Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Holding Patterns

The security lines at airports must be exact replicas for the waiting rooms of hell for parents of autistic children. The lines snaking like an impossible maze, luggage and elbows swinging every which way, my child squirming and yelling and telling the nice old lady behind me that he does not like her and trying to pinch her(for no apparent reason other than his sensory system is on full-tilt).

Now it’s time to take off shoes. No, keep your shirt and shorts on, just your shoes. Don’t cry. Just shoes. Yes, you have to. Get up. Be good. Please cooperate.

Behind me the line grows longer and impatient, sighs from business travelers, constant wrist-watch and blackberry checking. Others give me the stink eye --"Get it together, lady. Who's in charge?" I am so screwed. I try to remain calm. Pulling his shoes off, grabbing his elbow, pulling his shorts back up, shoving him through the x-ray walk through, pushing backpacks and luggage through the x-ray machine and doing my best not to cry -- like a novice waitress carrying a tray of crystal goblets up an uneven staircase, each step away from the crowd a small victory and yet the steps ahead seemingly endless.

And it doesn't end there. It’s onward to the gate area, where crowds are thick with people waiting to board or to change seat assignments. If there’s a magic walkway this means at least twenty minutes of riding it back and forth and back and forth, a pack mule loaded down with the luggage chasing Sean. God forbid the plane hasn’t arrived or the winds pick up, thunder roars and lightening tears up a cloudy sky. Did I mention how screwed I am at this point??

Delays are a cruel joke for anyone but especially for a parent with a disabled child. It means the tunnel stretches further ahead, with no light or end in sight. Take the worst case scenario and make it even uglier.

Once on the plane, Sean becomes more regulated. He sits quietly and looks out the window.

"What does plane start with?" he starts. This usually continues for most of the ride. If I am lucky, I can get him to watch a movie. Occasionally he will stop from watching Spongebob, his eyes growing serious and ask, "Is this show real?"

I look at the screen. Spongebob and Patrick are miles under the sea sitting around a campfire (huh?) and it is snowing (double-huh?).

"No, Sean, it's not real. Spongebob is a cartoon, remember?" I say, my hand on his soft hair. For a moment, I have a glimpse into his world -- a world where a starfish (wearing funky beach shorts) and a sponge (dressed in a tie and pants) are under gallons of ocean water doing the impossible (talking, starting a fire, eating chicken.) I have to remember this - -how he can't always understand the difference between real and pretend. I feel an overwhelming need to protect him -- sometimes his world is a very scary place.

I understand that my child’s autism can make others uncomfortable. I realize that there are those that feel that my child shouldn’t be at airports or other places where he sometimes acts badly. I can’t say that I don’t understand their reactions. There are many places we don’t take Sean due to his autism. Rarely do we take him to restaurants, ballgames, church or shopping malls. He doesn't enjoy the level of activity or noise. It's sensory overload. We do this not only for our sake, but also out of consideration for others.

But I wish people could know that my son is eight years old. He has autism. He is traveling so he can be with his mother, father and brother -- the only three people that matter in his universe. We can’t leave him behind. We are all he has. And we can’t live our lives shut-in, away from everybody and everything. We can’t remain forever suspended in air, a 747 circling the airport, in a holding pattern, waiting eternally. At some point the fuel tank will empty and we won’t last long on fumes. What choice do we have? We’d rather land than crash. Isn’t that true for anyone?

1 comment:

Mike said...

Well put, Katie.

Keep up the good work!