We've been planning this trip for nearly a year and it's finally time to go. My family has an extended family reunion every few years, with hundreds of people attending. We've been saving our pennies to cover airfare and hotels and now we're good to go.
Travelling with children is a challenge. With autistic children, it can be a nightmare. Our preparations haven't just been to make sure we could financially make it. We also had to do our best to make sure the boys will be okay. I think we've done just about everything we could.
For starters, we're bringing our aide with us. That gives us an extra adult on site who has no family ties and thus won't be upset at having to leave family gatherings if the boys can't handle something. On the bonus side, because of their autism, both boys qualify to have a medically necessary companion fly free on Air Canada. It doesn't matter if the companion is a family member or not, so we got two free tickets.
We're also flying in early and leaving late. The reunion events don't start until Friday but we're coming in on Wednesday evening. That gives us all day on Thursday to give the boys downtime and do things at our own pace and on our own schedule. Things finish up on Sunday but we won't be leaving until Monday, again giving the boys a little time to adjust before the stress of the flight.
At Christmas, we asked my immediate relatives to send us recent photos of themselves so that we could show them to the boys. This gave them some familiarity with faces and names. Most of the extended family have never met Nathan and only saw Alex when he was eighteen months old. A few weeks ago, I put together a social story which explained what would happen during the airplane ride and the reunion. I took pictures off the Internet and kept things fairly simple. I've found these stories useful in helping to prepare the boys for unfamiliar, one-time experiences.
I also put together a visual schedule like the one we use at home to help prepare the boys for the day's activities. We're bringing an iPad for each boy and I've downloaded some of their favourite movies and videos onto it. We've practiced using earbuds when we have to keep things quiet. I've packed a box of their favourite toys to play with at the hotel.
Alex's pureed food could be a problem for airport security but I've contacted the Canadian Air Transit Security Authority and I have a doctor's note explaining the necessity. If I have a problem, I'll ask for the CATSA Operations Manager.
I think our most useful preparation is manageable expectations. I'm not expecting the boys to be chatting with their great-aunt Mary or to sit quietly through long speeches. They can play on their iPads or go run outside. Between Dave and Shelby (our aide), I should be able to stay and participate in events.
I'm really looking forward to this. I haven't been back to Drumheller for a long time. I'm a bit of a dinosaur geek, so I'm hoping to share the paleontology museum with my boys. And I like the Badlands. There's a weird sparse beauty to the rolling landscape with its multicoloured layers. Fingers crossed for luck, everyone.