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.

🎈❀️🎈

How to create a sensory space to be proud of, on a budget

As explained in my previous post, a sensory space or room is ideal to help soothe an autistic individual when they are having sensory overload. The calming noises, lights and textures can help to distract them from the stress they may experience from too much sensory stimulation.  You will often find sensory rooms in special schools and units and the airport I work at has just opened a sensory room to cater for passengers and children with autism and difficulties with sensory processing.  Spaces or rooms such as this offer a safe place for the individual to go to and calm themselves. These spaces can be as elaborate or as basic as you like and you don’t have to have lots of money to make one. I have been making a sensory space for my son and on this post I will be talking about how I did it , sharing photos with you and recommending products and telling you what products I used and where I bought them. You may decide to make a full sensory room such as in a bedroom or simply make a space within a room, which is what I have done for my son. You can use a corner of the room, half of the room or even make a space under a cabin bed. It can all be done on a tight budget. Shops such as BnM and the Pound Shop often supply a variety of sensory things at very low prices. With a little imagination you can have a space to be proud of. You may , as I have often done, find yourself retreating there for a bit of respite. Since making this space I think I have used it as much as my son.

The thing with autism is thats its diifcult to determine whether challenging and aggressive behaviour is due to the condition or just downright bad behaviour. I personally find it hard to know how to discipline my son. He is going through a phase at the moment of telling me to shut up a lot. I don’t know if he means it or if he is mimicking dialogue. Echolalia is the repetition of dialogue that the child has heard. It is often meaningless and is a sign the child is trying to communicate. This is one of the early signs of autism and used by professionals when making a diagnosis. I think this repetition of speech extends beyond the early years and continues into the later stages as I quite often catch my son repeating  dialogue to himself, that he has heard from the television or you tube. He is currently telling me “mummy stop being a pussy”. I suspect he doesnt actually know what this means as it is completely out of context,I am merely on my laptop typing this post. As a result I struggle to know how to approach this.

I have tried the normal strategies, believe me. We have tried the naughty step, but as a result of that, my son now threatens me with the naughty step if i do something to upset him! I can see his logic. If he has to go on the naughty step for doing something wrong, why shouldn’t I ? I remember one day, my son whacked me really hard with his bus. I cannot remember why. Anyway I decided to try the normal response of sending him to his room, but without a lock on his door, this proved pointless. He just kept coming back downstairs. So I decided to hold the door shut. Well that was it! He went mental. He was crying and shouting at me to “f### off “, the neighbour was outside trying to have a quiet fag, I can’t imagine what she was thinking. Then he decided to throw a bus at the wall and put a huge dent in it. Landlord if your reading this, its sorted now . Basically , by doing this , I gained nothing but a very distressed and angry child, and neighbour.  I believe that a neuro-typical child would realise that this is a direct consequence of unacceptable actions, but I honestly believe that children on the spectrum cannot always make this connection. I may be wrong , but this is my experience. I would love to hear your views and stories so please do comment on my post or message me . The purpose of my blog is to raise awareness and make a connection to other parents so we don’t feel alone. It is not about me preaching about what I think is the best solution, as I am no more qualified to answer this question than you are, so please do send me your opinions and lets talk about these issues. I for one do feel very alone when it comes to the subject of dealing with the aggresive and challenging behaviour. I want that to stop. I want us to help each other. A lot of behavioural issues could be sensory related.

Have a look at the following link to see how to deal with challenging behaviour and sensory issues. I found it extremely helpful with my son.  < https://07d0d2slw2p-lwfccgwf3-vn93.hop.clickbank.net/?tid=DONNAB1977

Anyway back to making a sensory space. The best thing to do is research online about ideas for a sensory space. Pintrest has some very good ideas. The first thing i bought was a bubble lamp from BnM . This is a plastic tube that has little plastic fish inside that float up and down the tube with the bubbles, when the lamp is switched on.  It also changes colour and is very pretty and soothing. The tube needs to be filled with distilled water which can be bought from Halfords or online. This prevents algae build up in the tube and once filled with water you won’t need to change the water for a long time. I think we have had the same water in the bubble tube for two years now.

The next item i bought was a sensory tunnel mirror. My son loves this. During the day it looks like an average mirror but in the evenings it transforms into a beautiful tunnel filled with LED lights. It changes colour initially but then settles on the red colour you can see in the picture above. The red is very striking and calming.  It looks like you are looking down into a tunnel. Its very effective. It was also a lot cheaper that i expected. Please click on the link below to have a look and order one if you think your sensory space would benefit from having one.

Click on the image for further information.

