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Airport Security Tips For Families With Autism

Due to the ever-changing airport regulations, many travelers find it difficult to know what to expect from the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and airport security checkpoints on any given day. Even more confusing is the fact that the checks vary from airport to airport, some done with body scanners while others still use the older metal detectors so parents should check the airport’s website for the most accurate information.
With that said, here are some basic general tips that never change and can help traveling families navigate most US airports and have a stress free experience.

Airport security tips for families and children with autism lines

Plan Ahead

Stage a mock airport security checkpoint at home in one of your rooms, including how you stand quietly in line, putting your hands up 180 degrees and emptying your pockets in plastic containers.

Print a social story with appropriate airport pictures from the internet or write your own and read it several times with your kid.

Check the guidelines

  • Read the posted instructions or look at the TSA or airport’s website before you travel.
    This is the most important thing you can do, and the signs are easy to find. When going overseas, if you don’t see any regulations posted about liquids and what can and cannot be taken on the flight, ask an agent.
  • Call or check online to find out if your airport offers individual lines for families or travelers with disabilities.
  • Call your airline and see the airline can provide assistance if you are traveling alone with children or with children having special needs.
  • Give yourself a minimum of 30 minutes to get through any security check on a regular day and 60 minutes during the holiday season.

Don’t wear

  • Have your family members wear comfortable clothes and abstain from wearing lots of layers, baggy clothes, hats/caps, bandanas, jewelry or hairpieces.
    These will make it more challenging and time-consuming to get through security because they will have to take it all off, or potentially get pulled aside for additional screening.

 

Do wear

  • Comfortable, slip-on shoes are easier to remove and put back on, but if your child does wear laces, try to find ones that are easier to lace, or get special shoe laces.
  • If your child has sensory issues and won’t walk in bare feet, have them wear socks or carry shoe covers. Current regulations do not require children 12 years old and under to remove their shoes (http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/traveling-children).

Packing

  • Remember the 3-1-1 rule: 3.4 oz. of liquids in 1 quart-sized, clear, plastic, zip-top bag, 1 per passenger.
    Put your liquids and medicines at the top of your carry-on so you can easily take them in and out. Bring a couple of extra Ziploc bags just in case your luggage tear or don’t close well!
  • Pack a roll of duct tape in case your suitcase breaks or any of your containers spill, and it will need to be taped shut.
  • Put all of your electronic devices in one bag and designate a responsible family member to be in charge of it.
  • Pack clothes, and small items like belts in 2.5 gallons see-through bags to keep everything clean easy to find.
  • Get an ID/pass holder to wear around your neck for easy access to ID cards, passports, boarding passes, and any doctor notes explaining your child’s diagnosis. This will also keep your important documents safe and close to you.
    You might also want to get a wallet with a zipper to keep your money in and mini-locks for these wallets for extra safety.
  • Label your luggage and your electronics with your name and contact number or email  (never your address!) in case you forget them or they get lost.

Before the airport security checkpoint

  • Take jackets and belts off the minute you leave the airline ticket counter before you even get to the ID/passport control officer.
  • If you wore jewelry, take it off after you leave the airline ticket counter and put it in your locked wallet or bag.
  • You may want to photograph the bins that contain your electronics and jewelry, so you can remember what you need to watch for on the other side, or for proof if it gets lost/stolen.

At the airport security checkpoint

  • Tell the agent politely of your child’s diagnosis immediately, and show the agent your TSA blue card (downloadable from the TSA website.).
  • Ask to accompany your child if a pat-down is required.
  • No matter what happens, stay calm and polite since your child will mirror your stress.

Once you make it through the security process, designate one parent to watch over kids while the other keep track of belongings, so that no one and nothing can get lost

What tips have you found helpful to get through airport security with autistic travelers?

 

 

Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport with Kids

Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport with Kids arrival

Named after Israel’s first Prime Minister, Ben Gurion is the largest airport in Israel. It is an international airport and has provided services to over 15 million passengers in the last year. It has been in existence since 1936 with many upgrades and improvements since; the most recent one being in 2004 when terminal three officially opened.
Past accolades for the facility include being ranked first out of 40 European airports and 8th out of 77 world airports in customer service as well as holding the title of best Middle Eastern airport for two years in a row.
Some of its unique features are the central hall with its signature “rainfall fountain” as its center and its large Synagogue.

Distance from major cities

Israel’s Ben Gurion airport is located less than 12 miles away from Tel Aviv and about 31.5 from Jerusalem, which can translate into a 30-60  car ride if you don’t encounter rush hour traffic.
Passengers can also get to and from the airport by bus service (Egged connector line to the Tel Aviv’s  El Al terminal or privately owned Kavim and Metropoline services that connect passengers to Modi’in and Beersheva), by train and via cabs.
Because of its relatively small size (430,00 sq. ft.), and inter-terminal shuttles it is a convenient stop for travelers particularly after having experienced long-haul flights.

Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport with Kids hall

Arrivals

Ben Gurion airport is comprised of Terminal Three, its central hub, from which most flights depart and arrive,  and Terminal One that is currently used by a  few budget airlines.
Passengers arriving at Terminal One should be aware they may need to board a bus from the airplane to the terminal because those airlines usually save on the expense of the jetbridges.
The modern international Terminal  Three is well marked and designed for easy navigation, so passengers will discover that they won’t get lost on the way to immigration and the retrieval of their luggage.As in most countries, there are separate lines for the locals  (Israeli passport holders) and foreigners, so passengers should pay attention to the signs.

Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport with Kids fountain

Departures

Passengers need to note that since the airport policy dictates that luggage cannot be checked in earlier than 3 hours before any scheduled departure, it doesn’t help to arrive at the airport earlier than usual.

All departing travelers need to go through a relatively lengthy security process before reaching the check-in counter which can make traveling with kids, particularly special needs a bit difficult. My best advice for parents is to bring some form of entertainment for the kids while they wait and make sure to pack your humor.

Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport with Kids decor

After passing the Israeli equivalent of the TSA and the passport control travelers are free to explore the airport. The airport features multiple stores that sell a plethora of duty-free toys, cosmetics, clothing, watches and electronics all arranged in a circular fashion around the fountain in the Rotunda, positioned on the way to the different gates.

Furthermore; there are several food venues where you can grab a coffee or a sandwich for a quick meal while enjoying the airport’s free wi-fi.Our personal favorite place is Shipudei Hatiqva where you can have your last authentic falafel and hummus before leaving the Holy Land.

Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport with Kids play area

The airport does not currently offer any outdoor areas, but it does provide plenty of air conditioned indoor seating which is a relief in the scorching and humid summer months.For antsy kids, there are two areas of fun that to play in, under adult supervision, of course, located at the very far end of two separate gates.

Lounges

There are currently three working lounges in the airport; two lounges run by the Dan Hotel chain and one by El Al  (solely for their clients) that service all airline passengers that qualify by either ticket class or a paid upgrade.
The Dan lounges: Arbel and Massada, named after famous mountains in Israel are relatively modest in size and centrally located in terminal three.The Dan lounges are designed to host 320 people at any given time, so they do get crowded rather quickly at various periods of the day, making it not only noisy but challenging to find seating.

The food selections offered are usually several salads and dips along with cut up vegetables, different cheeses, and cookies. The complimentary drink options are sodas, juices, coffees, wines, and beers.Apart from their helpful staff, the lounges have separate bathrooms which are clean; along with a place to freshen up and for you to plug in your electronics.
With that said, they are not geared for families or children who want to run around or families who are traveling with autism who are looking for a quiet area to calm down or regroup.

Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport with Kids

Autism Travel Tips

  • Those unable to walk far may be glad to find that there are companies that can transport passengers from the aircraft to Passport Control via motor cart, providing the airline is contacted ahead of time and asked for the service. The service is recommended for families traveling with autism, especially after long haul flights–just ask for the airline’s wheelchair assistance service.
  • Families who are traveling with special -needs members, should know that there is a special queue designated for them, so they don’t have to wait in the long lines that sometimes occur; especially in the summertime and Jewish Holidays.
  • Pack electronic devices to entertain kids while waiting in the security lines as well as at the airline boarding gate in case of some unplanned delay.Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport with Kids seats

 

 

 

Minneapolis St Paul’s Airport Navigating Autism Program

In the last few years, many airlines and airports have introduced mock flights for families who wish to expose their child with autism to the concept of flying in a real aircraft.
Though I’m  happy to hear of new autism-friendly programs as a whole; I’m a bit peeved that some organizations are trying to make it more of a ‘fun’ experience for the children; rather than include real life situations like being patted down by the TSA or staying buckled up in your airplane seat.

Last month, I was invited by MSP airport’s Navigating Autism Program directors to test first hand how well their mock flight simulation works. I have to say I was very impressed how this particular program not only included all the details that some of the other programs had missed or ignored but adequately prepared kids for a future flight experience.

Join me as I walk you through the program’s very efficient procedure from beginning to end.

Minneapolis St Paul's Airport Navigating Autism Program lobby

 

Preparation via e-mail

Right after the initial registration, participating families are e-mailed a social story to share with their child.The story contains details of what to expect at the airport and on the flight before they even participate in the actual mock demonstration.

Personal assistance

On the day of the real tour, an airport representative at the information booth meets the 8-12 families.They are given their ‘boarding passes’ and a personal airport volunteer guides them throughout the experience.

Minneapolis St Paul's Airport Navigating Autism Program restaurant

A real TSA experience in an autism friendly environment

The family is directed to the departure level through TSA Gate 6 checkpoint (which is the actual gate assigned for families in the MSP airport) along with real passengers that are flying that day!

The parents and their children with autism follow the protocol of standing in line, showing ‘boarding passes’ and ID’s to one of the TSA agents, removing jackets as well as shoes, emptying their pockets and going through the scanner as they would normally do if they were booked on a flight!

 

Familiarization with the terminal

Once cleared by security, the families can walk around the terminal for 30 minutes accompanied by their assigned volunteer before boarding their mock flight.

This intermission is beneficial for parents and children since they become comfortable with the location of stores, food venues, bathrooms and quiet spots for future trips.

Check out the ‘quiet areas’ with rocking chairs

For active children, the airport offers a delightful play area on Concourse C; with a wooden airplane, air traffic control tower, and multiple slides; as well as a statue of Snoopy whose creator is a native Minnesotan.
Kids who need to relax before boarding the airplane can head on to the Family Center that features comfortable seating, a crib, and a separate bathroom. The second level Quiet Seating Area is another option for those wishing to use the area’s rocking chairs or sleeping mats.

