–Triveni Goswami Vernal
Registered Special Educator (A64010)
The diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) should never be a hindrance for an individual and their family, to travel. Ever since my son’s birth, and his diagnosis around 2 years 7 months, he and I have travelled, often alone, just the two of us, to my hometown in Assam from Hyderabad, almost every year.
For years together, I had written a Social Story for him that outlined the things he would encounter at the airport, breaking down every step with an accompanying visual (taking a trolley for the luggage, waiting in the queue for baggage drop, going through security check, waiting some more near the gate etc) and then further, the things he is expected to do, inside the aircraft (sitting with the seat belt on, he can listen to music/ watch something/ play with a toy/ read etc, requesting for food /water/toilet etc).
According to the Autism Parenting Magazine, “Social Stories are a social learning tool that supports the safe and meaningful exchange of information between parents, professionals, and people with autism of all ages” (https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/social-stories-for-autistic-children/). Social Stories were developed by Dr. Carol Gray in the 1990s. It ideally comprises of a specific goal (the expected behaviour of the child) , uses positive language and should include accurate information.
Example of the Social Story I had prepared for my son, earlier. He now no longer requires that many details in his Social Story, but having a Social Story as a backup, definitely helps, especially in sticky situations. All images used in the Social Story, are from Google.
1) On Wednesday, Mama and Kabir are going to “insert destination” on an Aeroplane.
**You can insert the image of the airline you are flying.
2) In the airport, Mama will have to check in the bags at the counter.
3) Kabir and Mama will have to go through Security Check.
4) Mama and Kabir will do Good Waiting (to get into the aeroplane).
5) Inside the Aeroplane, Mama and Kabir will take their seats and Kabir will do Good Sitting and Good Listening.
6) Kabir will wear his seatbelt.
7) When the seatbelt sign is switched ON (green),
8) Kabir can play with his Tablet using his headphones.
9.) When Kabir needs anything, he will ask Mama for “HELP”
10.) Kabir will be a Good Boy and Kabir will NOT SCREAM
11.) Kabir will eat food when he is HUNGRY and drink water when THIRSTY.
12.) Kabir will tell Mama if he wants to go to Toilet (for Potty/Pee Pee)
13.) Kabir will be a good boy and he will listen to mama, at all times.
Resources for Templates on Social Stories:
Travelling alone with the child, is not a cakewalk, but it isn’t impossible either. If one provides enough cues in advance, like a social story that can be read every day or several times a day, for a week or two, before travel commences, the child is more mentally prepared to travel.
Life is often unpredictable. And, events in reality might not take place exactly as predicted in the social story, but nevertheless the social story provides a decent framework to begin with.
One must also take into account and accommodate the child’s sensory sensitivities and needs, while travelling. For example, getting the child used to wearing noise cancelling headphones, if they are sensitive to loud sounds (which are aplenty in the airport), or taking their favourite sensory toy (or something similar, that is portable, for the duration of the journey) or carrying their favourite foods etc. The idea is to make the journey as smooth as possible for the child, and subsequently, make it less taxing for the accompanying adult/s as well.
REQUESTING FOR SPECIAL ASSISTANCE AT THE AIRPORT
With greater awareness on Autism these days, there are various ways in which we can ask for special assistance at the Airport. Many airports across the country have undergone Sensitization programs for Autism, especially for the CISF staff stationed at the airports who are in charge of security and frisking of the passengers.
1) Disabled Passenger with Intellectual or Developmental Disability Needing Assistance (DPNA) is a Special Code introduced by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) in 2008, that informs the airlines that the concerned passenger requires assistance during travel. But as far as I know, the DPNA is usually applicable only on international flights.
2) Contacting the Customer Care Number of the Airline: Calling the Customer Care number of the airline a day or two earlier, or even while booking the tickets, requesting for “special assistance” for the passenger. In India, unfortunately, requesting for special assistance, still translates into the provision of “wheelchair assistance” and nothing more. So, one needs to be specific about what “special assistance” is required—it could be priority check in of baggage, or priority security check or priority boarding, or all three. The same can also be requested at the counter while checking in the baggage.
3) Contacting the ground staff of CISF posted at the Airport for Special Assistance: The CISF ground staff manning the entry to the airport/ those who are posted at the Security Check in, can be requested for Special Assistance.
4) Contacting the CISF website https://www.cisf.gov.in/cisfeng/contact_us/ with one’s queries/complaints, may also work.
In conclusion, while travelling with an individual on the Autism Spectrum might not be a breeze, like the rest of us, but that should not in any way, prove to be an obstacle for travelling. Travel provides innumerable opportunities for exploration and learning, bonding with the family and also brings about a lot of fun and new ways of experiencing things. The diagnosis of the child should not be a death knell for the family. Take every opportunity that comes your way, make memories and enjoy life!!
Author Triveni Goswami Vernal
Triveni Goswami Vernal is an Autism advocate, registered Special Educator (CRR A64010) and an Independent Researcher. Her areas of interest include Autism, Disability Rights, Gender, Art and Northeast studies. She is a mum to an 11 year old on the Autism Spectrum.
Creative representation for this blog is done by our extremely talented CreativeSaathi associate Kabir Vernal