Our Plane Etiquette Tips for Parents of Children with Autism

 

Our Plane Etiquette Tips

In today’s travel world, space on aircraft is extremely restricted. Therefore, people on the autism spectrum might find flying more challenging than other modes of transportation. Parents and educators should impart basic etiquette rules so that their children can interact better with their fellow flyers. Here are some situations we’ve dealt with while flying, and how we’ve managed them.

Armrest Battles

The dilemma of how to divide four armrests between three is hard enough to figure out between adults. However, it is even more difficult to explain to children with autism. These kids often have a different innate sense of appropriate social cues and personal space from a neurotypical person.

Our Plane Etiquette Tips for Parents of Children with Autism seat

To bypass the conundrum, we’ve always tried to choose an aisle or window seat for our children. This way, they can use one complete armrest and get some extra space to lean against comfortably.

Kicking Seats

Many children with autism like to stim, and seat kicking on airplanes is one of the most common stim methods. Despite our many attempts to curb this behavior, our son tends to shake his legs on flights rhythmically. His leg shaking inevitably disturbs fellow passengers.

Our solution, which we recommend to other families, has been to book bulk seats when possible. When we can’t do this, we reserve two consecutive aisle seats, one in front of the other, so that we can sit front of him.

Our Plane Etiquette Tips for Parents of Children with Autism seats

Headphones

Many travelers like our son enjoy the onboard entertainment channels. Our son can become so engrossed that he do not remove his headphones at any time during the flight. However, for a child with autism, this can result in speaking excessively loudly and disturbing those who wish to sleep or work quietly.

To prevent this, parents should teach their child to remove their headphones when they need to communicate.

Our Plane Etiquette Tips for Parents of Children with Autism window

Trash

In the past, our son loved hoarding items like newspapers, napkins, and empty glasses around his sitting area. He often created a mess and obscured personal valuables which he later lost.

After years of training and several lost I-Pods our son learned the responsibility of keeping his seating area tidy. For other parents, it is important to teach children always to throw away what isn’t needed and keep an eye on personal belongings.

Our Plane Etiquette Tips for Parents of Children with Autism red

Aisle Space

On many flights, passengers waiting in the aisle for a turn to use the restroom tend to slouch or lean over the seated passengers in the back rows. This situation can especially happen with children with autism due to how they typically understand personal space differently from those who do not have autism.

To help a child avoid an awkward or aggressive situation, parents should suggest they use the bathroom before meals are served and an hour before landing. This way, their child will not be taking up space where people are already traveling and will have plenty of room to lean somewhere other than over other people.

Our Plane Etiquette Tips for Parents of Children with Autism space

Beverage Spills

Spills can happen at any time, especially if a child has poor motor skills and is trying to move around in a tight space. Children traveling on a plane for the first time might also not be used to maneuvering in the smaller quarters.

To minimize the chance of spills happening, we’ve taught our son not to ask for the entire can and only order a small glass of beverage each time. We encourage him to drink each glass as soon as possible instead of having it stay in the tray or cup holder for any length of time.

Overhead Bin

As our son grew older and wanted to help us with the luggage, we faced the challenge of teaching him how to do it safely. He would often misjudge where the luggage was going to land and hit other passengers on the way down.

Our Plane Etiquette Tips for Parents of Children with Autism bin

Instead of him trying hard to “guess-estimate” the distance between the suitcase and fellow passengers’ heads, he now provides a friendly verbal warning to make sure that no one gets hurt when he pulls his bag down from the overhead bin. We highly recommend other families teach their children with autism to do the same.

 

Have you flown with your special needs child? If so, what etiquette tips have you shared with them?

Our Plane Etiquette Tips for Parents of Children with Autism plane

 

 

 

Create Family Memories with Lucky Charms Pops

 

As a Parent of two sons, one of which has Create Family Memories with Lucky Charms Pops pinactivities that would help my son’s overall fine motor coordination.

One of the biggest challenges that we faced as a family was that we traveled quite often, and our son with autism naturally joined us. We noticed that he was very enthusiastic about touching various textures and surfaces in nearly every place we’ve traveled to. We were not always in an environment where touching was possible or safe, so in an effort to give him a tactile outlet, I turned to food as a motivator. I have to say that it worked like a charm.