Minneapolis St Paul's Airport Navigating Autism Program play area

Real flight procedure when boarding the plane

After approximately 30 minutes, families head to their ‘appointed gate’ and follow the gate agent’s instructions for boarding.Aboard the aircraft, all ‘passengers’ are expected to sit in their seats, buckle up and listen to the flight attendant’s safety demonstration — just as they would on a real flight.
In the end, the children all receive a bag* filled with goodies that they can use on their future trip, which is a nice touch.

Meeting the pilot and focusing on sensory concerns.

After everyone is safely seated, the pilot, Rich Kargel, comes out of the cockpit and explains how a real flight would feel.

He talks about the sounds of the airplane’s liftoff, touchdown, and pressure in the ears. Then the kids are allowed to explore the aircraft and familiarize themselves with the restrooms and galleys and even plane cockpit.
After their 30 minute ‘simulated flight’ the family is returned to the baggage claim area and back to the tram /parking level.

Minneapolis St Paul's Airport Navigating Autism Program bag

You can come again

 The program is offered on a monthly basis, so families who feel the need to come for another practice run before their trip are welcome to sign up again.

If parents need to contact the program director, they are welcome to e-mail her at Shelly.Lopez@mspm*ac.org

 

Minneapolis St Paul's Airport Navigating Autism Program coloring book

 

*The Bag is donated by Fraser Minnesota and contains:

  • “The Noisy Airplane” book (from Metropolitan Airports Commission)
  • Pencils, airport activity book, info from Autism MN & Fraser
  • Skittles (from World Duty-Free Group)
  • Stuffed airline (from OTG Management)
  • Balsam wood airplane and squishy globe (from Metropolitan Airports Commission)
  • Free happy meal coupons from McDonalds
  • Free water bottles (donated by the Airport Foundation)

Tips to Avoid Airport Meltdowns for Travelers with Autism

 Part of successfully traveling with autism is the ability of the caregivers to foresee and prepare for those scenarios that can trigger those dreaded meltdowns.
Here are tips to avoid airport meltdowns that we have compiled over the years based on our past incidents.

Tips to Avoid Airport Meltdowns for Travelers with Autism lines

Meltdowns due to flight delays

#Try to book direct early morning flights that do not originate in any weather troubled zones when possible.

#Study your flight track record on Kayak.com to get an idea of the possibility of delays and remember to check the airline updates before you leave for the airport.

#Download a map of the airports ahead of time, so you get acquainted with the local amenities i.e. eateries, entertainment, and shopping.

# Pack (cord including for quick recharge) at least two favorite electronic devices such as Ipads, I-pods, Nintendo or other games for your child to use while waiting.

Tips to Avoid Airport Meltdowns for Travelers with Autism airport suitcases


Meltdowns related to food

#Download a map of the airport and decide ahead of time where, and if you are going to eat to avoid last minute arguments of the pizza parlor versus sandwich joint.

#If your flight is scheduled after 10 pm chances are you’ll find the airport restaurants closed so be sure to pack some necessary snacks like chocolate bars or cookies in your carry-on luggage. Although healthy fruit or veggie snacks might be a better choice, they can be confiscated in some countries by the agricultural inspectors.

#Always carry coins with you so you can use any available vending machines.

 

 

 

Tips to Avoid Airport Meltdowns for Travelers with Autism cafeteria

Meltdown at the TSA lines

#Decide ahead of time whether you want the x-rays screen or the more lengthy pat -down process. Bear in mind in mind that the pat -downs may not be the best idea if your traveler hates to be touched by strangers and might physically or verbally object to the search.

#If your kid cannot wait quietly or is too tired to do so, head on to the front of the line and ask the person responsible, whether any special needs’ accommodations can be made. Some airports do provide separate disabled and family lines, especially during rush hour.

 

 

 

Tips to Avoid Airport Meltdowns for Travelers with Autism x rays
  Meltdowns  due to connecting flights

#When making your reservation make sure you allocate at least one hour for domestic and two for international connections. Remember that flights to certain destinations may require additional security checking at their departure gate and that passengers entering the US clear customs and immigration at the first entry airport, both of which necessitate extra airport time.

# Also, always be informed of the exact time to be at the gate for your continuing flight and the nearest hotel to the airport in case you end up missing your flight.

#If you are running late, head on to the nearest airline representative and let them know you are in the airport, so they can notify the gate your next flight is leaving from that you’re on your way.

#Ask for special-needs assistance instead of attempting to run across the airport on your own saddled with all the luggage, especially if you need to change terminals.

Tips to Avoid Airport Meltdowns for Travelers with Autism gate

 Safety related meltdowns 

Here are tips in the event your kid runs off during the meltdown

#On the day of travel photograph or film your child with your camera phone before you leave the house. When my sons were younger, I used to dress them in matching bright colored t-shirts so it would be easy not only to spot them from a distance but to describe what one was wearing by looking at the other child.

#Teach verbal kids to approach ladies wearing name tags or in uniforms if they feel lost and get them memorize your cell phone number.

