Flying LATAM Airlines with Autism

 

bear pin

 


LATAM
is an airline that mainly flies to and from South America, so we hadn’t flown with them until we decided to visit Peru. One of the main reasons we chose LATAM was that I had British Airways miles that could be used to cover four tickets round trip from Los Angeles to Lima as well as four domestic round-trip flights. Our flight was a direct flight, which is always the best choice when traveling with autism.

Booking Latam Airlines

I booked our tickets online through the British Airways website in less than ten minutes for a total of 225K air miles and hardly any tax. Next, the airline’s customer service agent referred me to the Los Angeles office and was very helpful. A special thanks to Sharon and Mr. Caballero, the Passenger Service Supervisor at LAX!

After explaining that our son has autism and that he can’t wait in long lines and needs bulk seating on the aircraft, Mr. Caballero personally tagged our booking (four flights) with the accommodations and reassured me that everything was taken care of.
aircraft

At the Airport and Boarding

On the day of the first flight, we arrived at LAX 3 ½ hours ahead of time in the event we encountered issues that might need to be resolved. As we approach the ticket counter, we saw very long lines.

I asked for special needs assistance staff, and my family was immediately helped by an agent instead of waiting in the long line.Everyone worked diligently to ensure that we not only were seated together but that we received the bulkhead seats.

bulk seating

LATAM does weigh carry-ons, and we were two pounds over the limit. The airline was incredibly gracious saying that they understood we carried medicines and special hypoallergenic bedding for our son, so they let us carry them without any penalty.

LATAM has an excellent organizational system that uses lines for every ten rows so that the boarding process has a flow and is not too crowded.

At the gate, we pre-boarded using a wheelchair and were able to board each time quickly. It took some time to not only to settle our son but to store our carry-ons in the small overhead bins so were grateful we could do it without delaying fellow passengers. We found the bins on the Boeing 767  and on their Airbus 319  we flew to Cusco from Lima able to hold a 21-inch suitcase each and a small bag comfortably.

overhead bins

Our Seats

As we passed by the  Business Class (there is no First Class), we discovered that it was surprisingly small on the 767. There were 18 seats in all with the most legroom and pitch I’ve seen in a Business Class.

plane seating

We flew the airline’s Economy Class.With the plane’s configuration of 2-3-2, as a family of four, we sat in row 12 and 13. My sons and I got the bulkhead seats while my husband sat behind us on the way to Lima and back. All in all, both rows had adequate leg space and the seat comfort was average although it was a bit annoying when people crossed over from side to side and bumped into us.

 

We were glad to find that pillows and blankets were provided for the red eye flight and there were outlets underneath the seats,  to juice up our devices. There were also no air vents directly blowing on us which are always an issue for our son with autism that has sensory challenges.

 

ammenity

Entertainment

A plethora of movies and television shows both in English and Spanish were offered on the entertainment system. The caveat for the bulkhead seating was that the television was built in and fixed in the bulk area in front of you. While the screens don’t fall during turbulence, they are a bit too small and far which makes watching a bit cumbersome.

 

The 319 Airbus doesn’t have any entertainment on board, which was OK as the flight was less than an hour and a half each way and we had packed tablets to watch our own movies. The seats on the Airbus were leather and much more comfortable than most economy seats we’ve sat in on other flights and airlines.

supper

Meals and Amenities

The flight crew was helpful and attentive. They came around to check and make sure we were comfortable and had our needs met. They offered dinner meal choices of chicken with a salad and cake. Later the crew retired for several hours before returning with a light breakfast. We were disappointed to discover that they had no milk or apple juice for our kids and that coffee wasn’t going to be served due to turbulence.

 

When we continued our journey to Cusco on a domestic flight, we were surprised to discover that the company offered complimentary snack boxes and drinks (including alcohol), even in economy.

dinner

 

The bathrooms on both our long haul flight and domestic were kept clean and were continuously stocked with soap, hand lotions, even mouthwash.

Overall we had a great experience with LATAM that surprisingly showed a high and unexpected level of autism awareness and excellent customer service. We didn’t have to wait in any significant lines and were accommodated on and off the aircraft promptly.

 

 snack1

Autism Travel Tips

When traveling LATAM with autism, make sure you call ahead and tag your reservation as special needs and ask for the necessary accommodations (wheelchair assistance) or special diets that your family members may need.

Packing a tablet and power cord may be helpful as there might not be adequate entertainment on some aircraft.

It is interesting to note that while LATAM  does not claim to discriminate against passengers with disabilities, they are one of the few airlines who requires a muzzle for a service animal and they do have this additional statement on their website in regards to passengers with autism:

Passengers with autism who are accompanied by family or caregivers and who do not have a disruptive behavior do not require a medical certificate however if they travel alone, they will have to present a medical certificate.

 

 

Business Class on Air New Zealand is Luxury Defined

Some people say that the most surprise events make for the best stories, and in our case, our experience with Air New Zealand exemplifies exactly that!

s

We had originally booked a flight from Lisbon to Zürich connecting to LA which ultimately fell through when our Lisbon to Zürich segment flight was late. This change of plans meant that we lost our connection before we even started our journey.

Booking and Airport Experience

A United Airlines ticket agent at the Lisbon airport took pity on us and decided to book us on the next available flight to London where we would then fly Air New Zealand from London straight to LA.

Needless to say, I was grateful that we were flying Business Class on accumulated points, so I didn’t have to worry about things like last-minute seating arrangements and accommodations for our son with autism.