Our son even’ let go’ off his sensory defenses and agreed to touch all sorts of things that under normal circumstances he would refuse to. We were amazed to see that anything; even the sticky and gooey messes didn’t deter him, as long as he could enjoy the end product as something edible later.

How our tradition started.

The very first recipe that we tried in our family was actually in a self-catering Timeshare apartment in Hawaii over a decade ago. On a rainy afternoon when the kids were bored and getting antsy, I decided to try out my friend’s recipe for non-bake granola pops to see how my son would do after purchasing a family sized box at our local Walmart store.

As he is an avid fan of Lucky Charms Cereal because of the marshmallows and shapes, and peanut butter we always made sure we had an extra box and jar with us. My friend’s recipe originally called for dates, but I substituted the granola and dates for my son’s favorite cereal and peanut butter; which seemed would be perfect for my experiment.

The afternoon turned out to be a huge success because both of our kids tried their hands at it.

They loved mixing the sticky mess made by warm peanut butter and sugar, then adding the cereal in, molding the balls, dipping them in chocolate and of course eating them.
They didn’t even mind the waiting time for the pops to set in the fridge.

It was so successful in fact that this became somewhat of a family tradition with us.To this day, we still carry a Family sized Lucky Charms box with us every time we go on a road trip together or know we will stay in a timeshare.

This week  El Día de Los Niños, which is The Day of the Child, is celebrated in Mexico and in honor of this special day, I’m sharing this recipe with you so in turn your family can create wonderful memories with your family. If you are looking for additional inspiration there are delicious recipes on  the quericavida  website and on this Día de Los Niños Pinterest Board you can try.

Recipe for Lucky Charm No-bake Pops

*You will need a working stove top and refrigerator for this recipe.

The ingredients:

1 cup light corn syrup

1 cup sugar

1 ¼ cups peanut butter 

6 cups Lucky Charms cereal 

1 bag (12 oz) white chocolate chips (2 cups),

1 bag (12 oz ) dark chocolate chips 2 cups

32 Lollipop sticks

 

 

 

Create Family Memories with Lucky Charms Pops peanut butter

Directions

 In a 4- to 5-quart Dutch oven, heat corn syrup and sugar to boiling over medium-high heat, stirring constantly.
Cook until sugar is dissolved; remove from heat. Add 1 cup of the peanut butter; stir until smooth.

Create Family Memories with Lucky Charms Pops clusters

When it is cold to the touch, add Lucky Charm cereal; mix well. Grease a baking tray.
Break off walnut-sized portions of the Lucky Charm mixture, roll into a ball and place on the baking tray.

Create Family Memories with Lucky Charms Pops balls

Have water in a saucer to prevent your hands from getting sticky while working with the mix.
Place a lollipop stick upright into the middle of each ball. Place the tray in the fridge for half an hour.

Create Family Memories with Lucky Charms Pops sticks

 In a 2-quart saucepan over low heat, melt the white chocolate chips with remaining 1/4 cup peanut butter, stirring constantly.

Create Family Memories with Lucky Charms Pops chocolate chips

 


Create Family Memories with Lucky Charms Pops melted chocolate

Create Family Memories with Lucky Charms Pops dark chocolate

Dip each Lucky Charm Pop into the mixture and return to the greased baking sheet.
Refrigerate about 30 minutes or cool completely at room temperature until chocolate is set.
Repeat steps for the dark colocate.

Create Family Memories with Lucky Charms Pops final pops

For this post; I made two batches of this recipe substituting dark chocolate for white in the 2nd batch just for some variety, but you can use just one type if you want to speed up the process.
Once these are set, they should be kept cool.

Create Family Memories with Lucky Charms Pops diagonal cut

I have to say that this recipe is incredibly easy and after ten years of making it, my sons still love to help roll out the pops.
It is budget-friendly with few ingredients and suitable for children of all ages. I even have to hide these from my husband who can eat several in one sitting.
Clean up is a breeze so parents need not  stress over kids messing up the kitchen, and as long as there is an adult to supervise the stove-top, it is completely safe too.
This makes it a great treat to take camping or on road trips.They travel exceptionally well if kept in  Ziplocs in a thermal bag with ice packs.

Do you have any unique recipes that you enjoy making with your kids? Share with us.

This is a sponsored post by General Mills Big G Cereals via Acorn Influence.  All opinions are my own.   