#When traveling with nonverbal children consider getting them to wear an identifying tag with your phone number and a description of their disability or even a portable GPS bracelet that can be easily traced.

#Upon discovering the child is missing alert the airport authorities, don’t waste precious moments searching on your own.

#Ask one family member to stay in the spot the child was last seen at, in case he/she returns.

#Insist the police distribute the autistic person’s picture immediately with a full appearance description and details of the disability.

#It is important to explain to the authorities how to approach your child when found, so make sure you include details of whether he/she would respond to their name, react aggressively, or object of being physically touched in the report.

STRANDED AT THE AIRPORT seats

 

Has your child experienced meltdowns in the airport ?

How does your family deal with them?

 


Occupying the Kids when Stranded at the Airport

When faced with a long-scheduled layover or an unexpected flight delay, travelers with autism, more than any other category of travelers can become increasingly agitated and apprehensive, requiring a plethora of activities to keep them busy and entertained.
Parents wishing to avoid the extra stress and occupy their kids if stranded at an airport should conduct a brief Internet research of the options available in and around each airport during the initial travel planning stage.

Occupying the Kids when Stranded at the Airport moving stairs

 

Have fun in an airport museum

Airport Museum construction is on the rise and presents a win- win situation for all involved.The airport satellite locations help institutions introduce their collections to a wider more diverse audience terminals supply their frustrated travelers with a unique way to kill time and kids get to have fun and learn something new.Outstanding domestic airport museums: Atlanta, Philadelphia and San Francisco while internationally the Rijksmuseum in Schiphol Amsterdam  Airport is a must see!
Many kids’ museums have satellite locations in airports, providing a sensory, hands-on experience for the younger travelers with autism along with much-required respite minutes to their caregivers.
Excellent  U.S. places to check are: San Francisco’s Kids’ Spot (in partnership with the Exploratorium), Boston’s Logan Airport Kidport (in cooperation with the Children’s Museum of Boston) and Chicago O’Hare Kids on the Fly  area (in collaboration with the Chicago Children’s Museum.)

 

 

Occupying the Kids when Stranded at the Airport FOOD

 

 

Take an airport tour

Another great idea that combines fun and education is a ‘behind the scenes peek ‘ that teaches kids and parents the logistics behind running a big airport. Many families with autism might find this informative tour fascinating, especially those dislike or even fear crowded airports.Noteworthy places in the US are  Cleveland and Tampa airports.
Most airports do require notice and an email confirmation process, so one needs to plan in advance.Some European airports like Frankfurt and Zurich conduct them daily and are easier to attend at the last minute.

Check out the Observation Decks

A once in a lifetime view of the airport grounds along with takeoff and landing runways can be enjoyed, by the aviation obsessed travelers with autism if you get to visit the few observation decks worldwide that remain open, despite the heightened security measures post 9/11.The more memorable ones are Bangkok, Thailand and the US’ Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina that has a beautiful park located near the air traffic control tower, where one can enjoy a ‘mini picnic’ while watching the takeoff and landing of the planes.

 

Occupying the Kids when Stranded at the Airport GLOBE

 

 

 Children’s Play Areas

In the US many airports like Nashville International Airport, Portland International Airport, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and Salt Lake City all have area playgrounds, mostly inside to let that extra energy. It would be an excellent idea to put in some swings to further calm individual needs little ones.Our favorite is Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport with a sensory play area and rocking chairs in quiet areas that are perfect for kids with autism.


There are many International airports with well-planned kids play areas. Singapore Changi features the world’s longest slide, swimming pool, a movie theater and as many arcades as the eye can see.  Hong Kong International Airport has its individual aviation discovery center, i-sports complex and PlayStation Gateway Center by Sony.Auckland, New Zealand: If Singapore is the Mecca for indoor entertainment, Auckland is the ultimate destination in outdoor and back to nature pleasures with butterfly creek, just outside the airport,l equipped with a butterfly house, aquarium, insect house, crocodile exhibit and farm yard.

 

 

 

Occupying the Kids when Stranded at the Airport TEL AVIV PLAY AREA
Tel Aviv Ben Gurion airport

See the city

Since many cities are relatively close to their airport, a short sampler tour might be a pleasant way to get introduced to a future vacation spot.Singapore’s airport leads the way by offering free colonial, cultural, or lifestyle city tours upon requestToronto, Amsterdam, and Panama also offer shorter versions.

 

Occupying the Kids when Stranded at the Airport SWISS EXEC LOUNGE

 

Go Geocaching

Geocaching is the twenty-first century GPS based treasure hunt with a twist. Individuals or groups hide caches all over the world, advertise the hidden location on the Internet and wait for GPS enthusiastic players to find the hidden item. The person/s who discover the item or items can get a variety of rewards, get to publish their ‘discovery’ on the web and are supposed to leave a treasure of their choice for the next Geo enthusiast.
Although we have never gone geocaching ourselves, some of my readers who have kids with autism swear their kids had fun looking for those caches and found the activity highly entertaining.

 

Try the local cuisine

Being stuck in an airport might become a golden opportunity to sample new foods your son or daughter with autism might not have dreamed otherwise of trying. Here are some of our ultimate US  favorites.

