We just got back from hauling the Herd to and through Washington DC for six days. It was an adventure for sure, but more on the fun in another post. Today, I wanted to talk about how we do travel with autism.
Traveling with autism can be amazing. It can also suck all of the life right out of you in a split second. We had much of both on this trip. Flying is not his favorite form of travel. Getting luggage checked – argh- the line, the crowd of people, the usual confusion because, well, every airline and every airport does it just a tiny bit differently. He gets anxious about what will go with him on the plane, what will be checked, how will our bags get from one plane to another and successfully to the same airport we will end our journey. He watches as the bags are each weighed and put on the conveyor belt behind the kiosks, wanting to make sure they are going where they’re supposed to go. Next up is the security line. This wasn’t his first time at this rodeo, but it always stresses him out. We have to talk through the process in the days leading up to our trip, then again in the car on the way to the airport, then yet again as we enter the line. Blessedly on the way out, we were placed in the TSA pre-check line which meant no shoes had to come off, liquids could stay inside backpacks and purses. We LOVE when we get that line. No such luck on the way back, but oh well.
We decided to fly Southwest for this trip. It gave us flight times that worked best for us, and saved money. Bonus, right? How was it I wasn’t thinking about the unassigned seat thing and boarding by group and number when I booked the flights? A week ago, I recalled both of those things, and started to panic. If we weren’t in the A group, we might not be able to sit together. Standing in line, surrounded by so many people would be enough of an issue. We usually like a bit of time to get him on board and settled into his seat without having to worry about causing a log jam in the aisle behind us. Near-desperate, I checked their website and found we could request pre-boarding at the gate. Whew.
I did feel some stairs as we walked down the jet-way behind wheelchair-bound people, and one blind gentleman. Our son doesn’t look disabled. One of the gate agents even looked like he wanted to give me a hard time. I know there are people out there who will lie to take advantage of situations. I felt at a few points I might have needed a sign explaining our situation. But maybe that was my own fears of perceptions rather than anyone really thinking that. Most people were really nice. He did fabulously on the way to DC. Coming home wasn’t perfection. He wanted to be home. He was ready to be home. His behavior was a little sideways, and he cried a bit, but we survived.
He was a trooper with all the walking we did, which is usually an issue with him. He was so excited to see everything and I’m fairly sure that overrode his aversion to any kind of physical exercise. As it was Spring Break, half the country seemed to be in DC. Museums, monuments, memorials, restaurants, the Metro, and buses were crammed. We did skip portions of the museums when he would hit his maximum capacity. He started melting down in the Museum of American History. I found a quiet corner and got him settled. We left shortly after that.
Here’s the thing – traveling with a high-functioning autistic kid can be done. It requires planning ahead, scheduling what can be scheduled, letting him know the schedule (and frequently repeating the plan with him), making sure food is nearby at all times (he gets seriously hangry), being okay with not doing EVERYTHING you think you want to do, and making sure to give him some decompressing time every day. We aren’t always 100% successful – there were a couple of less-than-stellar moments in restaurants that had heads turning – but we make it work. As we got home last night, he grabbed my hand and whispered to me, “Thank you for taking us to D.C., mom. I loved it.” And that, my friends, makes every rough moment worth it.