Q&A with Beth Henry of Cloud Surfing Kids

 

Beth Henry is a flight attendant and a busy mom of two energetic kids. On her website, Cloud Surfing Kids, she shares tips for flying with kids., based on her professional and parental experiences.
Beth has always had a keen interest in child development and psychology and is fascinated with how her daughter, Ella’s mind works. (Ella is a Sensory Seeker and has ADHD: hyper-focus. )
This month we sat down with Beth to hear more about how parents can help their kids with sensory integration challenges enjoy travel better.

Q&A with Beth Henry of Cloud Surfing Kids flying

Photo credit Beth Henry

How did you start traveling? 

My very first flight was when I moved from Kansas to Texas at age six. I don’t remember anything about it except that my ears hurt so bad while the aircraft was descending that the flight attendant gave me “Mickey Mouse ears” (Styrofoam cups with hot towels inside) to help with the pain. Nowadays, that remedy is no longer recommended as it has been proven as unhelpful and a risk of getting burned.

The next time I flew, I was at fifteen when I got to go on a school trip to Australia! That experience triggered the desire to travel for me.

After several travel opportunities with school—to South Australia, Hawaii, Seattle, Chicago,  and Moscow, Russia, I recognized the joys of exploring new places and meeting people from different backgrounds. In my early twenties, I had the plan to move from city to city every six, so I could explore and get a real feel of the place.  I just wanted to soak in the culture and rhythm of different destinations.
I never got a chance to follow through with that plan, but now as a flight attendant, I get to experience different cities just as I had desired.

Why is it important for you to travel?

I believe that travel helps make people more flexible in life
It helps us better understand other people and cultures. It also helps us appreciate the comforts of home.

 

Q&A with Beth Henry of Cloud Surfing Kids tree

Photo credit Beth Henry

 

How has traveling with special- needs changed your travel style?

My seven-year-old daughter, Ella has Sensory Processing Disorder and ADHD (over-focused). She was not diagnosed with these until recently, so I didn’t realize I was experiencing anything different than other travelers when I traveled with her. I would get compliments from other passengers about how attentive and understanding I was with her, but I didn’t realize it was unique.

Her additional needs don’t change how we travel; it just means I need to prepare more than others might.
For instance, where other kids might be okay with just one small toy to keep them occupied for a long meal, she needs to have a good variety of activities.
I feel like the way I prepare for travel would benefit all parents, whether or not their child has special needs.

Fondest memory from travel would be?

My daughter, Ella’s excitement each time we take off and land. She yells, “HIT THE BRAKES!” when we touch down.

Do you share your child’s  disability with other people?

Sometimes I do mention that she has “sensory issues” if I know there will be something that will bother her, or if I need to explain her behavior if she is reacting to sensory overload.
I don’t usually tell people in advance since her meltdowns rarely happen in public.

Girl with family Q&A with Beth Henry of Cloud Surfing Kids

Photo credit Beth Henry

Any tips to avoid kids from getting  ‘sensory overloaded’ during traveling?

I am lucky that Ella is a sensory ‘seeker’, not a sensory ‘avoider’.
So, most things in our travel day are exciting to her.
I try to help her stay balanced by incorporating lots of proprioceptive activities in our day.
I always have supplies with me that can help calm her if she gets upset. Chewing gum, playing with Play-Doh, holding a soft stuffed animal, listening to music, and snacks all contribute to keeping her calm.
I try to read her closely to avoid sensory overload, but when she does have a meltdown, the fastest way to calm her is to give her something to eat. Even two M&M’s will sometimes help her gain control of herself again and then we can address what is causing the sensory overload.

Items you would never leave home without are?

A change of clothes, diaper wipes, snacks, bubbles, water bottle or straw cup.

What do you do when stuck in the airport?

If there is a lengthy delay, I buy a day pass to the Airline Club Lounge. There we have a less chaotic atmosphere, nice bathrooms, snacks, and sometimes a kid’s room. It is worth every penny because it helps keeps everyone in the family more relaxed.
Other things we do to make things fun during a delay are:  ride the airport train, explore the art (or even advertisements) throughout the airport, or look for a children’s play area if they have one.

Girl Smiling Q&A with Beth Henry of Cloud Surfing Kids

Photo Credit Beth Henry

What are your best strategies to lessen kids’ anxieties on flights?

