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Planet Rachael: why making reasonable adjustments to ensure our holiday is all plane sailing is a must

Getting on a flight with a child who has autism is challenging – but one that can be overcome 

Getting on a flight with a child who has autism is challenging – but one that can be overcome  


Picture: Getty

I once witnessed an incident, when, as a consequence of not delivering on a work-based project, an employee was locked in a box and, under the midday sun, was left to the mercy of scorpions dropped into the box by ambivalent colleagues.

Before you fulfil your duty of care and raise an adult safeguarding alert, the employee was an actor being a pirate and the workplace a film set. I was reminded of the scene recently when I was on hot tarmac in a grounded plane, awaiting take off with my daughter, Rachael, for a holiday flight. 

Unpredictable noise and crowds

We had worked hard on the ‘reasonable adjustments’: afternoon flight for the girl who struggles to sleep, an adult-only hotel for the one who hates unpredictable noise and crowds, and the perfect temperature to protect fair skin too sensitive for sun cream.

Of course, this was all in our control, unlike the previously mentioned flight when every event felt like the scorpion sting.

‘It was a simple reminder of what a difference reasonable adjustments make to the person for whom life in the the neurotypical world is a significant challenge’

Repeated announcements by a sadist of ‘another 30 minute delay to take off’ (said four times), no air conditioning in the searing summer heat, a seat directly behind a boy whose name I swear was Damien, and the forgotten headphones that would have reduced the sensory overload and saved the day (Rachael’s one, forgotten job).

The return home was a wholly positive experience due to the king’s ransom paid for a ‘VIP’ airport experience: air-conditioned bus, the speedy walk past baggage drop-off and passport control, and a comfy, quiet lounge to await the flight.

Death stares

It would have been perfect if we hadn’t been escorted en-route to the plane past people who had been in hot queues for hours and endured what could only be described as death stares. I now know how Theresa May feels when walking past Boris Johnson.

It was a simple reminder to me of what a difference reasonable adjustments make to the person for whom life in the the neurotypical world is a significant challenge – and how quickly people judge others. Be the one who thinks differently.


About the author

Wendy Johnson is head of safeguarding adults at risk and nursing lead for learning disabilities at Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Swindon, and writes about life with her daughter Rachael, who has autism

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