In Miami; Kafe Kalik famous for its conch fritters and Bahamian foods and La Carreta serving their famous Cubano sandwich, with roast pork, Swiss cheese, and pickles.In Albuquerque: Garduno’s Chile Packing Company and Cantina with its mouthwatering green chiles, machaca enchiladas, and honey-drenched sopapillas.Boston’s Logan Airport has three Legal options: Legal’s Test Kitchen for people on the go, Legal C Bar full menu plus beer bar, and the traditional restaurant and San Francisco features Boudin’s Bakery known for its sourdough bread since 1849.
However, if the food does become a point of contention and a reason for a meltdown, head on over to the nearest McDonald’s.

 

Occupying the Kids when Stranded at the Airport LAS VEGAS SLOT MACHINES

Spas

Sometimes a flight delay can become that golden opportunity to brush up on the basics of personal hygiene give your kid with autism, a much-needed haircut, a manicure-pedicure combo, or get them to relax with a massage before the next flight.


Room for the day

Our ultimate favorite is getting a place for the day and resting a few hours at a nearby property. This way everyone in the travel party can shower, sleep, watch TV, or work on the internet. For many kids with autism a quiet place away from the airport, the bustle is a great way to regroup and relax.There are many hotel properties, to choose from in most major airports, either part of the airport complex or adjacent but connected with walkways, like the Hilton in Chicago O’Hare or Sheraton in Frankfurt, so make sure you call them up directly and ask for their day rates.

Occupying the Kids when Stranded at the Airport WHEEL CHAIR ASSISTANCE

 

Have you ever been stranded with your kids in an airport and found a way to occupy them?  Share it with us!

 


Q&A with Lisa Domican of Grace App

Why did you decide to create the Grace App?

I discovered that picture exchange communication was the best way to prompt and reward independent communication for both my children with Autism. I could observe their interests and needs, then create a picture with which I could prompt them to communicate their wishes and get the reward.

With my son, I could model speech with the images which he imitated and within three months, he started talking independently.
With my daughter, it took longer, and I had to create and store over 400 pictures in her vocabulary file before she began trying to imitate the words.

I wanted to keep encouraging communication but needed to make it easier to bring the pictures everywhere. In 2008, I had the idea to create what became the Grace App.

What is the concept behind the Grace App?

Picture exchange communication is a very effective way to develop independent language as with practice; the user learns to attempt their vocalizations with the images.
The goal of the Grace App is to keep building social interaction with the user taking control of what they want to say.
The App does not work unless the user finds and engages with a listener, to share the picture-sentence they have created.
The App ensures the user engages with his or her listener to have the sentence “read” and then gives the user the opportunity to model the words hence rewarding the user’s communication attempts.
This is an important feature of the Gracie App that Talking Apps don’t do!

Q&A with Lisa Domican of Grace App mom and daughter

photo credit Lisa Dominican


I understand your kids use the Grace App.

Yes.
Gracie goes to a special school, where they do cook once a week. Gracie likes making the rice crispy buns because they are made of chocolate.
However, the idea is that the children will learn to try new foods, so the recipe changes every week.
One day they were making chocolate brownies in the classroom, and the tutor working with Gracie was surprised to find that Gracie did not want to co-operate with measuring out the ingredients, as she usually likes to do.

She kept trying to prompt her, but Gracie picked up her i-Phone and asked for “kitchen” where the breakfast foods were kept.
The tutor thought it would help to see what she wanted, so together they went downstairs to the kitchen. Gracie opened the Grace App,  took a photograph of the Rice Crispie breakfast cereal then put it on her sentence, “I want, Rice Crispies, Chocolate, Bowl” – She wanted to make rice crispies buns AGAIN! The tutor thought the communication was very effective, and let her make them, and EAT them of course.


How can the Grace App help non-verbal travelers with autism communicate?

Grace App is intended to be the “voice” of the user so they can control it to say what they want.
The App can be totally customised using the camera or by searching and saving images from the internet so the user can request whatever they want, wherever they are.
So if they are in a restaurant, they can request exactly the food they want.

The places folder, in particular, has pictures to make travel less stressful such as Airport Security, Drive-thru and Beach.
Caregivers can use these to explain where they are going and what will happen first or next to reduce anxiety.
If the person is unwell and needs to visit a doctor – they can use the “My Body” folder to say where they have pain. This can be helpful if the Doctor does not speak your language.
And of course, it has the most important picture for traveling “I want a toilet”!
Q&A with Lisa Domican of Grace App kids

Photo credit Lisa Dominican


Any plans to add features and make it available in other languages?

Currently, the Grace App is used in over 40 countries around the world.
Picture exchange is universal, and I have used it myself to go shopping for clothes in Spain; I just showed the shop-assistant the photo of a dress, and the number “12” for the size I wanted.

As of February 28th, 2013, the App was updated to be used in 7 languages: English, Spanish, French, German, Danish, Arabic or Brazilian Portuguese. Now with the upgraded version the App can be switched back and forth to each language without losing any saved content.

Q&A with Lisa Domican of Grace App ad

photo credit Lisa Dominican

 
Lisa Domican is an Australian born, Ireland-based mother of two children with autism. Liam, 15 and Grace  13 1/2  are witty, charming and very challenging, so they keep her busy. She developed a simple picture communication App in collaboration with a successful Games Developer that allows non-verbal people with Autism and other disabilities to communicate effectively, by building semantic sequences from relevant images to form sentences. 
Lisa and The Grace App have been awarded some international awards including the United Nations World Summit Award for Moblie Learning and Education and the David Manley Award for Best Social Entrepreneur in 2012. Lisa was also recognised as 1 of “100 unseen women who change the world” by One World Action in 2011.