Business Class on Air New Zealand is Luxury Defined screen

Upon arrival at Heathrow International Airport, we got access to Air New Zealand’s quality Business Lounge which provided us with plenty of options to eat and drink. The lounge even offers gluten-free choices, not to mention free WiFi.

Boarding and First Impressions

We were able to pre-board first as part of the accommodation for autism and also because we had Business Class seats. Next, they welcomed us on board by the friendly and enthusiastic crew that helped us with luggage and offered us a glass of champagne or cider.

We then actually started to notice many of the subtle differences that make Air New Zealand a fabulous company, commencing with the continuous smiling staff and their charming Kiwi accents.

As frequent travelers, we have flown in all classes including First, Business, and Economy. It is safe to say that the seat on the Air New Zealand Boeing 777 300 that reclines into a full bed was, and is, the most comfortable we’ve experienced to date.

Business Class on Air New Zealand is Luxury Defined seat

Amenities and Entertainment

We received two pillows and a hypoallergenic comforter. The Business Class TV screens are large and can be moved and adjusted to your position, and the recharging station is located directly in front of you (we love when you don’t have to bend down and search for it under the seat). Our son with autism couldn’t get enough of the entertainment console!

Business Class on Air New Zealand is Luxury Defined game

Air New Zealand has, hands down, the most engaging safety video we have ever watched. Everyone around us was apparently paying attention and even testing the different functions from the comfort of their seats.

Passengers can create their personal playlist of movies they want to watch during the flight as well as order whatever food and drinks they wish.

Business Class on Air New Zealand is Luxury Defined questions

 

Furthermore, the airline has added informative clips about your intended destination including immigration forms and a concierge service on board to help with your vacation plans. In fact, you could even provide feedback about the service from the comfort of your seat—not that we had reason to complain.

Sleeping in Comfort and Class

Maybe the reason we felt so pampered on Air New Zealand was the fact that this airline, unlike many others, actually makes your bed when you’re ready to sleep.

The cabin staff members come with bed linens and make your bed. When you’re done with the linens, you can press the call button and have them whisked away.

Our son with autism had a stomach ache, and the flight attendants couldn’t be nicer. They made him chamomile tea and even offered him an over-the-counter heartburn medication.

Business Class on Air New Zealand is Luxury Defined spray

The aircraft we were on also featured the famous Skycouch in the Economy Premium Class cabin. The Skycouch is a perfect choice for families, especially those with younger kids, and provides comfort at budget pricing.

Impeccable Customer Service

At this point, I should mention that this is the first airline that didn’t scold me for taking pictures, but instead mentioned how they enjoy working with bloggers.

Business Class on Air New Zealand is Luxury Defined burger

The Airline Amenity Kit features Clinique cosmetic products and the flight attendants also distribute a kid-friendly coloring kit to entertain children the old-fashioned way.

The special touches are visible everywhere starting from the largest cabin galley up to the whimsical bathrooms with a window view.

Everything about the Business Class on Air New Zealand was top-notch, starting with the entertainment and continuing with the wine choices and food (don’t skip the dessert; it is heavenly). And, of course, there was the gracious and punctual service provided by the crew.

Business Class on Air New Zealand is Luxury Defined snack

Overall, our experience was excellent and needless to say we were sad to leave the plane once we landed in LA. Parents with kids with autism should definitely put Air New Zealand on their radar, as they are so incredibly accommodating and polite. 

Flying Virgin America with Autism

We recently flew Virgin America out of LAX. Overall, the experience surpassed our expectations in accommodations, entertainment, comfort, and compassion for autism travel. 

Booking Process

I booked our flights on the Virgin America website, though I ended up having to fly a week earlier than my husband and my son who has autism. All three one-way tickets purchased were for Economy, but I couldn’t get the bulk seating for my husband and son directly on the website.

Flying Virgin America with Autism Ticket Counter

So, I ended up calling the 1-800 customer service number and spoke with an agent who specializes in disability. The representative was well acquainted with autism and immediately proceeded to put my husband and son in their flight’s Economy Premium section in order to make them more comfortable.

At the Airport

Check-in was a breeze! I had already checked in online, so I only needed to zoom through security with my Global Entry pass and head straight to the gate. My husband and son relayed a similar experience.

Flying Virgin America with Autism Airport

In LAX, Virgin America uses Terminal 3, which tends to be a bit more crowded at security than other terminals. If you are also flying out of this terminal, you may want to arrive earlier and allocate enough time to pass through this process.

I had heard about their newly opened Virgin Atlantic travel lounge, and I was mildly curious to check it out for myself. On request, the staff allowed me a sneak peek. The facility sported an uber-modern look and had several seating areas, a bar, and a modest breakfast buffet table—the room decor compliments the company’s logo in hues of reds and pinks.

Flying Virgin America with Autism Lounge

Passengers wishing to dine before their flight also have the option of choosing from a fast food joint or a sit-down venue at Gladstone’s, which is a sister restaurant to the one in Malibu.

At the Gate

On both Virgin America flights (a week apart);  pre-boarding went relatively smoothly. My husband was happy the crew had given him ample time to board before the deluge of passengers came through. On my solo flight, I was approached by a team member and asked if I needed help putting my carry-on in the top compartment, which I appreciated.

Both flights on Airbus 330 were punctual, which is noteworthy in the middle of the day at a busy airport like LAX.

The Seats

My aisle seat in Economy 12D was covered in leather and better padded than other airlines I have flown. I even had a few inches between my knees and the chair in front of me.