 We always bring a plush blanket, plush stuffed toy, headphones with a  music player, chewing gum and chewy candy to help maintain a calm feeling on the aircraft.
As Ella has been on over 200 flights, she doesn’t experience anxiety over flying, but if she is having an “off” day, the sensory overload can make the flight challenging.
Distraction works best for her if she starts to get upset, so I always bring a large variety of snacks and toys. Bubbles are my “emergency” tool to help her relax. I always pack a tiny bottle of bubbles.

What would be your ideal hotel room?

Mmm, that would be a  two-bedroom suite with kitchenette and black out curtains.
Ella doesn’t eat much, but it would be helpful to be able to keep the basic foods I know she’ll eat in the hotel room. Until she was four and a half, she would wake at the first hint of light, which was hard to us as parents. Luckily, she now will sleep past dawn if she’s still tired.

On your trips do you go or avoid ‘touristy’ attractions?

I love to explore ‘touristy’ attractions!
But since my daughter enjoys a visit to the pet store nearly as much as Disney World (okay, not quite that much, but maybe as much as the zoo), I don’t rush to experience everything all at once.
I remind myself there is plenty of time in the future to do things like NYC Times Square at night, which would be way too much sensory input for her right now.

How do you keep memories alive for your kids after the trip is over?

Photographs are the best since they keep us talking about our adventures year after year. I try to put them into photo books but haven’t since my son was born 2.5 years ago.

Beth Henry, a busy mom and flight attendant shares her best tips how to help kids with sensory disorders enjoy their travels better.

Photo credit Beth Henry

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

Say Yes to the Global Entry Program

This month’s ‘Ask Margalit’ section deals with the Global Entry program that the TSA  has recently launched in the United States and whether it presents and any benefits for the autism community.

Hi, Margalit.

 “I’m writing from Ohio. I travel quite a bit here in the US and sometimes abroad. I have a daughter who has autism, and I would love to be able to take her with me on some of my trips, but one of the things that put me off is the long lines and waiting times in the airports. Her meltdowns are not good for her or anybody else. Have you made use of the Global Entry Program? Would you recommend it? I would appreciate any information you have.”

Thanks in advance,
Sally

Dear Sally,Say Yes to the Global Entry Program line

I am glad you asked about the Global Entry Program. The program is entirely suited for special needs families and those with autism benefit.
I wholeheartedly recommend and endorse it.

We have used it for both domestic and international flights for the past two years, and it has improved our travel experience so much!

Instead of standing in the Customs and Border Patrol lines, there are quick self-check kiosks which have been so helpful for our son with autism. It eliminates the extended wait, and if there is any difficulty with the kiosk, there are officers there to resolve them.

What helps us is that we get access to the TSA Pre-check benefits so we don’t have to remove clothing items and can also keep our medicines, electronic goods, and medicines in our carry-on luggage – all things which can contribute to a meltdown. Even during busy times, the lines are shorter.

The price is reasonable and considering that the TSA pre-check program is $85 per person, it made sense to me to pay the extra $15 to have access to both the programs. I wholeheartedly recommend this program for anyone that travels as it saves so much time when you enter back into the US from an international destination.

The process is simple- It entailed an application online, and then in less than a month we received notification via e-mail to come for interviews.
Interviews are scheduled at your local office at your convenience but be aware there might be a wait now that summer vacations are being planned.
The interview process is ten minutes long, and all we needed to do was answer a few questions and get fingerprinted.
Prepare your daughter with autism for that but it shouldn’t be a big deal. A week later we got the email notification that we were approved and a few weeks after that we received the actual card in the mail. Once you are registered in the system you don’t even need to carry the real card but some do as a second form of identification. It is valid for 5 years, and totally worth it if you fly more than once a year.

For us the approval process was very quick.A week later we got the email notification that we were approved and a few weeks after that we received the actual card in the mail. Once you are registered in the system you don’t even need to carry the real card but some do as a second form of identification.
It is valid for 5 years, and totally worth it if you fly more than once a year.

Have you tried the Global Entry program yet?
What were your experiences?

 

 

 

 

Is United Airlines Really Discriminating Against Autism?

It’s May 2015, and here we are yet again faced with a story about airlines and autism.
In the past year, it seems that these stories have increased in number and taken on a life of their own.

Contributing to the cause of this phenomenon is the media outlets’ exposure as well as the fact people have actually increased their autism awareness.

At this point, if you are the parent of a child with autism, you might consider unsubscribing from my site, and I would understand; nevertheless, I am asking you to hear me out before you decide.