 

Surviving Sequestration When Traveling With Kids

Several parents to kids with autism have approached me this week asking for tips to help them navigate the sequestration chaos. As the NY times article points out; delays can vary anywhere from 10-50 minutes depending on the airport.
What is clear is that these delays will persist (unless the crisis is solved)  as summer travel peaks in the months ahead, so parents should heed warnings and plan accordingly.

10 Tips to Surviving Sequestration when traveling with kids PLANE

Learn the airport layout

Print or bookmark (on a mobile phone or tablet), a map of the airports you will be traveling through to help you locate play areas, food venues and even bathrooms quickly.

Know the flight availability

Download (in advance) at least two travel sites like Kayakchipmunk or Tripit on your mobile devices to help you search possible flight availability on alternate routes, airlines and nearby airports if your flight is delayed or canceled. 

Keep informed

In today’s digital information world, you can be notified via e-mail or instant messaging of flight delays and  TSA lines. Make sure the airline you are flying with has all your current information and can contact you in if any changes were to occur. Also, it is always a smart idea to check your airline and FAA websites for updates.

Add contacts to your mobile devices

Don’t forget to add the airline’s customer service number to the speed-dial list on your phone. This way, you cannot only call from the airport gate but redial fast if you get disconnected.
You might also want to keep the airlines FB and Twitter page links handy since social media has become an acceptable alternate way to communicate with many companies.

Pay close attention to the TSA regulations

Many travelers don’t read the TSA rules ahead of time and fail to pack accordingly.
If you want to pass the checkpoints smoothly and quickly, you need to adhere to the liquid and sharp objects’ recommendations.
Furthermore, be aware that dressing in layers or baggy clothing will automatically trigger a pat-down and further delay you.

Spring for Netflix membership for a month

Consider a subscription to a video service like Netflix or Hulu to entertain your kid while you are traveling. Most companies offer a free trial month, so you can always cancel the service once you return home.

Splurge on the lounge

Airport lounges can be a nice alternative to relax in when flights are delayed.
You can gain access to the lounges if you are a frequent flyer with high status, the holder of certain credit cards or by just purchasing a day pass. Most domestic lounges provide snacks, drinks, and free unlimited Wi-Fi.
A few lounges like United’s Red Carpet at LAX and Newark even come with a separate family room complete with a DVD player and movies to watch.!

Check airport hotel nearby

Make sure you check ahead of time which airport hotels are available and whether they offer a ‘day rate’  ahead of time.This can become a possible option in the event your flight is grossly delayed, and your child with autism needs somewhere to relax for a few hours.

Ask for help

Unless you are confident, your child can face long lines or delays without a meltdown you need to share your child’s diagnosis with airline representatives earlier rather than later.
By doing so, you will ensure their cooperation, get the help you need and avoid misunderstandings that might arise.
Remember to carry a doctor’s note detailing your child’s disability and any accommodations he/she might need.

Stay calm

Whatever the circumstances, don’t forget to maintain your composure and remain calm for two principal reasons.
The first: watching you agitated would only stress your kid further and lead to a potential meltdown.
The second: in our post- 9/11 reality, any rude or threatening word exchange is both counterproductive and could result in airport security officers escorting you off the premises and placing you on the no-fly list.

 

 

Q&A with Laurie Robinson Autism Mom

“She likes to start packing her things early before the trip .She always brings her her teddy bear with her on the plane .”

Q&A with Laurie Robinson Autism Mom

photo credit Laurie Robinson

 

Hi, my name is Laurie, and I’m the mother of three teens, Avery 18 and Alyssa 16 and Ayden 14.

Alyssa, my middle Child, was diagnosed with autism and bipolar disorder as a toddler. Alyssa likes a lot of routines and tends to obsess on the topic of time. She needs to know ahead of time what the plan for the day is and gets anxious when it isn’t followed.
She is in a special class called Foundations in High School where she has assistance with her work. WE are thrilled that she is quite an independent and doesn’t require a lot of help. The teacher works with her time issue, and she is allowed to leave a few minutes early from classes and at the end of the day to accommodate her needs.

Our family likes to travel, and Alyssa has gotten excellent at it.
When we do travel, we start talking to her about the trip and get her to help with planning the activities well ahead of time, so she always feels included.
She is very much a pre-packer and likes to start packing her things earlier than the rest of us to make sure nothing is left behind.
She always brings her teddy bear with her on the plane; that one is an absolute must!.
I always make sure to call ahead and arrange for a pre-board as she doesn’t like to wait in the lines with too many people.
She also doesn’t like going through security.
We need to remind her to listen to the security each time we pass through the airport security. We’ve come up with a plan where  I usually go through first, she goes next, and then her siblings with my husband follow. This way there’s always an adult family member by her side in case she needs someone. Once she passed through the checkpoint, she is usually fine. I carry a PRN of Resperidol medicine in case she becomes anxious.
My personal tip for flying with autism is to book flights with longer connection time, so we don’t have to feel rushed which usually gets her unnecessarily upset.
Once we arrive at our intended destination, we remind her of any planned activities so that she can memorise the sequence and feel ‘in control.’
Throughout the years traveling with our daughter has become a lot manageable and much more enjoyable for the entire family.
Nowadays we’ve pretty much reached a point where she knows what to expect, and we are aware of how to plan our trips accordingly.