Flying Virgin America with Autism Economy Seat

My husband and son found their wider, more padded, leather seats in 3E and 3F (main cabin) even more comfortable to relax in. We were all thrilled to use the outlets to plug in our phones; the outlets worked well and were placed in an accessible spot, unlike other carriers where we have had to look for them somewhere in the abyss under our seats.

Flying Virgin America with Autism Main Cabin

As seasoned frequent flyers, we all immediately noticed the small—but significant differences—between this Virgin America and their competitors. Highlights ranged from the engaging emergency procedure video done with rap music and the relaxing blue-hued lighting to the positive attitude of the crew asking multiple times if we needed any additional help.

The Food

Let me start by saying that Virgin America offers superior food and entertainment choices that cater to please anyone. They provide an ample free and paid-for drink and snack menu that includes a gluten-free option as well as for purchase meal options.

Flying Virgin America with Autism Food

The fact that you can place an order from the comfort of your seat is so helpful! No more waiting for the traditional cart to come around while everyone else dines, just to be told they are out of your food choice once they reach your seat.

On my flight, I was very happy with my reasonably-priced, healthy breakfast choice that didn’t leave me hungry like some do. The meal was served with coffee that tasted like it was freshly ground.

Flying Virgin America with Autism Menu

The following week my husband and son loved the food offerings too. When our son with autism discovered food is complimentary in the main cabin. He ended up ordering everything he could off that menu. Unlike what has happened to us on European carriers, he was not reprimanded.

Much to my husband’s surprise, the staff was courteous and smiled with each order!

The Amenities

In comparison with other airlines, entertainment is another area where Virgin America gets it right.

Flying Virgin America with Autism Entertainment

The personal touch-screen TV in front of you is so much fun to play with!

You can not only order meals but also watch movies, listen to music; you can even chat with a fellow passenger in a different seat, which is a great feature if family members are separated in-flight.

As you can see from our pictures, the choices are ample—whether one wants to watch movies, TV shows or play games, there is something there for everyone. The entertainment system even features an area for kids with a PG content control making it stress-free for parents.

Flying Virgin America with Autism Charity

Perhaps the most refreshing feature on that screen was the fact there was a section dedicated to charities, encouraging passengers to donate money to several organizations like “Make a Wish Foundation” and one that is close to our hearts, The Special Olympics.

But there’s more.

Forgot your headphones at home? Do you want to nap for a few hours and want a clean pillow and blanket? You can purchase these items right on board. I selected a pillow/blanket set and love the high-quality blanket so much I use it at my desk at home.

Flying Virgin America with Autism Cagtalog

The restrooms, though unimpressive and similar to other airlines, were kept clean throughout the coast-to-coast flight and replenished with paper towels, tissues, and soap on a continuous basis.

Autism Travel Tips

Make sure you mention any special needs at booking and follow up with Virgin America before flying.

On our flights, we found nothing went wrong, and the staff was all very attentive and well rehearsed in helping families and individuals with autism.

Pin for Later

Flying Virgin America with Autism Pin

Must Have Items when flying with Autism

This month’s question comes from a Facebook follower, a parent, who is wondering what items are essential to pack when flying with a kid on the autism spectrum. Of course, each kid has his or hers favorite things so my tips will solely focus on the ‘essential items’ in all categories, that should be packed with all possible necessities.

Dear Margalit,
I’m taking my daughter on her first flight to Europe and want to make sure I don’t forget anything.
What are your “must have” items when flying with autism?

Looking forward to your tips,
Morgan

Hi Morgan,
Thank you for the question. It is a topic close to my heart, and I always ask this of others.
I love learning about new, interesting and useful items to pack to make the journey less stressful.
As you might know by now from reading my posts, I’m a huge under-packer, and I prefer everything in mini size if possible.
Based on previous travel experiences, you will know to bring items you are sure you will need. If this is something new to you or your child, the trick will be to think ahead like a girl scout; envision what can happen, and anticipate all eventualities.

In my family’s case, our staple flight items are based on things like temperature changes, and OCD, for example, and what we pack falls into the following groupings: sensory, behavioral, personal hygiene and small emergency needs.
Underlined are my must-have items for flying.

Temperature Control

My son is somewhat temperature intolerant and likes to cover his head when napping. Airlines don’t necessarily supply bedding items, so I carry a compact, lightweight blanket.
There are times we get stuck sitting in an aircraft on the tarmac waiting to clear for takeoff. With the engines and A/C off, the temperature rises, and the air can be stifling, so I pack a mini fan.

Comfort and Cleanliness

Not so long ago, when our son suffered from acute OCD, we ended up carrying plane seat covers and pillowcases as well as shoe covers to go through security.
Nowadays after getting our gFlying with Autism? Pack these Must -Have Items cosmetics

Noise

Planes tend to be noisy; whether it is the screaming baby in the row behind you, the rowdy drunk traveler next to you or the engine noise in smaller aircraft, most of us want to tune all of that out.
Noise-canceling headphones were a great investment for my family, not just for those with special needs. Something you need to keep in mind when you buy them is to make sure they fold and aren’t too bulky since you want to take that in your bag or carry-on. Also, since different aircraft use different systems make sure you carry several mini adaptors. Look for the ones that adapt a one prong system to a two and vice versa, so you can use the headphones onboard.

Small Emergencies

Small mishaps happen; especially on flights so you might want to be equipped with a mini flashlight to search for things that fall on the plane’s poorly lit floor.
These days, mobile phones can have a flashlight capability. I also recommend a small carabiner to link items like small bags or clothing items together, a small roll of duct tape to stick any broken or torn items and my favorite soda can cover to prevent spills on clothes.

