Autism and Aeroplanes.

“Gatwick is the airport for everyone. We aim to be the UK,s most accessible airport, putting the needs of every passenger first and giving everybody an equal opportunity to fly”.

Travel and Autism, are an interesting mix. Airports can be stressful for anybody, but imagine the noise and the unpredictability and how that could affect a passenger on the Autistic Spectrum. The following post is a guide to how to cope and why London Gatwick should be your London airport of choice. There are no affiliate links in this post. Please click on the link below for a guide for children and parents with autism on travelling through the airport and travel in general.

https://www.gatwickairport.com/globalassets/documents/passengers/prm/autismguidetogatwick.pdf?_ga=2.204295315.2028516030.1560429761-

Travelling at any time can be quite stressful and travelling with children and adults with hidden disabilities can be especially challenging.

    The difficulties faced by our passengers with Hidden Disabilities and additional needs could be the following:
    Sensory overload. The airport can be very noisy and a busy environment. This will be especially difficult for an individual with Sensory Processing Difficulties.
    The unpredictability of the airport environment and the unfamiliar surroundings.
    Needing extra time to process information and get documents and belongings ready.
    Difficulties in understanding and following verbal instructions.
    Difficulties in understanding and interpreting body language and gestures.
    Needing to have a travel companion with them at all times to assist them.

As a mother to an autistic child , the boy who loves balloons , of course , and an employee of Gatwick Airport , I would like to share with you my experiences of travel and make some recommendations. As already stated, there are no affiliate links in this article.

Having only ever flown from London Gatwick Airport , I cannot offer any advice on the other UK airports.

London Gatwick however has been working on their accessibility campaign and making the airport much more accessible for passengers with a range of hidden disabilities , including Autism.

As an employee of the airport I can quite categorically say that employees are now much more aware and capable of dealing with hidden disabilities, through training and regular accessibility days.

London Gatwick was the first UK airport to introduce the Hidden Disability Lanyard. Since its introduction, over 8,000 passengers have requested one when travelling through the airport. Following Gatwick’s lead, the Hidden Disability Lanyard has been rolled out across 13 other UK airports.

The hidden disability lanyard , shown above, can be collected from one of the special assistance receptions in the airport itself. When a passenger displays one of these lanyards , staff are aware they may have a hidden disability and will know how to deal with the situation and offer assistance.

Employees will not know what the disability is , for example Autism, ADHD or any other , but will simply know that they will need to offer extra help and show a little more empathy to the passenger. If you are planning a holiday soon and are intending to travel from London Gatwick, I would recommend getting one of these free lanyards.

The other day when I had finished my shift , I was in the lift when a little girl who must of been about 6 , travelling with her family asked me if I worked for the airport . “Yes ,”I said , “would you like to work for the airport?” I asked and her reply was “No , everyone at the airport is evil !” Well as sweet as she was , I can confirm that we are not in any way evil.

Accessibility days are held regularly at the airport and I have been lucky enough to be involved with the next one. This gives passengers the chance to visit the airport prior to their holiday and familiarise themselves and their children with the airport and the travelling process. This is so beneficial to children and adults with hidden disabilities to prepare them for their upcoming trip.

Myself and my son have attended one of these accessibility days. To be honest at the time he was still obsessed with buses so he didn’t show much interest apart from the fact that he got to see where mummy worked and that was very exciting for him.

When we looked at the X ray images on the X ray machine ( which the children get to do as part of the day) he got super super excited when he saw my bag go through and he saw his bus under X ray conditions. “Mummy look it’s my bus !” He shouted.

At the previous accessibility event, passengers had the chance to look inside an EasyJet aircraft. As an ex Cabin Crew member for the airline I can definitely say that EasyJet will be very helpful when it comes to travelling with a passenger with additional needs and Hidden Disabilities. Thanks to EasyJet passengers were able to experience boarding the aircraft and sitting in the interior of the aeroplane.

Virgin also opened its lounge up to the passengers and offered drinks and food. Airside tours were provided, giving the chance for passengers to see the new Sensory Room. The sensory room offers a relaxing, calming and fully interactive environment for passengers with sensory difficulties to visit before they fly.

There is also the chance to meet the firemen and see the fire engine. See the police and the trained security dogs. You will be able to ride on the assistance buggies also.

There will be the chance to check in for a flight and be issued with a boarding card, then you will get the opportunity to go through security screening and be searched , have your bags checked and see your belongings under X ray conditions.

Before you travel I would highly recommend attending one of the accessibility days . The next one is in November and details can be found on the London Gatwick Airport website.

The airport is also the first UK airport to open a sensory room. Situated in the north terminal this room is a place for passengers with hidden disabilities to go and calm themselves before a flight.

The sensory room itself is very impressive and we are currently in the process of organising a trip there for my little boys class, to go and spend an afternoon in the room, which I am very excited about.

If you are planning a trip from London Gatwick I would highly recommend you visit the sensory room prior to travel.

The sensory room has something for all the senses, including mirrors, lighting and soft play furniture. There are sensory activity centres and seating also. It offers a fully interactive experience for the passenger with sensory difficulties.

If you would like more information on the sensory room prior to your trip, just contact the airport and we will be more than happy to help you.

Whilst we do not yet offer airport tours prior to travel , we would like to encourage you to visit the airport prior to your travel, to make yourselves familiar with the airport layout and the check in process.

If you want any further information please contact us at HiddenDisability@gatwickairport.com

Gatwick Airport also has close connections to the National Autistic Society. The airport has been recognised by the charity as a leader in innovative solutions for passengers.