United airlines

What we do know 

This story is about a mom who took her high-functioning daughter with autism on two connecting flights: Orlando-Houston and Houston-Portland. According to the mom, the family has gone on many trips before so one naturally assumes there is a level of flight experience there.

After unsuccessfully trying to convince her daughter to dine in Houston airport, they proceeded to board a 4.5 hours United flight. The child was hungry, and there were seemingly no supplies or provisions for her need.

During the flight, the mother repeatedly asked the flight crew for a hot meal for her daughter. The sandwich offered to her and that she purchased from the regular economy meals was refused by the daughter.
The mother who has an advanced degree in communication then happened to mention how the child would scratch either herself or others if she didn’t get food, so she proceeded to demand a steaming hot meal from First Class even though she had paid for and was sitting in Economy. The mother is a seasoned traveler (platinum status ) on United which means she has flown 75k miles this year alone so she must know that you can’t purchase the food from First Class and that the portions are limited.What she was basically asking the crew to do was to break airline rules and perhaps deprive a full paying fellow traveler of their dinner.

Fast forward over 20-30 minutes of commotion; a meal from first class was served, the girl managed to calm down, but the flight was diverted to Utah where the family was escorted off the plane and put on a different flight at the expense of United to transport them home.

The mother proceeded to make a huge fuss; going on numerous morning talk shows saying that she plans to sue the airline for discrimination.

Regarding food

United like most airlines has a Disability Desk one can contact before flying. It is there specifically for advice and special accommodations.
While There are several choices passengers can purchase when flying in economy class; the food served in business or first class is not purchasable. Never was!

Also; Houston Airport is a large airport with multiple eateries that passengers can either dine in or take out to bring on flights.

What we don’t know

Did the mother notify the airline that her daughter with special needs needed a unique accommodation which is a hot meal?

Did the mother actively purchase any food in Houston to bring onboard for her daughter to eat?

Did the mother bring the right equipment to keep food warm for her daughter since that seems to be at the root of this controversy

?Did the mom ask for the sandwich she purchased to be reheated once it arrived cold?

Were there previous incidents of the daughter having of meltdowns involving scratching that the mom knew about bur didn’t share with the crew?

What was the mom’s plan B once a meltdown incurred-ABA, medicines?

Was the mom the only adult at the scene or were there other family members that could have helped diffuse the situation?

On a scale of 1-10 How much of a  commotion was there on board to convince the pilot to divert the flight? A five, an eight, a ten?

Regarding cost and publicity 

Diverting flights is an expensive matter for an airline, not to mention the PR nightmare that ensues so I’m confident that the decision wasn’t taken lightly or on a whim.

Our first-hand experience with hundreds of flights on United and its affiliates is that the crew does its best to avoid situations like these which end up as a lose-lose situation for everyone.

Space allocation per person has decreased over the years, so the chances are that we are closer physically to our fellow travelers than we’ve ever been before. That is important to remember when there is a disturbance. If one is perceived as threatening, certain security protocols will kick in.Is United Airlines Really Discriminating Against Autism? JEFF

Talk to anyone about violence is a huge no no!   

So the question that arises is, did any of the fellow passengers view this family as threatening in any way?

 

There have been numerous documented incidents of flights interrupted because of terrorism jokes and a threat of violence.

We’ve worked with our son for years explaining how his jokes can be misconstrued. Here the mom (inadvertently or intentionally) told the crew that there was a chance someone would get hurt if the child’s needs were not met.

Talking nicely REALLY helps – seriously. Crew members, like the rest of us, have good and bad days. Asking politely in a pleasant tone and with a smile, works far better than being demanding or threatening.

Food is not readily available!

On many flights we’ve been on, our choices for purchase in Economy and even some in First Class ran out.The food in Business and First is rationed, so there aren’t generally extra portions for travelers in economy to help themselves to.Not even if they offer to pay for it.

If this young girl were my daughter and needed hot food as part of her accommodation, I would make darn sure she had it!

If I couldn’t bring it from home, I’d make sure that I had adequate time in the airport to buy it and pack it in a thermos to keep it hot.

When we fly, I pack everything I need for a flight: food, entertainment, medicines (including first aid kit) even a flashlight to retrieve objects lost on the floor. Based on previous experiences I know I can’t expect the sometimes understaffed crew to hover around me during the flight.