Medical

I used to carry big bulky holders till I realized all I needed were small plastic pouches. They are so convenient; I can write the name of medicines on them, and I also love them for jewelry and any other trinkets that weigh next to nothing.

Besides that, I ‘schlep’ around a collapsible cup for my son to drink out of when he takes his meds since he doesn’t know how to use a water fountain and the crew doesn’t necessarily come as soon as we when page them.Flying with Autism? Pack these Must -Have Items safety

Hygiene

You just cannot ever take enough wipes and tissues when you are traveling with young kids or kids with autism who touch everything and put their hands in their mouths.
For the children are unable to stand while using the restroom or put the paper on the seat. I suggest then that you carry a mini Lysol spray to sterilize the seat and bring a mini toilet paper in case the paper runs out and isn’t replenished. Yes, unfortunately, I have seen that happen!

Positive Attitude

When traveling with children, especially those with special needs, it’s important to communicate and prepare in a positive way; explaining the process to your child, so it is enjoyable and pleasant for them and fellow travelers. In the words of the famous Annie, “You’re never fully dressed without a smile!” so make sure you wear your smile and have a great attitude at all times.

 

 

 

Stress Free Flight with Autism? It Can Be Done!

This month’s question for the “Ask  Margalit’ is one that many parents have struggled with over the years, and it is how to have stress-free flights with special needs kids.


Dear Margalit
When I was single and before we had children, flying felt like an incredible adventure.
I may be wrong but nowadays getting on a plane seems far more stressful, and that is without children.Add on kids and the stress level shoots up through the roof!
I live in Houston, Texas, with my husband who is originally from Bulgaria and my twin boys, nine who are “on the spectrum”, so I’ve been reluctant to take them on any long haul flight.
However, the situation has changed this year because my father-in-law who lives in Sofia, Bulgaria has become gravely ill, and we have to visit him.
Can you suggest ways to avoid irritating situations that can provide children with autism and their frazzled parents with a relatively stress-free flight?
Thanks,
@HoustonAllie

 

 

Stress Free Flight with Autism? It Can Be Done! lounge

 

Dear HoustonAllie,
I hear what you are saying, and it’s true.
The standing in lines and having security checks just seem to drag the whole process out, and meltdowns can be frequent.
For peace of mind, I recommend the three top things that can make your life easier: Global Entry, Airport Assistance, and  Airport Lounges.

Global Entry

I can’t mention and recommend the US Global Entry program enough.
It is invaluable for both international and domestic flights; ensuring you bypass the lines and benefit from the TSA’s pre-check program too.
My family members got their cards so now we don’t have to wait at immigration and we can still keep our jackets, jewelry, shoes, and belts on, not to mention my medicines and liquids that can stay in my hand luggage.

 

Airport Assistance

The next thing that you can do is ask for Airport Assistance.
It provides travelers with automatic pre-boarding and sometimes a separate waiting area is provided which is great to prevent anxiety from crowds, not to mention, access to the handicap lines when going through security and immigration checks. Airport assistance provides passengers with the option of getting individual transportation within the airport so that you don’t have to be shuttled between terminals in the regular buses or trains, a service we’ve useful after long haul flights when children are tired and irritable
The other benefit of having Airport Assistance is that you get help with kids and luggage on and off the plane which is great when there are air stairs attached to the aircraft instead of the more modern walkway.

Stress Free Flight with Autism? It Can Be Done! vehicle

Airport Lounge.

What a lot of people don’t realize is that the noise and the crowds can be extremely stressful for children with autism as well as adults, so the best way to avoid that is to get access to airport lounges where there is complimentary Wi-Fi, food and a place to charge your mobile devices.

Gaining access to airport lounges is done in one of the several ways; credit cards (you can call the airline to check which ones qualify), upgrade to business/first class, special permission or buying a day pass.
I can’t tell you how many times the lounge has saved us.
Did you know that some lounges even have designated rooms for families that have kid’s movies and DVD players?

 

 

Stress Free Flight with Autism? It Can Be Done! play area

In addition, except these three main tips, there are a few others I’d like to mention in passing.
In today’s chaotic world striving to be as self-sufficient as possible is a huge bonus so try to bring as many items as possible to make your child comfortable on board.
As
 a frequent flyer, I pack two tablets and phones with recharge wires in case the entertainment system on the aircraft fails or at times is absent.I wear a Scottevest that helps me carry electronics, wipes and even drink bottles purchased at the airport onboard.

 If your kids need to let out steam, many airports have designated play areas and some like MSP (Minneapolis), and Logan (Boston) have quiet spots complete with rocking chairs.

I can’t stress enough that the most important thing to make your flying experience easier is communication; with your children and with the airline and airport staff.

As a parent, you should let the airline know ahead of time what your child needs regarding accommodations including preferential seating and food.It is helpful to be prepared beforehand, knowing that the authorities and airport personnel are there for your protection and you that you have arranged to be able to take advantage of the benefits provided.
Your children can thereby have an easier journey, and you can have peace of mind knowing that they are content and not about to have a meltdown in public.

Happy flying!

Margalit

Taking Autistic Kids to Paris

Guest post by Zoe Sandell

After our visit to London, we decided to visit Paris for a few days. We took the underground that took us to the Eurostar Paris Station. The station looks a bit like an airport; we still had to check in and go through security and wait to board. Our autistic son, Brodie was getting well. With a simple stamp on our passports, we got to hop on the train. Well, not literally, as Brodie would follow my exact direction and jump if I told him to.