Traveling with Autism and the TSA

 

A sensible approach to traveling with autism and the TSA agent

 

We consistently hear about nightmares that people suffer at the hands of the TSA.

But I want people to keep something in mind; thousands if not millions of people travel on a daily basis, and these intrusive incidents are few and far between.
A lot of it has to do being adequately prepared just like it says in the Boys’ Scout motto. Ok, sometimes that doesn’t’ help either, but, in reality, being prepared could avoid many issues that people have.

Traveling with children who are on the autistic spectrum can seem rather daunting to the best of us. Now with the implementation of airport security, we have yet another hurdle to jump over – making certain our children have a pleasant trip.
Having just returned from a trip, this is what we did to prepare for the airport.

Let me explain a little about us.
Our boys are not boys anymore; they are young men both in college. They are at an age when they can participate in the planning and execution of trip preparation.
They are very aware of what it takes to go through security. We traveled extensively right after 9/11, and both boys have been consistently pulled out of line and even patted down.They have never minded it. It gave them a sense of security.
So, next time you are chosen for a pat down-remember that you want to make certain your child is left with a feeling of security.

Due to circumstances we were not able to travel in the past three years, so there were a few new things we had to go over with the boys before we went on our past trip.
The first thing we did was sit the boys down and explain to them what was going to happen.
We even drew little maps to show them the lines and the different steps for airport security.
We practiced what questions they might be asked and how to respond.
We went to what was appropriate to say and what was not appropriate to say.
Example: don’t talk about terrorism, bombs, and planes flying into buildings or as in the case of my oldest don’t go around telling everyone how to survive a plane crash.

A sensible approach to traveling with autism and the TSA wait line

My oldest son is obsessed with Air Emergency on television and is petrified of flying.
He researched how to survive a plane crash and sent everyone he knew all the information he found.
He printed off a copy of survival tips for the plane, which my husband told him he could not take out once we got to the airport and could not discuss it with anyone.
We did explain to him that it was critical to watch what he said for two reasons:  you do not want to frighten people or cause security personnel to think you many be a threat. So, when you get to an airport, you do not talk about bombs and plane crashes; it is a societal no-no.

Then went through their backpacks with them to make sure that they were not carrying any items that weren’t permitted. We found the rules on the TSA website and read them with them to make sure they understood what they could and could not take on board.

We also made sure that they had the proper documentation. If your child is over 16, they must have a picture ID or passport to get on that flight. In fact, it is not a bad idea to always have a photo of your child with you. In our case, the younger son has a learner’s permit for driving and the older one has a state issued ID.

State ID is very easy to get.
You go to the motor vehicle department, bring the requisite documentation, and they issue the ID.
The woman, who helped our son at the DMV, realized because he was very hesitant in answering her questions, that he had some “issues”, and allowed my husband to assist him in the process.
Everyone again was kind.

 

A sensible approach to traveling with autism and the TSA checkpoint

Now of course, as with all preparations, there is always a glitch.
With the oldest he forgot that there was a water bottle in his backpack, and the TSA screeners were not pleased.
But they were not rude or disrespectful.
My husband helped and intervened by throwing out the bottle, and son apologized.
They then went through the scanner again and everything was fine.

Another thing we did was to organize all items in compartments.
We made sure that everything for the laptops and phones were in one pocket and were readily available so that they could be taken out and placed in separate containers on the conveyor belt.
We had tried to get the boys to wear shoes other than sneakers but they wanted to wear what they wanted to wear,  so it just took a little bit longer to get everything rearranged once we were through security.
I recommend you wear slip on shoes of some kind or even flip-flops if you can.

Another thing that happened was they had to take off their belts (yes, pants started falling, and underwear became rather apparent) and, as usual, empty their pockets.
The TSA did ask if anyone of us had a retainer or a bridge in their mouths. Yes of course, again the oldest and he got ‘wanded’.

Then we stepped through the “porn” scanners.
Now this I got a kick out of and so did the boys.
We showed them that only the Agent could see them. We made sure the boys did what they were told and said “yes ma’am” or “no, sir” as the case may be.
I know these scanners freak some people out, but honestly considering I am a middle-aged menopausal woman who has given birth twice, who does not like to see myself naked, I figured if someone wants to see me naked go for it.
The boys didn’t care about the see through the scan.

There was a bit of an anomaly on my scan, however, and they patted down my arm. The boys came through, and I thought they were to be patted down as well, and I had them assume the position.
But everything was just fine.

A sensible approach to traveling with autism and the TSA x ray machine

So we got through airport security with no screaming, yelling melting down or real issues.
Preparation is key.
Organization is key.
Remember too that your children will take their cue from you.
If you act out and cause a scene, then your child will become upset.
If you do not act respectful and cooperative neither will your child and issues will ensue.

