(Post by KAREN VELEZ)
Over the summer, many special needs families went on vacations. I read with longing as each embarked on a faraway adventure. Although each special needs child is different, I looked at every one to find the courage to take my son on our own adventure.
So many stories. Travels to Disneyland, Jamaica, Sanibel Island, across the world, a bloggy friend moved to South Africa, another from the UK to America, a trip to Greece, to Myrtle Beach… Not perfect vacations but vacations nonetheless – with lots of good stuff! And I’m sitting on my rear at home, afraid to leave my perch.
My dream? To take my son to Hawaii where my husband and I were married and walk on the beach in the sand at sunset, to look out at the ocean with him. I want to explore the beauty, sounds, and serenity that is like no place else on Earth.
But I have many concerns (fears). Let me give you a little list:
The airport, flight, rental car (he never rides in any car but one (we have four vehicles), the strange room, the food, the beach, the sand, the ocean, the lack of NIck Jr. on TiVo, swimming, swimming in a foreign pool with water slides, going to a luau, riding on a boat to go whale watching, possible allergies (he has asthma) sleep issues, time changes, medications (taking a nebulizer and multiple meds)…
Despite all that, we have booked the trip – for early next year. The ABA staff is working with us on programs to prepare.
I have signed Toots up for “adaptive” swim lessons, twice a week. He gets a one-on-one swim instructor who will teach him while other children are in a group with one instructor. One of his ABA tutors will also attend. He’s excited! The classes are in a gigantic indoor pool near our office.
But the major fear is still the airport and flight. Given that he doesn’t even want to get into any car but one, I am very nervous about his reaction to the sounds, smells, sensation and confinement of a six hour flight.
I bought books and toys about the airport. But that is not the real deal.
Lucky for us, we can participate in a program that lets Toots practice getting on a flight! And so, last Saturday, Toots, hubs, me and our ABA tutor headed to the Sacramento International Airport to join “Wings for Independence”, a program designed to help families of children with special needs prepare them to experience flying on a plane!
“Wings for Independence” is a local program. You can learn more about it here.
It was amazing.
I hadn’t been to the airport in so long that I did not even know the new terminal had been built! When we got inside, we headed for the ticket counter where we were instructed to “check in”. We got boarding passes! The wonderful employees of Jet Blue have partnered with Wings for Independence and provided the check in and the plane for the program.
We were told to bring a small unpacked suitcase. Given that we have never traveled anywhere, the only “suitcase” Tootles had was one he spied in JC Penney when he was about two years old. I did not want to buy it but he went into meltdown mode and so I forked over the $20 for this:
It has sat upstairs in a cabinet for about 3.5 years. The hubs knew right where it was and brought it down to me on Saturday. On a whim, I checked inside and lo and behold, I removed this stuff:
Apparently, my hubs wants Toots on the “no fly” list.
Once emptied, we checked little Elmo as our luggage, and the lovely staff took a shine to Toots and offered to weigh him on the luggage scale (thank goodness we don’t really have to get weighed for a flight, eh?)
We took a huge escalator up to catch the tram to the boarding gates. Toots never rode anything like that tram and I was sweating bullets that he was going to freak. Instead, he calmly boarded, clutched the rail like nobody’s business and stayed completely quiet for the 30 second fast trip across the terminal!
The worst of it all (which wasn’t bad) was waiting to get through security. Toots was extremely fidgety.
His ticket was checked with mine. We took off our shoes and put them in a plastic tub to ride through security. It was only after he took off his shoes that I learned that children under the age of 10 do not have to take their shoes off! One less thing to worry about for the real deal.
Hubs was required to go through the full body scan, a pat-down search and they swabbed his arm for some reason – you see what happens when you pack a dart gun in your child’s Elmo suitcase?! Too bad my camera was going through the metal detector at the time!!
We then found our gate and waited for a flight from Long Beach to land and deplane. Toots ran up and down the aisle, looked at planes out the window and played with his iPad.
We boarded and were given headphones. I haven’t been on a plane in so long that I did not even know they had TVs in the seats! Toots loved it and kept asking me what show to watch.
He “held” his pee so he could use the airplane restroom! He had heard about it in the social story and wanted to try it out! His ABA tutor went with him for that one and he did a great job!
Jet Blue went through all the boarding instructions just like an actual flight, brought us snacks and drinks (!) and when Toots deplaned – he got a bag full of little goodies including airplane junior crew wings!
We went to baggage claim, picked up his Elmo suitcase and headed home.
This program is amazing! I really think there should be something like this at every major airport everywhere. It’s taken a load off my mind. Of course, take off, turbulence and landing can’t be “practiced” but as long as I have the air sickness bag nearby – I think we’ll make it!
Aloha! Hawaii here we come.
The only question is whether I’ll be able to get on a plane to come home…
Karen Velez, Sacramento, California
Karen is a lawyer and mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. She works part time and spends the rest driving here and there and everywhere for her son’s various therapies. Instead of trying cases, she now plays Pac-man and watches SpongeBob. She wears old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after her son. “Yeah, it’s different,” she says, “but I wouldn’t change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.” Visit her blog Solodialogue or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.Tweet