Taking the Eurostar

The Eurostar, like all trains, has half the seats facing forwards and the other half backwards. Of course, we ended up getting rear facing seats that Brodie dislikes. He was fine until the train started to move. I have to say he didn’t get upset, but I could see the panic in his face. Luckily, we found two seats facing the right way and moved. Once settled all was well.

The actual tunnel through the channel only goes for about 20 minutes but was still exciting. Brodie watched “Madagascar” on his DVD player, and we took a walk to the café carriage for the experience.

For a reason, only Brodie knows when we did arrive in Paris, he threw himself to the ground and started banging his head (I received a few hits too). However, he made a quick recovery. A fellow passenger who sat in front of us on the train felt the need to come up and reassure us; we were doing a fantastic job Brodie and added that her grandson had autism. I thanked her and replied that at times like these. We wondered whether we are crazy for traveling with him around the world. She reassured me we were giving Brodie unusual experiences. Her answer brought tears to my eyes.

Taking Autistic Kids To Paris eiffel

Photo Credit-Zoe Sandell

Paris!

So we finally arrived at Paris-city of lights. My first impression was I needed to hold onto my handbags and watch my pockets! There were posted signs all over the station warning travelers of pickpockets. We were approached by several girls pretending to be collecting donations for disabled kids.

Finding our next train (the regional RER) was quite an ordeal too.We needed to get change for the ticket machine. My dad (who was traveling with us) had me worried when he headed off with some young boys trying to sell used train tickets as a scam! Our older son, Harley as I have mentioned before was a superstar – fantastic at helping work out which lifts we needed to take and where the train platforms were.

The train (when we found it) took us directly to the Eiffel Tower. If you want to go to the top of the Tower. I would advise you to book tickets in advance to skip the long lines at the register. The caveat was that we arrived too early for our time slot, so we were stuck sitting around waiting. So we passed the time getting lunch and some souvenirs. A few trips to the restroom and we were ready to hit the line up (yes, there was a separate one for the pre-booked tickets)

Visiting the Eiffel Tower

Going to the top of the Eiffel Tower isn’t as easy as it may sound! Many times the weather can be windy or cold, so they close the top off to visitors. Some days the top may be open, but there is no view if it is cloudy.

On the day we visited, it was a perfect! At one point during our lining up, the sign said the top of the tower was closed due to congestion, so we weren’t sure if we would make it! Congestion also meant elevator rides with hoards of strangers, but Brodie managed to behave wonderfully on both elevators (first and second levels).Certainly worth a ride on the carousel as a reward afterwards! The view was incredible, and just the fact that we had a child with severe Autism ON THE TOP of the Eiffel Tower was enough to blow our minds!

The train back from the Eiffel tower to the central train station where we had left our bags was incredibly crowded too. We squeezed onto the train, and there was a woman in front of me with a pusher with a small child in it and another young child holding onto it. She kept saying to me “no space, no space” while people behind me were still pushing me forward into her so that they could get onboard.

At this point, I was expecting Brodie to lose it! But no he dealt with being a human sardine so well!  You just cannot imagine the amount of people on that metro train.As we got off more and more people just piled onto the train, and all I could think was that woman, and her small children were still in there somewhere!

Taking Autistic Kids to Paris disneyland

Photo credit-Zoe Sandell

We picked up our bags from the lockers and boarded the train to Disneyland  Paris ( quite far from the actual city ).It was at that point Brodie said “you know what, I’ve had enough”  and proceeded to lie down on the floor in the station and cry!

By this point, we had all pretty tired and were relieved when we arrived at our apartment one train stop away from Euro Disneyland. It was almost magical to put Brodie to bed that night and show him in his social story where he would be going to the next morning.

Disneyland Paris

EuroDisneyland was incredible! We had a marvelous time riding the rides for two days straight.We decided NOT to hire a wheelchair for Brodie but did buy him a well deserved “Mickey Mouse” balloon for walking that long.

What we did get was Disney’s disability access pass. This is incredible and if you ever take autistic kids to Disneyland, do get one of these (we also did it in Los Angeles). The staff in EuroDisney was helpful but this time, we did have to show a doctor’s note stating Brodie had Autism. The last time we visited he was in his wheelchair, so we didn’t have to do that. The pass was easy to get and cast members were only too happy to explain how it worked.

The pass works a little different in Paris than in Los Angeles. In L.A, you walk up to the exit and wait until they have a spot to put you on the ride thus avoiding the line. In fact, we could all go with Brodie on the ride which was great, so we could all stay together. In EuroDisney, each ride had a number next to it, and this was the number of people plus Brodie, who could use the exit to access the ride. There are some rides where you could go to the exit and book a time to come back and do that ride. No matter, matter the systems it meant lines were shorter, which helped us get to the parks quicker! Honestly, we didn’t even have to use the pass so much since most weren’t that long, but we still liked having it as an option.

What a wonderful initiative from Disneyland -we can’t thank them enough for making our lives easier!

Taking Autistic Kids to Paris castle

Photo credit-Zoe Sandell

Our Mentionable  EuroDisney Highlights are:

Dad noticed that one of the rollercoasters was going to close the following day for maintenance, so we went across to Disneyworld and had three turns on that one before it closed the next day.
The Tower of Terror was Harley’s and my favorite in LA, and I think this time it turned into Brodie’s favorite too.It features a sharp drop.Here  I’m sitting telling Tim to hold onto to Brodie since he doesn’t know it is about to drop.I the meanwhile Brodie is pushing Tim’s hands away and as soon as the ride drops-Brodie lets out a hilarious giggle and signs he wants more as soon as it was done.Totally priceless! Of course, I had to buy them both a Tower of Terror T-shirt!
I don’t remember the official name, but we called it the turtle rollercoaster ride. It featured a character from “Finding Nemo” based on the turtles riding the East Australian Current.  This ride was a “kids” rollercoaster, but it was quite extreme (a part we forgot to mention to mum before she had a turn on it.)
We enjoyed lunch in “pizza planet”, watched some shows and a Parade.AAfter all, you can’t go to Disneyland and not see a Parade!

