Though some things could have been better, I would say that all in all, the travelling to and from America was fairly successful and with such a multicoloured family, what could have been disastrous was definitely bearable. Here are a few tips to help you on your way.
• Travel out of peak time. We travelled at the beginning of September and the weather was hot but bearable. Later would probably have been better as it was still rather too hot. At the peak of summer, tempers are likely to get more frayed and taking the children out in the day could be dangerous.
• Be selective about your flight package. It is worth spending the extra money and ensuring a direct flight rather than confusing the children by having to stop somewhere. Many flight companies (we travelled with Virgin who were excellent) provide games consoles and films with each seat. With computer obsessed autistic children, and film loving teenagers, this proved ideal for us.
• Phone the flight company first and ensure that you let them know in advance that you are travelling with a disabled child or children. Asking for extra leg room ensures that you will be given the front row. (No one gets kicked in the back then!)
• Give details of any special diets in advance to the flight company. The children were provided with excellent meals and had no reaction at all.
• Watch out for people giving extra 'treats'. Flight attendants sometimes give out little packets of biscuits or ice cream. Ensure that they know that your child is not to have any. I learned that one to my cost - turning my back on Joe for a moment resulted in him eating a packet of biscuits and becoming a little wild man!
• Go straight to the disabled assistance area on arrival at the airport. There is usually someone available to take your luggage and ensure you check in with ease. Don't be afraid to ask, and utilize all the help you can get.
• Give yourself plenty of time to explain to the children exactly what is going on. Luke and Joe were very shocked to see armed security and needed quite some time before they were satisfied with explanations as to why they were there.
• Ensure that you all pass through customs together. If, like me, you have more than one child with difficulties, make sure that customs realize this. Because Ben was in a buggy and that needed to be checked, Matthew, Luke, Joe and the girls got carted off to another customs check and this caused a lot of distress.
• Make sure you can board and disembark from the plane first by letting the staff know that you have a disabled member in your party. If your child is in a buggy then make sure it has been marked as a wheelchair and that you want to take him or her right up to the plane in it.
• Ensure that buggies/wheelchairs are taken right onto the plane and put in the luggage compartment, actually on the plane, if your child is unable to walk any distance. (I learned this one the hard way after waiting for nearly two hours for someone to find Ben's buggy and bring it to us!)
• Mark your luggage in some way. I tied a fluorescent yellow (of course - Ben wouldn't have allowed any other colour!) ribbon around the handle of each piece of luggage. It was much easier to spot as the bags came around, and we made a game of seeing who could spot ours first.
• Take familiar items in holders that are easily accessible. Let each child pack his or her own bag (with supervision of course or you will end up with all sorts!) if he or she is able, and for severely autistic children bring as many comforters as possible. A familiar pillow is a must (again I learned this the hard way!)
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Autism is a developmental disorder that manifests itself in early childhood and affects the functioning of the brain, primarily in the areas of social interaction and communication. Children with autism look like other children but do not play or behave like other children. They must struggle daily to cope and connect with the world around them.