The National Autistic Society website is a great resource for anyone planning on travelling and offers excellent advice. Click on the following link to be directed to the website.

https://www.autism.org.uk/

Thank you for reading. If you have any more questions please e mail myself or message me or contact Gatwick Airport directly. Happy flying.

🎈❤️🎈

Relaxing Caramel Latte? Not a chance! How to deal with the Autism meltdowns in public.

Since writing my blog, I have done some market research and learned that parents of children with autism spectrum disorder believe their biggest challenges to be dealing with public autism meltdowns and handling the in laws. (I will cover the in laws issue in another post as I suspect it will be a very long one!).

In this post we will explore how to deal with the public outbursts and autism meltdowns . My darling boy, has only one setting, LOUD. This is one classic symptom of a child on the autistic spectrum. The world and its mother know about the ins and outs of balloon blowing, what he wants for lunch and when he needs a poo. I remember one day, while at the pet shop choosing his pet Guinea Pig, he announced mid way through a conversation about taking care of our new pet, that he had just farted, it was really smelly and when can we go home because he needs a poo. Thankfully the shop assistant thought it was very funny.

Personally my biggest challenge is not so much the autism meltdowns but more what he says in general. Two days ago while waiting for our Chinese take away, sat next to a man waiting, my son decided to ask me on repeat when would his yellow 4 foot balloon be arriving. I had to show him on my fingers how many no balloons there were until his new one arrived. Anyway he decided, as he does, to ask me this question repeatedly until I actually had a vision of picking him up and launching him right out the door. It was only a vision. Anyway my tone must of changed slightly and I calmly explained that he doesn’t need to ask me again about the balloon. “Alright, alright, keep your hair on “,was the reply.

Thankfully again the man smiled. I don’t actually know where he learned this expression as he is usually such a literal thinker and would freak out if someone said that to him, as he would actually believe someone was going to take his hair off.

Talking of visions, have any of you actually had visions that make you question, not only your sanity but also your credentials as a mother? I remember my friend telling me that one day whilst breast feeding her adorable new born, who was very thirsty for breast milk, every day, she actually envisaged throwing her baby out of the bedroom window! Obviously she did not do this but the very fact that she had the vision at all, stressed her out immensely.

I myself had a similar experience when my son was a baby. He used to cry a lot and would constantly want picking up and cuddling. One day while out for a lovely day out in Brighton, walking along the pier, he decided to have the mother of all tantrums in his buggy. Back then I used to get embarrassed and care too much what people thought. Always worried about feeling judged and what other parents perception of me was (Now I don’t give a shit ) and I actually had a very brief vision of picking him up from the buggy and throwing him in the sea! I was so distraught that this vision came into my head!! its a bit like when you think of something you don’t want to think about and then the more you don’t want to think about it , the more you do? well I hated myself and can honestly say I have not had any other visions like it , but I felt so guilty.

When my son is old enough to read my blog, he will read this and hopefully laugh. He may not speak to me for a week but I will have to take that risk. “Son I love you more than the world and you know that”.

So how do we address the issue of dealing with autism meltdowns . I think the biggest reason we struggle with this is because we care too much what other people think. We constantly worry about feeling judged and being criticised as parents. But why? No one knows your child more than you, and no one knows what your dealing with, so why do we worry about the disapproving stares and the comments about how they would of handled that in a different way. I get it. Your already worn down with the tantrum, the last thing you need to have to deal with is a big dose of feeling judged on top.

The truth is, your doing great. Children do not come with an instruction manual. If anyone reading this is not a parent, please, when you see parents dealing with children having a tantrum in public, please just be nice. When dealing with the autism meltdown I think its important to remember the following:

  • Your child is not giving you a hard time, they are having a hard time. Acknowledge their feelings. Let them have the feelings, talk about it and understand them.
  • Try not to get angry. Try to stay calm. If I raise my voice to my son mid tantrum, he shouts back at me!
  • Wait for the autism tantrum to pass. Forget what other people are thinking when they stare. Just allow the child to express their frustrations.
  • When the child has calmed down a little, then take charge. Be assertive but not aggressive and try to avoid bribes. Then try and talk the child through what just happened and how you can help them to feel better. I ask my son is he feeling happy or sad , to try and establish my next move.
  • I think consistency is important when dealing with difficult behaviour. Follow through on what you say will happen. I need to work on this one myself. I am rubbish with this.
  • Praise the good behaviour. I think ABA therapy focuses on rewarding good behaviour. Its reinforcing behaviour that is socially acceptable.

Once you have established what triggered the tantrum, maybe then you can take steps to avoid the same thing happening again. Remember I am not an expert and I am talking about how to deal with autism meltdowns specifically.

Click on the image for further information

Another option you have is to purchase some social story books or packs that highlight the appropriate way to behave in public. This may help your child with Autism. These packs are available online and on Amazon. Please click on the link below for further information.

https://amzn.to/2Z8Dw2F

As I am writing this post, I am sitting in my favourite coffee shop enjoying a nice skinny caramel latte. I am having more luck today than I did the other day. You see, my son loves a caramel slice and we often come here together for a coffee and a cake. One day last week we came here and my son, as usual, was blowing up his brand new sausage shaped balloon I just got him. You know the ones that can be manipulated into animals.

Sitting near to us on the next table was a lovely young couple enjoying a nice peaceful coffee together. My son was quite happily pumping away at his balloon when he decided to let it go. Lets just say the young couples relaxing coffee was not so relaxing anymore. They were not only interrupted by a flying balloon, the young girl also got an extra shot of deflated balloon in her coffee.

Thank you for reading. Please comment, follow, like or share and most importantly enjoy your morning cup of coffee. ☕