Sacre Coeur and Montmartre

The third day after visiting  “the largest shopping mall you have ever seen” and an adjacent “sea life” park, we enjoyed a short cruise on the Seine.Mum and I decided to take the boys for a walk to the famous church of Montmartre, Sacre-Coeur.The walk was a little scary at times but fascinating.We liked the cable car ride up the hill.As we entered the Church, we saw the signs asking visitors to keep quiet. We were half way through our tour and remembered thinking to myself that  Brodie must have known he has to be quiet since he was so good. The very next minute he made one of the loudest noises he possibly could!  Harley and I both told him to stop which further set him off.Guess he enjoyed our reaction so much he decided to do an encore.Needless to say, we all made a very quick exit.Later that evening we re-joined the men and caught the EuroStar back to London.

Taking Autistic Kids to Paris city

photo credit-Zoe Sandell

I can safely say we officially rocked Paris!

Tips for Successful Family Reunions with Autism

The summer vacation is here and with it, invitations to family gatherings and reunions.
For many of us, family gatherings mean happy celebrations and the creation of beautiful memories but for families with autism, they can spell meltdowns and stress.
Since several parents have asked me for tips to help their kids with autism attend family reunions, I decided to compile a short list of the ten best for parents to bookmark, save and share with others.

 

Tips for Successful Family Reunions with Autism family

Introduce your family

Take the time to sit with your kid and introduce him/her to the people they would be meeting at the reunion.
Sharing old family photographs and family stories ( though not the embarrassing ones as they might mention those at inappropriate moments) is a fun and easy way to engage kids of all ages.

Choose appropriate accommodations

If your child is noise sensitive, resist the temptation to stay in jam -packed homes of relatives hosting multiple visiting family members and try to find one who can offer you a spare bedroom and quieter environment.
A better solution if you can afford it is to stay at a nearby hotel where you and your family can relax and get away from all the excitement.

Recognize limitations

You should scrutinize the reunion itinerary and find ways to adapt it to your child’s schedule and ability.
Sometimes it is better to have your child skip events you think they won’t be able to handle than deal with public meltdowns when they are exhausted for the day or experiencing sensory overload.

Get additional help

Don’t be embarrassed about asking other family members, friends or even hiring someone to help with your child while you are attending events so you too, can have a good time.

Promote  family bonding

Invite one or two favorite family members to join you on a daily fun outing to a park, movie theater or even a fast-food joint to help your child get to know them better and eventually feel more comfortable during family gatherings.

Bring  your entertainment

Pack toys, games, and electronics that can occupy your child not only on the way to the reunion but during some of the events. If you decide to bring electronic devices, consider investing in an extra recharge cord and an extended life battery in case you forget to recharge the tablet overnight or lose the cable.

 

Clarify  your food options

If your child is a picky eater or on a special diet, make sure you know what the food options are ahead of time and prepare accordingly. In the event lunch or dinner is planned at a family member’s home; let the host know what your child’s allergies and dislikes are.
If restaurant dining is planned-call the venue ahead or check their menu online to find out what dishes would be suitable for your kid.

Arrive a few days ahead

Start your vacation earlier and arrive at the destination, at least, a day even two ahead as many people with autism need extra time to ‘settle in’ and get accustomed to new surroundings.

Forget the dress code

Forcing your kid to wear formal clothes or the customary reunion T-shirt for several hours just to take that family portrait might sound good in theory but might easily trigger behavioral problems in reality.
If your kid suffers from sensory issues letting them wear what they find most comfortable even if it somewhat torn or stained might be the wise way to go.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

Remember nothing’s perfect so no matter how much you’ll plan small incidents might still happen -do your best to relax and enjoy this is a special time with your extended family.

Have you taken your child with autism to a family reunion? Share your story and

Share your story and tips.

 

 

Q&A with Dr Stephen Mark Shore- Autism Advocate


Dr. Stephen Mark Shore was a typically developing child until around 18 months old, when he was, in his words,“ hit with the autism bomb”.
He became nonverbal, but due to the early intervention by his parents, his speech ability began to return at the age of four.
Refuting the doctors recommendations for institutionalization, his parents continued their intervention to help their son in his schooling and life.
Nowadays, Stephen is an internationally renowned author, an Autism and Asperger Syndrome advocate, and a professor of Special Education at Adelphi University.
I recently had the honor of interviewing Dr. Shore about his travel experiences.

 

Q&A with Dr Stephen Mark Shore- Autism Advocate and Author japan

How do you prepare for a trip to a place you have never been before?

I get my trip arrangements made well in advance, and I try, as much as possible, to plan ahead to avoid extra layers of hassle that might arise.Since most of my travels are business related (conferences and speaking engagements), I will ask the organizers for someone to pick me at the airport and drive me to the hotel, so I don’t get lost. Sometimes you need to advocate for yourself and ask for that extra help.

For example, when I went to Paris to speak at a conference, the organizers suggested I take the subway. I knew it would was noisy and a sensory overload. Additionally, since I did not know French, there was a high probability of getting lost.Therefore, I requested my hosts to provide transportation (or, at least, send someone to go with me on the subway if need to be).

