86: Flying the Friendly Skies

86: Flying the Friendly Skies

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Raising Kids on the Spectrum

Flying the Friendly Skies

Trapped by reality, freed by imagination.

~Nicolas Manetta

Clarkie was amping up, his agitated whine growing louder, his head swaddled in his yellow blanket and his hands clamped over his ears. A broken vent hissed out a powerful jet of air above Seat 7F, where my six-year-old struggled to stay in control after a long day of travel, airports and delays.

The malfunctioning air vent — a simple annoyance for most people — threatened to push Clarkie into a full-fledged meltdown even before the plane left the gate in Detroit.

Travel tests the patience of any parent, but when your child has an autism spectrum disorder, as the younger of my two sons does, it helps to be resourceful, daring and lucky. Delayed nearly three hours by a mechanical problem, the darkened plane was full of irritable passengers trying to fall asleep. And yet Clark’s high-pitched whine began to amplify.

“I can’t stand it!” he cried, as the vent hissed unrelentingly.

I called over the flight attendant and explained. “My child has autism, and the noise from this broken vent is unbearable to him. Can it be fixed or can we change seats?”

“I’m sorry, the flight is full,” the attendant said, before hustling off to her duties.

As Clarkie’s whining continued, tears of frustration filled my older son’s eyes, his patience frayed by his brother’s all-too-frequent agitation. Desperate, I jammed the yellow blanket against the vent — silence! — then considered whether I could hold my arm in that position for sixty-three minutes until we touched down in Baltimore. Then . . . a glimmer of inspiration.

Fumbling in my purse with my free hand, I found tissues and stuffed them into the vent crevice. A woman across the aisle offered me two Band-Aids to tape the tissues in place. I gratefully accepted, and the mood around us seemed to lighten. Seeing the makeshift repair, a man joked that I should’ve been called in to fix the plane in the first place. What could have been an emotionally turbulent flight turned into something positive. The rest of the flight was smooth. And later, as Clarkie darted about at baggage claim, passengers recognized him and smiled at his antics.

The two bandage strips covering crumpled tissues made a comical but effective fix for the broken vent — one that required a measure of ingenuity, desperation and goodwill, much like the life that we manage to pull together every day. For all things about autism that chafe against our family, we travel on, coping with what we can and delighting when we find empathetic people who lend a hand, even when they may not totally understand our difficulties.

I cannot always make the world a quiet, easy place for my “Quirky Clarkie” — nor can any parent do so for a child — but on this one day, in this one way, I was his hero.

Once the offending vent was silenced, Clark calmly removed his hands from his ears, looked up at the wadded tissues and grinned. “Mommy, you saved the day!”

~Michelle Landrum

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