Planning a holiday is stressful enough but when you are planning a holiday with your Aspie friend or family member, extra planning and knowledge is a must!
Recently, my friend B and I had the opportunity to travel. I personally had never flown, even though I grew up on an armed forces base. B had flown many times..good thing!!! This was to be my first official vacation and an opportunity to face a new package of unknowns within my life. The date was set and the planning began. We booked the flight.
B who knew of my inexperience and fear that is created due to lack of experience and the knowledge that I require before such an event, set up a tour of the airport and explanations of the possible situations we would encounter on the day of our flight. We went to the airport and were given a tour of the terminal and taken through each step of the process we would be going through on the day of departure, up to the point before boarding. Since a large part of my anxieties was due to the possibility of a "pat down" they allowed me the option of being scanned. Also since my belt is the pressure my body needs to feel security and safety each day, I was made aware that a belt would be removed during this process unless it was a belt with a small buckle. (I did purchase one that had the smallest buckle I could find). The airport staff at Hamilton Airport were amazing in understanding and accommodating to our requests and needs. Phase one was a good experience.
The second step, was B answering my multitude of questions that always went to worse case scenario and she answered each honestly and patiently. Remember, she had flown many times so for her, I am sure some of the questions I may have asked could have easily been responded to with, "Don't worry so much." "Your being a butt" or even ignored but she understood and by answering each one....I calmed.
Remember, your perception and ours, are totally different, please be patient.
Now, here is a major tool to assist you and your aspie individual...GOOGLE EARTH. On google earth, you can go to the places you are going to visit and actually walk around the area and see what is there. I was able to do this before our trip and also google walk to anywhere we are presenting and when available, will take a virtual tour of the inside of places. My anxiety about strange and unknown places has deminished considerably due to my google walks. Although I never did find the lady that was waving at me on my google walk at the Bay of Fundy...tehe.
Assist with the packing process but if your little aspie would like to put the TV remote in their suitcase....let it happen. As we neared the flight date, I actually became very quiet and no longer asked any questions. It was like if I didn't think about it, then I wouldn't be nervous but actually the truth is....I was waiting for something to happen and the plans to "fall apart" since that is the only experiences I have known...people invite you or plans get made and then....but I also knew that B is dependable and when she says yes, it is yes.
The day of the flight began with me trying to stay as routined as possible. This was an important thing since added change would have caused undue anxiety that was definitely not needed. Also it is important for you to try to stay as in routine as you can when you are preparing since this also provides the individual with a calm. Let your aspie friend be as much a part of the vacations plans as possible (decisions made and how much involvement depending on age) since this also adds to a sense of controlled calm. Surprises will happen but if you have included the individual in the plans, you will have planned together places and agreements of "downtime" and safe places for calming, the surprises will at least have options for reactions. I tend to wander or sometimes bolt, so B and I, upon arrival, designated a place where I could go and she would know where to find me. It worked well since this spot was now a safe place and I knew this ,if anything should happen. (I did use it once)
Changes in plans should be discussed and explained since once again, including the aspie friend is an important aspect to understanding and accepting the change. B and I discussed changes and possible unexpected scenarios "enroute", so it was much easier to accept the unexpected on our journey. Not all changes can be planned, there is always the unexpected unplanned but once again, always designate a safe spot at each step of the journey. Even when entering into the place you are going to stay,(cottage, house, tent, hotel), let the aspie scan the surroundings and play a part in making it their own space. This will help with the comfort level for when sleeping is needed. It is tough enough to stop our brains but if there is a safe comfort level before sleep and tools nearby in case of interrupted sleep, the night may go smoother. For me, a definite required information and generally prior visual that is of importance for me, is the hotel bathroom. It must have a shower! I will go onto hotel sites and view the rooms before we book. *REMEMBER...YOUR ASPIE FRIEND WILL NEED DOWN TIME TO RECHARGE THEIR BATTERIES
When B and I were on the return leg of our journey, once again the closure and back to normal change had to take place. Glad to be going home, there was still the need to adjust routine (like anyone...the back to reality aspect). Now before I end this segment, I would like to direct you to the Adult page of this website and the Anxiety section near the bottom of the page which gives an deeper acknowledgment of the story.. For the first time in my life, when my anxiety washed into my senses, and because B was so efficient and understanding, I was able to be more aware of my anxiety attack and potential meltdown that happened at the airport (I was chosen for unexpected random patdown) so for the first time ever, I can now describe how I felt during the onslaught of anxiety and my perception of the events, as best I can recall. B did fill me in on the aspects of the event that were blocked from my awareness.
Even the process of having my carry on scanned has caused distress. It seems to be a regular occurrence that, B's bag is scanned an passes right through but mine is scanned sometimes up to four times. back and forth through the scanner. Yes, it was difficult to stand there and wonder why and not blurt out, "What the heck are you doing?" The last time it happened B paid attention to what was going on. Well, my lack of eye contact and natural stims seem to make it appear that I am nervous and the security person takes this as possible guilt. Well no kidding I am nervous but it is not because I have anything hidden in my bag, besides maybe a chocolate bar that I probably shouldn't eat. After making this discovery, I made up a t-shirt that subtly provides information to the security that I have differences. Yip, I had to put it on a t-shirt that I am autistic. This is not something that I wanted to advertise but it did the trick, one scan, a glance my way, a double take with the person reading my shirt and my bag was passed along. I guess I will look at this as a teaching moment for the airport security. Some people that look nervous may have a reason beyond they are breaking a law.
I mean let us be honest. At the airport there are many situations that may warrant for security to take measures to ensure the safety of many so having someone acting "differently" will certainly raise the red flags for airport security. So the t-shirt idea came to me since having wallet ID or a bracelet would not always assist me in these situations. Long before the ID/bracelet is noticed, I am sure that I would have already be tossed to the ground and either handcuffed or zapped with a stun gun. Hey, I am not kidding! Check the number of times this is has been the FIRST response to encountering someone that seem erratic. So T-Shirt it is. Put it out there for all to read. I may need to add flashing lights if this doesn't work well or maybe we should just get coats..wait, you have to remove your coat at security. T-shirt, think about it. Update: the t-shirt didn't help!!! Will keep on trying new things to find a way to make it easier for AS persons to not so much avoid this situation but maybe make it easier. Will keep you updated.
Since this first flight, we now have made many flights, including international, and stayed in many hotel rooms. I have learned and adapted to suit my needs and as those needs change or even become less, we re-evaluate and adapt. I have learned that I prefer the left side of the plane in front of the wing. Seems trivial but it does make a difference in my anxiety levels during flight and I am sure makes the flight easier for B. As I experience different situations, I have to try new things in order to discover what works best.
Vacationing and travel, was something that I never thought I would be capable of doing but with a trusted and caring companion beside me, anything can happen. I have opened a door now that I hope is only the beginning of growth and new experiences. Your aspie friend can do it!
NOTE: See example ASPERGER CARDS on Asperger Syndrome?-Asperger Card page.