Staying within my comfort zone is important to me, so I try to prepare for transitions by researching visual aids, like videos, on the Internet. I found that especially important for countries where the food and atmosphere are so odoriferous and different like Thailand or India.

Most of all, I know my limitations, and if I do need help I will ask for it!

What are your preferred methods of transportation?

I’ve tried many different types of transportation depending on where I’m going. Trains are excellent as they provide more space and legroom. They don’t require any seat belts, and there is no restriction on when you can get up and stretch, which is always a major plus for me.

I do drive occasionally, but never internationally. Unfortunately, renting a car while you travel comes with two additional layers of uncertainty –when you rent the car as well as when you return it.There is also added unpredictability with road conditions where the car can break down, and that you can get still lost even with a GPS system.
I also have to say I do like cruises as an option since, in addition to providing comfortable transportation, there are additional fun activities to help occupy your time while you travel.

Q&A with Dr Stephen Mark Shore- Autism Advocate and Author parrots

 What is your packing philosophy – over pack or under pack?

I would call myself an under packer.  I like traveling light with only carry-on. I don’t want to deal with lost luggage or have to wait extra time around the conveyor belt especially after long haul flights. I agree to travel with carry-on luggage does have its limitations, so I have my “bag of tricks” for how to bring on stuff I need and somewhat bypass weight limitations.

My two favorite tricks are putting items I need for my flight (like a jacket, book, drink, and snack) in a separate plastic bag and wearing a Scottevest that has multiple pockets to carry electronics and extra stuff. Sometimes I take an extra backpack that I can later pack in my carry-on. I’ve also learned to leave certain things like heavy shoes at home and take lighter substitutes like sandals most of the time.

What is the one electronic device you refuse to travel without?

I travel with multiple electronics, all of which I use. Nowadays I use an iPhone since it can multitask, and a laptop for my work.

The one place on a plane you won’t sit in?

I avoid the very back next to the toilets, where it smells and passengers either leans on your seat or bump into you while waiting their turn.

What is your favorite pastime on the plane?

I don’t have a favorite pastime per se. I do the usual mix of reading working and watching movies.

Q&A with Dr Stephen Mark Shore- Autism Advocate and Author australia

 

Which hotel amenities do you look for when making your lodging arrangement?

There are distinct features I always look for. A non-smoking room is important, as, outside the U.S., many properties still permit rooms smoking. Abroad, that sometimes means they just aired the room after the previous occupant smoked in there. Noise can also be an issue – anything from elevators, a wall unit A/C or even a refrigerator can bother may be people with autism, so noise proof walls are a plus.As a frequent traveler, I also appreciate properties that offer chemical free rooms, decent water pressure, and soft bedding.

If money was no object, what would be your top criteria for selecting a hotel at a destination?

It would depend on if I were looking for a boutique or chain hotel. I would get one close to the attractions or landmarks. Another feature I look for is for hotels to be close to outside food venues, so you don’t depend on pricey hotel restaurants or cabs to go anywhere.

Many hotel chains are now trying to cater to travelers with autism. What would be your tips to make their properties more “autism friendly”?

One of the most overlooked things is the cleaning process, which usually involves powerful chemicals. An autistic room should be cleaned with chemical-free products to minimize allergies, and have soft bedding, noise proof walls, and is away from the elevators.Many travelers with autism now use iPads and other electronic devices, so several outlets in the room are useful.

How has traveling made a difference in your life?

 It made me more aware of cultural differences. I try to promote autism awareness and get in contact with different autism organizations worldwide wherever I go.
One of the things I like to do, especially on Friday night is look up the local Habad House in the various countries and attend their Friday night services. That gives me a sense of familiarity and belonging to the community.

Q&A with Dr Stephen Mark Shore- Autism Advocate and Author chabad

 Why would you recommend traveling with a child on the autism spectrum in spite the challenges?

 I think it is important for kids with autism to be exposed to as many different situations as possible, so travel is an important tool Parents can use to educate their children. However, I would like to advise them to plan their trips in detail and allow adequate transition periods between activities to avoid sensory overloads and possible meltdowns.

 

 

 

Q&A with Donna Ciccia Parent and Nutritionist

 

 

What made you chose a skiing vacation for your family?

We wanted to have a family “White Christmas” experience.
Coming from Australia, we only get hot summer Christmas’. My mother wished to experience a traditional White Christmas, and we decided to include skiing with this experience.

 Q&A with Donna Ciccia Autism Parent & Homeopathic Nutritionist forest


How did you prepare your son for the trip?


We didn’t do all that much for preparation. We pointed out what snow looked like, described to him that it would be cold and showed him movies of skiing and showed him pictures of places we would be visiting. He was looking forward to going to the Intrepid & F.A.O Schwartz in New York after skiing.

 Q&A with Donna Ciccia Autism Parent & Homeopathic Nutritionist stairs


Did you buy your son anything in particular for the trip?

We purchased a lot of warm clothes & ski goggles & tried everything on to get the feel of it.

 Q&A with Donna Ciccia Autism Parent & Homeopathic Nutritionist sled


How did your son react to climate change?

He was not used to the cold but adapted very well.
The school helper ‘Nanna Barbara‘ knitted all the kids beanies (hat) as a Christmas present and it worked well for us as he was excited to wear it.

 

 Q&A with Donna Ciccia Autism Parent & Homeopathic Nutritionist ski


Did you ask for any food accommodations?

