fidget spinners have also been a huge help in keeping his hands busy.

These three things I never forget to bring when I travel with my son: iPad, fidget spinner and Chewy Tubes.

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Each child on the spectrum has his/her own specific needs, and perhaps your child does not need a fidget spinner or a chewy tube, but the point is, apart from packing food, always remember to pack something to keep your child occupied. Traveling with a child on the spectrum does not have to be stressful, and it is good to let them experience traveling as often as possible so they will get used to it. The only way they will learn to cope with the difficulties of traveling is by actually doing it. It may be stressful for the family at first, but in time, the child will learn. It needs a lot of patience, but things will be better.

Experience is key.

Keeping the child at home to avoid embarrassment is not helping anyone, especially the child with special needs.  

Optimism

Took my son to the beach last weekend

I had planned to let my son stay with us in China for a month in January but disappointed by my husband’s busy schedule at work, I decided to bring my son home after two weeks. Looking back, I think it was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life — a blessing in disguise. I don’t know how I would have handled the situation if I and my 9-year-old son with ASD were stranded in China or quarantined!

As it is, we have a longer break from work which means longer time spent with my son, but my husband is all alone in our apartment back in China. I try not to worry but can’t help when I read the news or hear about what’s happening from people who are in the country.

Still I’m optimistic that there’s an end to this, and it will end soon.

I am hoping and praying for it, especially because the people I am praying for do not believe in a power stronger than they are.

So much has happened in the weeks I have not posted on my blog, some I am so eager to share but can’t find time to write as I am busy being a full-time mom. I look forward to writing again and also reading posts from blogs I follow, but right now it is so difficult to find time when I’m home and fulfilling my roles as mother, sister and aunt. As always, family comes first.

I hope you are doing well. Thanks for visiting my blog.

Silence: A Haiku and some thoughts

In the midst of all

This life’s hustle and bustle —

Silence from within.

—-

After spending a couple of hours marking papers in McDonald’s (I can’t work at home as I’m always tempted to do something else like doing laundry instead of marking papers!) I went to my favorite noodles shop which was noisy as it was lunch time. Traditional Chinese music blaring from the speakers, a group of young women at a table behind me talking loudly, buses, cars and motorcycles driving past, some honking — so much activity and noise, loud noise.

But as soon as I started thinking of the issue that I’ve spent months thinking about — all those sounds went away. My eyes were only perceiving the movements not quite different from a boring, black-and-white silent movie.

I was figuratively alone in a figuratively quiet but in reality very noisy place.

This made me think of most people’s capacity to tune out noise or to tolerate minor irritants if they truly want to and try. I am saying most people because I believe most of us actually have this capacity to do so, but perhaps there are many who just refuse to even try. And of course there are those who have some sensory or emotion regulation problems who literally cannot stand certain irritants (like my autistic son who does not mind loud music but cries and gets angry when he hears other children crying!)

I have heard and read numerous accounts of people complaining about babies crying during a flight, especially a long haul one. Some reactions and suggestions offered I find quite unhelpful and extremely unsympathetic. I understand that there are parents (or grandparents!) accompanying children on a flight who may not be bothered by the child’s crying and do not care that other passengers are bothered by it. I honestly think these people are in the minority though. Most parents or caregivers on the flights I’ve been on (and I fly several times a year) do try to get the child to be quiet. But yes, there are those who don’t, and their indifference is more annoying than the child’s behavior.

As I said, I have read reactions and comments that are quite unhelpful or are extremely unsympathetic to parents who do try their best to calm down their child (and I believe they do because, let’s be honest, no sane parent loves to hear his/her child cry or be noisy.) Some people said: babies should not be allowed on a flight. This is very unhelpful because these people who complain do not know why the family are traveling. One never knows unless one asks why somebody is traveling — maybe for a holiday, or maybe to see a doctor. But one doesn’t even have to know — everyone has the right to fly and they are paying for it like everyone else.

I have taken several flights with my son, and thankfully he has always behaved himself (we have 2 flights coming I hope I don’t jinx them!) Even as a baby (at 5 months was when he had his first flight), he never cried. But also as a parent, I have always prepared for our flights — toys and gadgets to keep him occupied (I am also lucky that my flights with him are no longer than 2 hours.) However there are babies and young children who are really bothered by ear pressure during flight and parents who do not know how to deal with it. (click here for Tips) When I travel domestically, I usually say something to the parents (fellow Filipinos), “Maybe baby needs his bottle or pacifier?” but in international flights, I tend to keep quiet as the culture is, “Mind your own business.”

There are misbehaving children with parents who let them be and there are babies who cry whose parents just let them be. But there are lots of good parents who do try their best and babies who, for whatever reason, just cry! I hope we can be more sympathetic. We were all babies once — were we always so angelic?

So going back to my main idea — we are capable of tuning out noise or tolerating minor irritants. We surely can if we truly want to and just try. We do not even need noise-cancelling headsets to do this. To prove this, pay attention to how you sometimes tune out your best friend when he’s going on and on about something you’ve already heard a thousand times. That easy.

Silence.

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Cold

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Canada

Tina’s challenge this week is a real challenge for someone like me who comes from a tropical country! Thankfully I’ve traveled to some places with a winter season. The first image above I have used more than a couple of times on my blog. It is one of my favorite photos because when I took it, it was the first time ever (and this was 2016) I had seen a snow-covered mountain! I couldn’t believe it! It was summer in Canada but there was snow!

Now let me say something about the word “cold” and how subjective that is: when I told my cousin who was then living in Alberta that I was visiting, she got so excited saying, “Perfect! You are lucky. It’s already summer here. Just bring shorts and T-shirts!” My mistake was I just believed her and did not bother to check the weather app.

When I arrived in Vancouver in my summer clothes (luckily I always bring a summer cardigan when I travel because I know in  some planes and airports their A/Cs are just set too low), I was not ready for the 18C (64F) temperature. When I met with a former student, I noticed she was wearing a coat. And we both said, “This is not summer!” 

When I finally saw my cousin in Alberta, she was wearing spaghetti strap top and shorts! And she had the A/C on in her house! I begged her to turn it off and borrowed winter pajamas. She couldn’t stop laughing at me and told everyone in the family how cold I felt.

Well, can you blame me?

The very first time I saw snow though was in my husband’s hometown, in Shandong Province in China. At first I was so excited to see snow. But after a day of being cold (in the countryside their houses do not have central heating), I begged my husband to let me move to the city and said to him, “Please, look at my skin! It’s brown! This skin is not for the cold!” And I’m not being racist about my skin! It’s really brown.

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Shandong Province

 

Hope you feel comfortable whether you’re in a cold or warm place!

T.

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Cold