Moving forward – what should be done

Crews need to be continuously reminded and trained in de-escalation in such situations while staying polite.

Understandably it isn’t always an easy task when facing hundreds of people. The mother is asking for autism awareness training for airline staff which may or may not have helped in this case.
Understanding what our children need and catering to the needs are two distinct matters and may not always coincide.

I believe that the greater responsibility lies on our shoulders. As parents to children with autism, we need to start differentiating between accommodating ‘needs’ and ‘wants’, along with an understanding of how our behavior impacts on our children.

In this case, the child needed hot food (which was supplied), but the girl wanted the First Class food. The mother was inadvertently teaching her child that this behavior is acceptable by causing the commotion, demanding the food and referring to potential violent consequences.

She was insisting that the crew break the airline regulations for her! What will stop this being mimicked or repeated in the future?

After looking at the situation as it has been presented, ironically this time around I have to side with United; the airline which we have used for the past two decades and with whom we have a love-hate relationship.
No, in our case not because of discrimination issues just the usual complaints about flight delays and lost luggage.

Fun Autism Travel Toy : SpeedStacks

My son and I came across Speed Stacks® last week at the TradeWinds resort during our visit to the NAC 2014 conference in St Pete, Florida.
In fact, what brought the toy to my attention was that while I was walking around and networking, my son who has never shown any aptitude when it comes to manual dexterity was sitting and using both hands to stack the cups!
In additional, the kid that hates standing up for almost anything spent over two hours standing and stacking the cups!
And perhaps the most surprising of all, he was talking to peers and taking turns playing the game, something he hadn’t done in years.
I figured three reasons would be enough to make me want to investigate this phenomenon further!

 

Fun Autism Travel Toy : SpeedStacks TABLE
What is speed stacking?

Sports stacking first appeared in Southern California and is now a popular school sport thanks to Speed Stacks® founder Bob Fox; a former school teacher turned entrepreneur from Colorado, who we had the pleasure of meeting at the conference.
In fact, there are more than 4 thousand schools worldwide that have successfully incorporated the sport into their PE program.
The sport has evolved into a huge trend and now has clubs, competitions around the world and even holds a Guinness World Book record.
The game involves timed stacking and restacking of multiple cups in geometric patterns in pre-established sequences.
In today’s internet world, newbies to the game can learn tricks from youtube videos as well as compare scores on different forums dedicated to the favorite topic.

Fun Autism Travel Toy : SpeedStacks OWNER
The product

The primary Speed Stack® kit made by Bob Fox’s company comes with a dozen indestructible cups that stack and attach themselves to a plastic stem, a mat, and a stopwatch to encourage gamers to time themselves.
There are also school kits that contain cups in different colors for multiple players, and they even market a miniature set that is perfect for traveling with.
You can learn the technique and rules relatively fast by reading the attached manual or watching the company’s videos on YouTube. You can just access the information by scanning the barcode on the stem of cups. My son picked up the essential skill in the first 20 minutes and has been continuously practicing his moves for the past few weeks.

Fun Autism Travel Toy : SpeedStacks GAME

Why should you buy it for your child with autism?

As a parent in a family that travels a lot, I loved the product for multiple reasons.

Speed Stacks® is great not only for occupying children on planes and in airport settings, but it promotes problem-solving and understanding of geometrical patterns.
Moreover, it enhances connections between right and left-brain, which are crucial for those with autism.

Fun Autism Travel Toy : SpeedStacks KIDS

Another encouraging quality I noticed about the Speed Stacks® was its ability to help gamers connect with peers through play.
This is vital for children with autism. Our son who is usually shy and doesn’t interact with others played against several teens he met at the conference and had a great time.

Fun Autism Travel Toy : SpeedStacks HALL
Where to purchase.

You can get your set by ordering online or at specialty retail stores that are listed on their website.

Disclaimer: Special thanks to Speedstackers for providing us with a complimentary sample of the game for the review. However, the tips and opinions shared are always our own.

 

 

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)

California’s Great America Theme Park

 

Tucked away in the center of Silicon Valley is California’s Great America Park.
Built back in the 70’s and currently owned by Cedar Fair (who have Knott’s Berry Farm and several other parks across the U.S), this Park is filled with family-friendly activities as well as fast-speed roller coasters rivaling Disneyland and Six Flag Magic Mountain Park.
Last month
we got to visit and experience firsthand how ‘autism- friendly’ it is.