No, as he will try most things and has no allergies. We were traveling with a lot of kids, so we knew we would be eating to accommodate them all.

 Q&A with Donna Ciccia Autism Parent & Homeopathic Nutritionist ice cream


How did your son adapt to the clothing and equipment needed for skiing?

We were lucky that he adapted well with all of the changes in clothing & climate. He was excited to get his ski’s & helmet etc.

Did any other family members/friends join you and help out?

We had all my family with us. My parents,  brothers,  sister and their families. So all sixteen of us traveled together.

 Q&A with Donna Ciccia Autism Parent & Homeopathic Nutritionist dinner


How do you find any time for yourself during vacation?

We had this as a family vacation although we did split up into groups on numerous occasions. We all traveled from Sydney to Beijing (transfer only) and then onto Vancouver. We spent a week in Vancouver and then all traveled together in a privately hired bus to Kelowna & Big White Ski Resort for ten days. Some family members returned to Australia; others went to Seattle, and some stayed at Big White for another month. We then traveled with my parents to New York and met up with some other family members there. We spent another six days in New York and two nights in Beijing on the way home.

 Q&A with Donna Ciccia Autism Parent & Homeopathic Nutritionist christmas


How did your son enjoy the experience?

He loved every minute of it!

What do you think he got out of the experience?

Every time we travel he matures and is curious about different places and is always asking “Can we go there next?”

 Q&A with Donna Ciccia Autism Parent & Homeopathic Nutritionist nyc


Would you consider doing this again and why?

This vacation was a once in a lifetime trip- we traveled for one month which was fabulous but may be a hard thing to pull off again anytime soon.

Best moment on the trip?

Too many to just name one.

 Q&A with Donna Ciccia Autism Parent & Homeopathic Nutritionist china


Worst moment on the trip?

Hurting my knee skiing so I could ski with the rest of the family.

 

If you had the chance for a do-over; what would it be?

Stay longer on the East coast of the US so we could explore more places. Maybe that’s the next trip.

 Q&A with Donna Ciccia Autism Parent & Homeopathic Nutritionist beijing

 

Why Fly with TAM Airlines

When I made plans to fly from Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, I decided to book my flight with TAM Airlines because it is part of the well-trusted Star Alliance .*
We had never flown with them before, so I did not know what to expect when I booked my flight.Much to my surprise, I found the entire process to be smooth and efficient.

I was (pleasantly) surprised time and again by the friendliness and the employee’s knowledge of autism and willingness to accommodate our needs.

 

The booking process

I found the TAM Airlines website to be surprisingly user-friendly, and I had no issue with the booking process. When my plans needed to be changed, I called their customer service to help me change my reservation and fly out of Montevideo instead.

I was very happy with how quickly my call was answered, and my flight changes were dealt with. I also notified the booking agent of my son’s disability and asked for aisle seating and pre-boarding.

Why Fly with TAM Airlines gate

At the airport

Upon our arrival at Montevideo airport, we realized that TAM Airlines provides a special, shorter line for passengers with a disability, depending on the day’s flight schedule.

The airline representative at the TAM check-in was very friendly, and once she heard about my son’s disability, she even volunteered to put a note on our reservation that we would need help at our destination! After traveling for over a decade with an autistic son, I was genuinely impressed by the representative’s autism awareness and knowledge about how to accommodate the needs of the autistic traveler.
This attitude of friendliness and helpfulness continued at the gate with our pre-boarding, which we found to be very helpful and made the whole process very stress-free.

A much appreciated “special touch” was allowing us to use the airport lounge free of charge, where you could sit or even lie down and rest while waiting for your flight.

Why Fly with TAM Airlines lounge

On the flight

The flight boarded smoothly, and the plane left on time, which is always a plus. The Airbus 320’s economy section was divided into two rows of three seats each; with sufficient space in the middle to pass by even if you are carrying luggage.
The luggage bins were medium to large sized, so we were able to store our 20-inch carry-on bags and personal bags with no problems.

The red and tan fabric seats in economy, though lightly padded, were pretty comfortable to sit on. The temperature control was adequate, so we did not have to use any blankets.

Why Fly with TAM Airlines seats

Onboard service

On what is a rather short flight of two and a half hours to Rio de Janeiro, TAM Airlines served a delicious ham and cheese sandwich on wheat bread, with grilled pepper and tomatoes.
The beverage choices are all free and included fruit juices (my son LOVED the mango juice) and, to our surprise, wines, beers and hard liquor.

While waiting for the restroom, I saw the flight attendants running back and forth replenishing people’s (including my son with special needs) drinks continuously!

The crew also answered all of our son’s questions in a polite AND extremely friendly manner, and frequently checked in to make sure our son was comfortable. I’d like to extend a special thank you to Monica and Xavier!

Why Fly with TAM Airlines food

Autism travel tips

After notifying the airline in advance of our son’s diagnosis of autism, the representatives at Montevideo airport showed great autism awareness and suggested additional tips to help us with our flight.
Furthermore, one of the people I spoke with knew quite a bit about autism and how to help passengers with disabilities, including knowledge about the gluten free special diets.

You should bring electronic devices and or toys to entertain your child since there are no personal entertainment systems, only overhead TV screens every few rows that broadcast a foreign movie in Portuguese.

 

Why Fly with TAM Airlines drinks

Have you ever flown with TAM Airlines? What was your experience?

 

*It has been announced in March 2013 that TAM will leave the Star Alliance in the second quarter of 2014 and join  Oneworld upon departure.

 

 

Pin It on Pinterest