On the 18th July 2019, I travelled abroad alone for the first time to partake in more overseas work experience at an Animal Sanctuary in Murcia, Spain. And I plan to return home on Thursday 25th July.
Being Autistic, this can be challenging – Dissimilar surroundings, new people, loudness. Nightmare.
I used to be unable to use public transport alone. I walked miles to and back from college every day to save myself the unnecessary distress of stepping foot on a bus. I can now use buses easily, given lots of additional planning, and I have grown to love peaceful, delay-free train journeys!
Still, being on the spectrum shouldn’t be a barrier between our fears and what we wish to achieve. I simply refuse to be restricted by my Autism. My diagnosis has encouraged me to believe in myself more and to push myself beyond my comfort zone. (It’s worth it!) I believe it should push us even further, given lots of self care is followed too, as it’s all about finding a balance and recognising when we’ve reached our personal limits.
Overall, I loved my first experience as a solo flier and I cannot wait to plan future adventures. The staff at the airport were incredibly supportive and alert, and measures were put in place to help those in need. I was very anxious, but that’s understandable. The most important thing is that I managed to keep things under control and I made it to my destination. I believe informing the airport about my Autism made a significant difference, especially with regards to the risen anxiety levels I feel through airport security.
Understandably, the coping mechanisms I applied are personal to me and may be subject between those on the spectrum. Ie: What works for me may not work for others, and vice versa.
Don’t be afraid to approach the disability services available to you. Their purpose is to help and to assist you should you require it. There’s no shame in needing support, or a quiet place away from all the airport chaos.
Take note of what makes you anxious. I notice changes in myself, my thoughts and my actions when I’m anxious. I become quiet and withdrawn and will tend to feel as though I’m not “there” in the situation. Understanding your anxiety triggers is useful to enable you to put precautions in place to relieve the symptoms you experience.
Lots of planning. Don’t be afraid to use a diary, or the notes app on your phone. Try to estimate where you expect yourself to be at given times. Ie: “I plan to be on the plane at 6pm, and I should land at approximately 8:15pm”. This helps with the fear of the unknown, and reduces anxiety levels. Try to make the estimates flexible, as it can cause distress if plans don’t go accordingly – Ie: unexpected delays, and luggage hold ups.
Take a familiar person to the airport with you. For me, this was extremely comforting and reassuring as I had somebody to confide in when I felt anxious/overwhelmed. My Mum got me through check in and then I was again a Lone Ranger, sailing through security.
Check in online. This helps to speed up the initial process slightly, and it helped to reduce anxiety for me, as you then have the barcode scanned and wait patiently for your luggage to enter the conveyer behind the desk. I checked in via the Jet2 app by filling in my details.
Inform the airline/airport staff of your Autism. Again, this is optional, and I understand that some people prefer to keep their Autism private. I opted to tell the staff about my condition to allow others to realise the reasons behind me appearing anxious, because I usually get stopped through security as I probably look “suspicious” when in reality I’m just extremely anxious about the process. I was handed with a lanyard which staff are trained to recognise, and it enables extra assistance if it’s required. I also had my pocket sized “Autism Alert” card.
Take plenty of distractions on the plane. If you’re alone, this gives you more time to dwell on your anxiety, and distractions can help to keep you occupied and give you an alternative focus. I like to take books, magazines and something digital (such as music or my Nintendo DS). Playing animal crossing thousands of miles in the air? Yes please.
If it’s possible, arrange for somebody familiar to meet you in the country you’re travelling to. The animal sanctuary owners kindly collected me, and dropped me off at the airport. This helped to reduce my anxiety, as I knew who to expect. This meant I could also avoid using an unfamiliar public transport service.
Keep in touch with family/friends. If you start to feel anxious, speak to somebody you know and trust. This doesn’t mean you’ve failed or that you’re weak, it simply means that you’ve recognised that you’re in need of support/a distraction and that takes a considerate level of strength. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone (or to text) somebody if you feel the need to.
Remember to breathe and to be patient with yourself. If things don’t work out, or you need a little extra time to get yourself together, that’s perfectly okay too!