 

Taking the Kids to The Great America Theme Park

We consulted their website, and as parents to a son with autism, we appreciated finding a separate, printable page detailing what is offered for special needs. The Great American Themepark has ‘front of the line’ passes, parent-swap options for rides with younger siblings, kid track wristbands and valuable safety tips – like photographing the child on a mobile phone on the day to have a current picture in the event of them wandering off and getting lost.

Parking spaces are plentiful; the regular charge is 15$ per car, but one can pay an extra 3 dollars to park even closer to the entrance for convenience.

Before we entered the park, we had to go through an airport-type screening security check, with a staff member waving a scanning wand and patting you down if necessary. If your child with autism is bothered by this, you should let guest services know in advance.

 

Taking the Kids to The Great America Theme Park

Once inside the park, we headed on to the conveniently located guest relations, where we were given the autism access cards and boarding passes valid for the day.

Autism Accommodations

The pass entitles the person with the disability, plus four companions, to enter the rides via the alternate access entrance. The particular entries are marked with a wheelchair symbol for easy reference. The system is similar to Disney and Universal in that you go to the chosen rides and receive a specific time to return.

The park prides itself on featuring some of the tallest and fastest rides around so our son, an avid adventurer, and thrill seeker, was excited to try all the loops and twists on offer. Height requirements and motion intensity are displayed, so riders know what to expect.

The Rides

We headed on to the Great America ThemePark’s newest addition – the Wild West themed Goldstriker, advertised as the tallest, fastest wooden roller coaster in Northern California. The wait for that was less than 30 minutes, so the staff let us right in.

Next, we tried the tamer Grizzly, and then the sharp ups and downs Drop Tower, Psycho Mouse with smooth loops and Tiki Twirl, a giant, vertically spinning top. With no crowds, there were very minimal waiting times.

We did encounter a less than 10-minute wait at the Demon, which our son didn’t mind since he was kept occupied in a shady area by TV monitors showing various video clips.

There were benches and shaded areas located throughout the park, so we sat in their lovely trellised area in the county fair section, undisturbed by pigeons or bees, enjoying their famous funnel cake topped with whipped cream and strawberries.

park2 copy

 

Next, we tried the Whitewater Falls (plan on getting soaked), Delirium (don’t go on a full stomach) and the Vortex, the only ride you stand upright while being spun through the air.

Worth mentioning is that our son enjoyed the Pumpkin Patch spinning ride and the Woodstock Express, both mild and smooth fun rides geared towards the younger guests.
The Park is “Peanuts” themed, so we met several characters walking about especially in the – Planet Snoopy area.

The entrance to the park includes admission to the water park with a lazy river, an Australian-themed water mild slide and a three story high slide with curves and twists appropriately named The Screaming Wombat.

Taking the Kids to The Great America Theme Park

After a brief lunch break at  Subway’s (the healthiest and most budget friendly choice) our son rode the HMB Endeavor, Delta Flyer, Eagle’s Flight (gondola ride that crosses the park and provides visitors with superb park overviews) and Flight Deck.
Though the park was slightly more crowded by the afternoon, he was still accommodated for his autism and didn’t have to wait in line for longer than ten minutes each time.

We ended our visit going twice in a row on Firefall, the most threatening and dramatic ride of all, considering you get to be twirled over real flames. Our son, who is frightened of fire didn’t seem to mind.

Overall, we enjoyed visiting the park and were very satisfied with the way our son with autism was accommodated.

Furthermore, we were highly impressed with how the staff adhered to safety precautions double-checking that guests were buckled carefully on every ride, and the cleanliness of the property especially the bathrooms is excellent.

Taking the Kids to The Great America Theme Park

Autism Travel Tips

  • Avoid visiting on weekends. The Park is best when it is least busy and early in the morning when it is cooler.
  • Food in the park tends to be pricey so if you wish to keep your visit budget friendly, bring an ice cooler from home, keep it in the car and use the outside picnic areas to have lunch.
  • Bring refillable water bottles that you can replenish at the different water fountains if you wish to save on beverage costs.
  • Pack a set of dry clothes for your child in case they get wet on a ride, and a rain poncho in the event of thundershowers.
  • Refrain from wearing flip-flops and bring a fanny pack to place glasses and caps so they don’t fall off during the rides.
  • Watch the Saturday night fireworks from the comfort of your hotel room if your child is noise sensitive. The Santa Clara Marriott that’s across the street from the Park is best for that.