The next item on your sensory room list, should be a projector. This may sound daunting but they are so small but so effective and also very cheap if your following a budget. Sensory projectors work by projecting an array of colours and sounds often emulating the sea or animal sounds. They are colour changing and very therapeutic. I would definately recommend one for your sensory space. My son absolutely loves it. It comes with a remote control where you can change the colour combinations and adjust the volume. It can also be muted if you prefer. You can also choose between various themes such as the sound of the waves in the sea, or the sounds of animals in the rainforest. Its very relaxing and when the lights are switched off , the colours reflect on the bedroom ceiling and look like the motion of water. Its stunning. Click on the link below for more details and you can also order one from here .

Click on the image for further information .

Another important item should be a bean bag. It provides a comfortable seating area but is also quite sensory to touch. This can be customized with textured scatter cushions. They can be as small or large as you wish and they come in a variety of colours. The one I bought my son is very good quality and is waterproof so it can be used outdoors or indoors and it is very hard wearing. Click on the following link for more details on this product.

Click on the image for further information.

 

There are many other options when making a sensory space and lots of products on the market, but these are the three I would personally recommend as a start. In my next post I will be looking at and reviewing a variety of sensory toys. Please comment , follow or message me. Thankyou for reading.

🎈🎈

Obsessional behaviour. β€œIf your happy and you know it β€œflap” your hands. Not today!

Well tonight my boy is certainly not a happy one. Yesterday while watching balloon videos on you tube, he decided he wanted some giant balloons. I would just like to point out that every time we go out we have to buy a packet of balloons and he now has a huge box underneath his bed, of every balloon you can imagine. Not forgetting the 6 foot balloon I got him for Christmas which cost forty quid. Seriously I have sold toys to accommodate balloons ( I wish I could sell his dad to accommodate Ryan Reynolds! ) but still , he fixates and that’s it, we had to have these balloons today. Not tomorrow , today. Well I ordered these balloons yesterday on my mobile while he watched me, and was promised , next day delivery, today.

I have been working all day today and the only way I could bribe , sorry soothe, him into letting me go to work,( he hates me going to work) was with the guarantee that his balloons would be here today. Well **** you Amazon Prime, I mean thankyou Amazon Prime, they were not here when I arrived home and what was waiting for me when I returned home was just slightly more tolerable than Japanese water torture. Three continuous hours of ” where are my balloons?”, “I hate you mummy”, “go away mummy” , “don’t kiss me mummy”, “I will hit the postman mummy ” , combined with a little shove here and there and an attempt at a Chinese burn.

The thing about autistic children and perhaps adults, is that they are able to mask their true feelings, and then when they feel safe, with the safe person, they unleash and show their true emotions. Its quite common for children with autism to hide how they really feel when they are at school but then have complete meltdowns when at home with their safe person, this could be mum or dad but I suspect its mostly mum. One thing that irritates me is when people state, “well they cannot be autistic as they know how to behave when they need to”. No, that does not mean they are not autistic, it means that they can mask their emotions.

Anyway, this is what happened today with Balloon boy. He managed to hide his frustration all day until now. I am mentally exhausted. I mean he didn’t just have a temper tantrum, he was completely inconsolable. I knew it was due to his autism and not him being a little shit, as he was so upset and sobbing , like we would if our pet hamster had died or something. I could see how distressed he was and I hated to see him like this. To him it felt like the end of the world and I could really feel his pain. He was expecting to come home from school to giant balloons and that didn’t happen so he could not cope. I dealt with this by giving him lots of cuddles and empathising with him. I also pretended to call amazon which seemed to work. I told him they were nearly at our house. I find that in these situations, giving cuddles works best. If I shout or get angry, he will just shout back at me.

I thought I had managed to soothe him as while I was cooking dinner he went quiet , watched some TV then announced to me that he had farted, so I thought he must be ok now, but I was wrong. We just sat down to our cauliflower cheese when a white van pulled up outside, well we were both hopping around so happy and excited, I mean both of us. I opened the door and the man said “delivery for number 9? ” we live at number 10 so I knew I was dead ! . “Are you from amazon ?” I asked “no, yodel” was the response. Oh fuck !

After more tears , sobbing and throwing cushions around and me pretending to call the delivery driver, his balloons finally arrived. Not before he asked me several times why his balloons had not arrived, reaching the end of my tether “because life’s a bitch” I muttered under my breath, to which he replied “why you saying bitch?” Oh no, I have done it again. He did somehow manage to still eat his dinner, I find food is an excellent decoy in these situations. At last my boy was happy and so was I. He ran up to me, gave me a big hug and told me he loved me, he was sorry and I was his princess. My loving and affectionate little boy had returned. The balloons, well they have been placed in his box underneath his bed with all the other ones. Huge shout out to the amazon delivery driver who made it by the skin of his teeth. 🎈🎈