Travelling with my Autistic Child

Old Dec 16, 19, 2:52 pm
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Travelling with my Autistic Child

Itís a landmark birthday for my wife next year and we are celebrating by travelling to Maldives via Dubai on BA in February. We are quite nervous. Our 3 year old daughter is Autistic and non-verbal. Before she turned 2 we had no problems on planes as she always sat on our laps. However when we travelled to Crete in October she had her own seat and refused to keep her seatbelt on (we canít reason with her as she is not at that level of understanding yet). If we tried to force her to wear it she would become very distressed with blood-curdling screaming. The BA air hostess was quite reasonable and allowed us to keep her on our laps with an extension (although I know this was an exception). This solved the problem.

We are quite nervous that we will have the same situation on the plane this time and have been reading about how various Airlines will deboard families in this sort of situation and prevent them from flying. We donít expect any special treatment but are at our wits ends about how to deal with such a situation. We have even bought a plane seatbelt to get her used to it but she doesnít like wearing it at all and will become very distressed if we put it around her. She doesnít like dolls etc...so no chance of pretend play by putting the seatbelt on a doll or bear. I have read about people who sedate their kids before a flight to get them to sleep but that wonít help us as the problem isnít her behaviour on the flight but solely her behaviour when it comes to putting on seatbelts. Ironically she doesnít have the same problem using belts in car seats.

is anyone able to provide some useful advice on how we can deal with this situation?
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Old Dec 16, 19, 3:05 pm
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I really feel for you here, as someone who has some experience of this. No easy answers here.

All I can say is that BA crew will tolerate blood curdling screams (which won't go on for very long) but can't tolerate passengers without seat belts on. Personally I would think in terms of handling the screaming, since it's distressing but ultimately not a safety issue.

BA now have a dedicated disability team in Newcastle, who may be able to help further. I will PM you their email address.
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Old Dec 16, 19, 3:13 pm
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I think you should consult your medical advisors - if you haven’t already done so.

Are you a member of any autism support groups? Perhaps asking there will get you some good, relevant, advice. I’d stay away from generic ‘travelling with children’ groups though.

There will come a time when sitting on your lap ceases to be an option - and I think you already know that - purely for safety reasons - not just yours and hers but other passengers and the cabin crew.
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Old Dec 16, 19, 3:19 pm
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You can use your car seat onboard if it fits with our requirements.

Here is the telephone number for the new British Airways Accessibility Team based in Newcastle - its a free phone number - perhaps they could help liase for you - 0800 408 1100.


Disabled Children Over the Age of 2


Children from the age 2 until age 11 who are unable to use the normal aircraft seatbelt, or child restraint device due to their disability may be carried. In this case, multiple occupancy of a cabin passenger seat is permissible. The following conditions must be observed:
  1. The Commander must be informed;
  2. The child must also have a booked seat available in the cabin;
  3. An extension seatbelt must be used;
  4. The Commander must be satisfied that the child is satisfactorily secured with due regard to size and weight of the child.

    I’m unsure if that is just for physical disabilities, but it may help you.
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Old Dec 16, 19, 5:55 pm
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PM sent.
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Old Dec 17, 19, 1:39 am
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flygirl68 Thank you for posting and your informative post. I was not aware of this In terms of written information. Fortunately we are passed this stage, so won’t need to avail ourselves of it. However, your mention of ’physical’ disabilities would concern me slightly. A child with a disability is a disabled child and there should be no differentiation. Sadly there are many of the public who don’t get this. (I am certainly not suggesting this in your case). I am convinced that BA crew would be very accommodating in this regard. I know from experience with our younger non-autistic daughter with issues with seatbelts. On one occasion I sat on the floor in 1k into MIA for most of the descent to keep my child in her seat.
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Old Dec 17, 19, 1:45 am
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Mickeyp My daughter is autistic and now nearly 11. We have had similar issues with her on flights. She is a great flyer - she even came with me on a TP run to PHX. However there are times when the just wants to get off. Although she is much better now than she was.

From my reading of your post you are doing all that can be asked of you. You can only do what you can. The only real thing I can suggest is to ensure you have the sunflower lanyard. Not for the cabin crew but for the other passengers who may be aware of these. Lots if recent press about them.

One other thing. I would perhaps leave putting the seat belt on until the last possible moment. And of the other passengers don't like the noises your daughter makes they can always offload themselves.
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Old Dec 17, 19, 2:17 am
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Our autistic son Bryan was exactly the same on a flight from Des moines to Pittsburgh to visit grandparents when he was three.

At take off rather than sit in his seat, he proceeded to lie under the seat in front of him. Made him very happy, the noise didnt.

The FA came by and said he "had" to get into his seat. We told her that unless she wanted to visit hell on earth, she best leave him where he was. We explained his disability, told her we would accept any consequences and off we went. Similar thing on the flight back.

Bryan has never flown again as we realized it was torture for him. When we take him to family events, its by car (15 hours). And even then he doesn't like to stay more than 1-2days because although he likes family, he is uncomfortable away from his home.

So, my advice to you is recognize that taking your daughter will be absolute trauma for her, so don't do it. Find someone to care for her in her own home where she will feel as comfortable as an autistic child can. This is the best for her, not traveling with you, she will hate it, trust me I have lived it.

Then you and your wife can enjoy your important trip, a win win for you and your child.

By the way, their his always hope for growth. Bryan is 32y/o now, leaves in a group home in a "grandmother apartment" (living room, bathroom, kitchen and bedroom all his own), works five half days a week, works out at the YMCA with a personal trainer 3 days a week and is a very happy man. Still no flying .

All the best with your daughter and your trip.