Disclosure
All or part of this visit was provided free or at a reduced cost for review purposes.Please know that the opinions expressed are based on the writer’s experiences and cannot be bought.

 

The Four Seasons Food Truck is back!

Food Trucks, or roach coaches as they were fondly known, have been indispensable American dining venues for years.
With no food ratings back in the day, they were staples next to offices, construction sites, and college dorms. One of my early food memory is of my mother warning me against their foods as she was convinced the hygiene would be lacking or worse.

The Four Seasons Food Truck -hotel
In an incredible reversal of fortune, the last few years have dramatically improved the industry and food trucks are now synonymous with clean, budget-friendly and even gourmet dining.
The factors leading to this were the ongoing recession, chefs being laid off and diners wanting affordable and quality food on-the-go. Chefs started providing their cuisine out of these mobile kitchens, advertising their daily location on places like Facebook and Twitter.

 

The Four Seasons Food Truck -parking
Nowadays, you will find elementary school kids along with high-ranking managers and partygoers patronizing these vendors!
In the major cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City, some dedicated fans will drive across town daily to a Food Truck just to get their favorite edible fix.

 

It, therefore, came as no surprise when the prestigious Four Seasons Hotel announced that it was joining the fad, rolling out its own Food Truck.
Last year it drove around California, Arizona and New Mexico for two months, stopping at eight of their properties, serving dishes with produce from local farms, and contributing to the ‘Chefs to End Hunger’ charity.

After reading the press release, we decided it was time to take the proverbial plunge and finally eat off a food truck!

 

The Four Seasons Food Truck jeff
We caught up with the Truck when it came to Los Angeles from Northern California after driving down the West coast. Out of all the LA slated locations, we chose to go to the Four Seasons Hotel in Westlake Village as there was plenty of parking and less traffic at lunchtime.

 

The Four Seasons Food Truck -dining area
As we pulled up, we were thrilled to discover that they were just opening and setting makeshift tables in the front of the hotel which meant people could sit down if they desired instead of standing and eating their food.

The Four Seasons Food Truck -menu

My son with autism was fascinated with the Californian-Canadian Fusion menu while I waited excitedly in the short line to sample food truck food for the very first time in my life.

The menu included three types of burgers: a  Mac Cheeseburger,  Veggie Burger, and the more popular Billy Burger while the Braised beef short rib tacos garnished with Salsa Verde and Jicama slaw represented Southern California’s cuisine.

 

The Four Seasons Food Truck -poutine
Since the Truck’s visit coincided with the traditional Oktoberfest the Enegren Beer Brat garnished with blonde ale mustard and sauerkraut in a pretzel bun was added to the menu.

The sides offered were a strawberry and kale salsa with Manchego cheese, shallots, cactus, and a tarragon yogurt ranch dressing, and a Tater Tot Poutine, a nod to the chain’s heritage which are cheddar cheese curds, generously topped with cilantro, and house bacon gravy.

 

The Four Seasons Food Truck -food
For dessert, the Truck menu offered what they called a BOB-bag, which was a bag of mini beignets dipped in cinnamon sugar powder and the drink choices were waters, sodas, coffee or  Hadrishi iced tea.

The Four Seasons Food Truck -taco
We opted to split an excellent melt in the mouth beef taco, a sweet and flavorful Billy Burger with CAB beef, bacon, gruyere and arugula in a brioche and a bag of beignets that were unfortunately on the dry side. The highlight of our truck meal was the sinfully addictive Poutine which we regretted not having the insight to order a second portion to bring home!

 

The Four Seasons Food Truck -burger
Overall, we loved the quality food and the unique truck experience, and we were very much looking forward to a repeat visit this coming year.

 

The Four Seasons Food Truck -jeff eating

We were a bit disappointed to learn that the program is indeed continuing this year but will switch to traveling from Boston to Miami instead. The good news is that our friends on the East Coast will get a chance to enjoy the delicious street food.

The Truck is scheduled to stop in nine cities between September 15 and November offering local specialties like crab cake sandwiches and pit beef tacos.

If you are interested in sampling the food, and I highly recommend that you do, follow the Four Seasons Truck’s hashtag on Twitter to discover the specific daily locations, or check the truck’s website for additional information.

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