Bride Jade recently travelled from Brisbane to Phuket via Singapore with not 1 but 2 children with special needs; an Autistic 7 year old and an 11 year old with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The thought of 10+ hours of traveling on a plane with my children with additional needs scared the living daylights out of me, but oh my was it worth it! Our top 5 must haves are listed below.
Hidden Disabilities Lanyard
when I first discovered the disability lanyards were available I was a bit skeptical but it was definitely worth getting. We pre-ordered this online by filling out the form (which can be found here: https://www.bne.com.au/passenger/passenger-information/special-assistance/hidden-disabilities/hidden-disability-form). It was simple and not invasive so definitely worth the time.
When the lanyard arrived with the information pack I filled it out ready to go. I wore the lanyard opposed to my autistic daughter as it was rather bulky however it allowed me to advocate on her behalf. The staff were brilliant, we got priority boarding allowing us to get on the plane to settle the children before everyone else boarded, air crews knew what it meant and regularly asked if we required anything. And security processing was a lot less invasive, they took into consideration our children’s needs and explained everything in “child” terms all the way through. Customs was also a lot easier allowing us to use the disability cue and avoiding any meltdowns over extended hold ups.
Pack disposable activities to keep the children occupied, There is only so much time you can occupy them with inflight entertainment. We packed a hand luggage sized trolley case with craft activities that once used we could dispose of and not have to carry around. By doing this we pulled out a different activity every 30 minutes and kept the kids constantly stimulated to reduce any anxiety that they may be suffering from being on a flight for 8 hours as well as keeping them in their seats! Anyone that has children with special needs knows just how difficult that can be. A lot of these activities are just cheap $2-$4 craft activities from the likes of Kmart, Big W and the reject shop. Constant interaction and stimulation was definitely key!
We created a social story to explain the traveling experience. We started from the morning we woke up, going to the airport, checking our luggage in, going through security all the way through to when we got off at the other end and went to our hotel room. By making the social story and adding visuals in, our autistic daughter could ready through the book and knew in advance what was happening to help with the change in routine as well as invasive procedures such as going through security. This book was invaluable to us for the few $$ it cost us to print and bound at our local office store it was well worth the difference that it made to calm my daughter.
Schedule down Time
Holidays can be extremely over stimulating and especially if you are travelling somewhere that you haven’t been before it may be tempting to book tour after tour and experience after experience but you need to schedule down time to. Sensory overload is a major struggle for my 2 children so every day we would make sure that after lunch and after dinner there was at least an hour where we could all retreat and have some quiet time, whether it be sensory activities such as play-doh or craft or something as simple as watching a movie and allowing them to reset, it was key for us to be able to all manage lasting throughout the day coz let’s face it, being a career is hard work and we to need to scheduled down time so we don’t burn out.
Often as a family that caters to special needs we live a very structured life, Meal times are structured, bedtime is structure, transition to school is structured, so even though we wanted to keep some form of structure whilst on holiday it was important to still. Just remember it is a holiday! It doesn’t matter if you’re not out the door at a certain time or when meal times are, let the children be themselves and enjoy themselves, if you have a couple of late nights, perfect, schedule more down time tomorrow. The kids will thank you for the freedom, and come out of their shell.