John
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Old Dec 17, 19, 2:32 am
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Originally Posted by mnhusker View Post
So, my advice to you is recognize that taking your daughter will be absolute trauma for her, so don't do it. Find someone to care for her in her own home where she will feel as comfortable as an autistic child can. This is the best for her, not traveling with you, she will hate it, trust me I have lived it.
I would very gently disagree with this a little. Autism is a spectrum and within that spectrum there is truly massive diversity. Not terribly surprising, since autistic people are human beings. Some hate seat belts, but like flying, some don't care about seat belts but do care about leaving home, some love (and I mean really love) to travel and on it goes. So I would resist generalisations here. There is no single right approach.
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Old Dec 17, 19, 2:35 am
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Great info from BA, thatís the brilliance of this board.

As one poster mentioned a car-seat might be a good alternative and something your daughter is more familiar with?
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Old Dec 17, 19, 2:47 am
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Originally Posted by madfish View Post
flygirl68 Thank you for posting and your informative post. I was not aware of this In terms of written information. Fortunately we are passed this stage, so wonít need to avail ourselves of it. However, your mention of íphysicalí disabilities would concern me slightly. A child with a disability is a disabled child and there should be no differentiation. Sadly there are many of the public who donít get this. (I am certainly not suggesting this in your case). I am convinced that BA crew would be very accommodating in this regard. I know from experience with our younger non-autistic daughter with issues with seatbelts. On one occasion I sat on the floor in 1k into MIA for most of the descent to keep my child in her seat.
Oh I totally agree with you, as far as Iím concerned a disability IS a disability, and if it was my child I would definitely utilise this.

I would also urge the OP to get hold of a sunflower lanyard if they havenít already.
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Old Dec 17, 19, 2:55 am
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Our situation is by no means comparable, but perhaps our experience will offer some peace of mind.

We have travelled heavily with our child and have always been very worried about the impact of screaming on others. However, I have noticed that if you check you watch at the start and end of outbursts they are by no means as long as they seem when you have a red faced unreasoning infant in your face.

Similarly, take offs and landings do not actually take that long compared to the bulk of the flight.

Our son recently turned two and so had his own seat for the first time. He bounded into it and was very excited by the belt... until we started taxing. At which point he remembered he was meant to.be on someone elses lap and the blood curdling screaming started. There was no consoling him, we just had to use a combination of holding and attempting to distract. One airborne and released from the belt he spent a little time on mummy's lap and was then again happy with his own chair.

The same thing happened on descent, and the takeoff and landing of the next flight.

My point being, sometimes you can't reason with the little blighters, but you can show them love and don't worry too much about the impact on others - it's not as if people will be trying to sleep at this point!

Last edited by londonsmiler; Dec 17, 19 at 3:01 am
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Old Dec 17, 19, 3:53 am
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Thanks to all of you

Thanks you you all for the very informative replies. I feel a lot more confident now and won't look forward to the trip with dread anymore I definitely will call the British AIrways Assistance Team. Last time we flew my wife wore one of the sunflower lanyards (my daughter refused to wear it). For some reason we had to point it out to various staff at the airport and on the plane, it seemed to us that they don't actively look for it.

@mnhusker, I understand your concerns. Thankfully my daughter doesn't mind the travelling. As long as we have an IPad, drawing books, snacks etc.....she is pretty much ok except when restrained or hungry etc..

@londonsmiler, I think my situation closely reflects yours. My daughter loves getting out and about and is under-responsive so is always looking for sensory stimuli. She is also very clingy and loves sitting on laps, hugs etc. She is also very independent (if that's the right word to use) and likes running around without being chaperoned. She doesn't like sitting in a stroller and when we are out, if she gets tired she looks to be carried and will kick and scream if we try and put her in the stroller, even without the straps. Unfortunately the little rascal knows how to undo the plane seatbelt so looks like we will have to take the car seat with us. As for the screaming, well that is another concern. We are travelling Club as it allows more comfort for all of us and space for her to sit on the floor and play as well as the flat seat making it easier to get her to sleep. I'm guessing other passengers who have paid thousands to fly Club won't be too happy about a screaming child regardless of what disability she has.

Wish us luck
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Last edited by Mickeyp; Dec 17, 19 at 4:27 am
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Old Dec 17, 19, 3:55 am
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Two of my (now) older kids have autism and I have a great deal of empathy with your situation; and I wish you all the best. Obviously it's pretty hard to know what the triggers are but one solution that my son still uses is to wear over-the-ear headphones. I know (and he knows) that that makes him look a bit odd (tho perhaps not any more, given trends) but it means that a lot of the noise is completely blocked out. I don't mean the engine noise, of course! For a 3 year old a set of video programmes / music / audio books might just reduce the anxiety.

I'd also look into suitable car seats for older kids. This is the FAA guidance

"Airlines must allow a child who is under the age of 18 to use an approved CRS that is properly labeled, appropriate for the child's weight, and as long as the child is properly secured in the CRS. Many companies manufacture CRSs approved for use on aircraft that are specifically designed for larger children who are physically challenged. See Child Safety Seat Ease of Use Ratings for more information."

Note: ignore the 'physically' challenged wording (some disabilities aren't visible).The key sentence is the first one.

For whatever you pick, to state the obvious, use the time between now and your trip to get her used to those devices.

It's an anxious time as a parent but as others have said, it may only be for short periods of time; and your focus should be on your daughter and not on what others think.

Last edited by SavvyTravel; Dec 17, 19 at 3:57 am Reason: clarity of quote
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Old Dec 17, 19, 4:07 am
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Originally Posted by Mickeyp View Post
We are travelling Club as it allows more comfort for all of us and space for her to sit on the floor and play as well the flat seat making it easier to get her to sleep.
If you are on the A350 to Dubai then the Club seatbelt is very similar to a car seatbelt, if that helps. It goes over the shoulder as well as around the waist.
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