Remember, you can tell security that your child is autistic; most will be very understanding, but that does not mean your child can skip security.
In fact, many terrorists will use those considered disabled in their schemes.
So, while you know that your child is not smuggling bomb parts, the US government does not.
While you are aware that your child’s wheelchair, braces or crutches are simple wheelchairs, braces and crutches the government does not.
Be prepared for the TSA to take the time to check out these objects.

No one is picking on you.
Life is what it is.
It is your job to make the situation easier and less complicated for your child.
Smile, be friendly, be helpful, and be cooperative. Better yet, teach your child to think of it all as a game and part of the adventure of travel.
Let them think of themselves as Indiana Jones or ‘Jonesette.’

Listen, security is part and parcel of travel in today’s day and age so it shouldn’t be a big deal if you take a little extra time to prepare.

Guest writer, Elise Ronan is the happily married parent of two young men with Aspergers syndrome. She is a volunteer parent and child advocate in her town and community. She is the author of the popular blog Raising Asperger’s Kids.

Meltdown In The Sky: A Personal Story of Flying with Autism

Meltdown In The Sky: A Personal Story of Flying with Autism jeff

“An old Romanian joke speaks of a dad sitting on a bench in the park with a unrelentingly screaming baby in his arms whispering, “Ferdinand be calm, Ferdinand be calm.”
A well-meaning bystander who witnesses the situation approaches the dad and asks, “Shouldn’t you be trying something different since it’s obvious that whispering is not calming the child?”.
“Oh, no,’” smiles the distraught father, “You don’t understand…I was whispering to myself’.”

The marvel of traveling with an autistic family member is the fact that life as you know it can change so fast you don’t even realize what hit you.
Of course, after all, hell has broken loose and then calmed down, you get to think back, analyze what went wrong, and hope  you’ve at least discovered some significant clue to help you with the next meltdown (and yes,  there always seems to be the next time.)

The day started as uneventful as you could imagine, having completed my airport checklist in its entirety: an elaborate breakfast, adequate time for airport security, a ritual purchase of a comics magazine and souvenirs, a small airport snack, and pre-boarding, all followed.

I considered this particular flight segment from Tel Aviv to Zurich on Swiss a no-brainer, compared to transatlantic and transpacific trips that we had previously experienced.Silly me, I assumed that between the magazine and the onboard movies offered, everything would run smoothly.

I was dead wrong.

What happened next felt like a surreal horror movie.
Jeff’s movie player broke down, so he started complaining and naturally he switched seats with his brother.But, what do you know? That DVD player malfunctioned too —and apparently so did all four in our row, And now were faced with Jeff unable watch his favorite Shrek movie. He started whining, complaining and screaming in a matter of seconds.

Multiple flight attendants came and went with no apparent ability to fix anything, and then we got a visit from the flight purser herself (with a sour face.)

By then Jeff was noticeably agitated, screaming that he wanted to watch his movie—or else.

Instinctively, I  reached to retrieve Jeff’s calming medication from my purse to offer it to him; however, he was way too wound up by then to listen, and he refused to take it. While holding the pill in my right hand and hugging Jeff with my left, I  calmly reminded the purser of Jeff’s diagnosis and asked her whether she could find him another seat.

She proved to be autism ignorant and proceeded first to order me to “explain” to Jeff that she couldn’t do anything else for him, then lecture me about my poor parenting skills.
Apparently, in her mind, autistic people always stopped to listen to reason, especially during a meltdown.
What could I do but whisper quietly to myself to stay calm?
While my son was busy screaming obscenities, I turned to look around for a second only to notice how everyone was staring at us.
I cracked half a smile and apologized to everyone about the growing commotion while continuing to hug and console my son.

A  kind lady across the aisle proceeded to offer Jeff her laptop—which he refused— while another young woman right behind us started crying too, obviously upset by the whole scene. I  thought I’d offer Jeff the half-melted pill a second time, but he rejected me a second time!

Funny how one’s brain works during a the crisis, as all I could think at that moment was that the crew will decide to avert the flight, and I started wondering whether we were flying over Greece or Turkey.
My mind was racing.
What would Turkish mental hospitals and or prisons look like?
Were the Greek ones better?
Would the airline make you pay the extra expenses for landing the plane?
Would our travel insurance even cover that?
Could one even return to the States if he was put on that ‘no fly’ list?Then, the realization!
Oh no, we would be featured on the five o’clock news, in a terrible way!
I could just see the headline, “American family disrupts flight!”

By now, it was well over an hour of the crisis as  I glanced at the rest of my family.

In the meantime, while all this drama was buy unfolding, my other son was sunk deep into his seat covering his face with his hood, ashamed.
Jeffrey was still crying hysterically until a voice I recognized as my husband snapped me back to reality, saying: “I  think I have a panic attack.”
And just like that, the tide decided to take a turn for the better!

Within a New York minute, I  somehow managed to convince Jeff to swallow the remnants of what used to be his emergency calming pill. Then, I proceeded to hand my husband a much needed Valerian with my other hand and pressed the flight attendant button with my elbow once again.
When she finally arrived, I asked for a glass of cold water for him and a vodka on the rocks for me. As she handed me the drink, I proceeded to spill it all over myself because of my shaky hand.
Clearly this wasn’t a good day.

And then I remembered the joke with “Ferdinand be calm…” and managed to smile.

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