Thursday, August 2, 2012

Fear Conquored

If you asked me a year ago if Owen would ever be able to go on a plane, I would have said a resounding no. He has a phobia. It is impossible to bring up the idea of flying because he goes into panic mode and then retreats. There is no reasoning through a phobia. That door was closed tight, locked and bolted. 

When he was smaller we took a flight back and forth to Mexico. He did just fine and he was just 5. Then we went to Florida when he was 7 and everything fell apart. There was turbulence and the plane tilted as it turned to the airport. Something broke in him and he couldn't handle it. For some children with ASD, certain sensations are felt more intensely. For him, it is proprioception or the feelings of movement that overwhelms him at times. Planes move in unpredictable ways. He panicked on the way home from Florida and I squeezed him tight in my arms, warding off what I could of the hell he was going through for that terrible flight. After that, there would be no more planes. Ever.

There are many sides to my boy.  Owen loves learning about the world. Geography, thanks to his unfortunate genetics, is in his blood. Owen loves playing in the ocean, digging his feet into beaches, experiencing the magic of Disney, and has a curiosity about history. He wants to be there. There is the motivation. So we chatted about wonderful places that there are to visit. We watched travel shows, ate different foods and sent postcards from our own journeys. He wants to go too. 

Options are available to get through a plane trip. Some people choose to sedate reluctant flyers. Perhaps that would work but I would rather cure the cause, not just treat the symptoms. We were lucky. Our physician practiced a technique called EMDR. (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)  It allowed Owen to work through his feelings and cope with it. It worked. The change in his feelings was remarkable.

We booked a "test flight" and Owen helped me work out the details for the flight as well as our super-Saturday day of travel and fun for just the two of us. He was ready to try and we took the leap of faith. We arrived at the airport with plenty of time. Checking through security was uneventful thankfully and we walked the whole airport about 3 times before boarding time. He was anxious but by admitting this, telling the flight staff and pulling out the bag of tricks, he was fine.

Anxious but excited on the plane

He did not want to see the flight take off so he wore a sleep mask. We played some favourite music in his earbud earphones and he put his head on my shoulder. Twenty minutes later we were cruising in the air. Games on the 3DS and chatter kept him happy for the short flight. There was turbulence but it didn't phase him. For landing he just wanted the eye mask and the shoulder to keep him feeling fine. He practically danced off the plane.  I am bursting with pride at my boy and how he worked trough this huge accomplishment. 

The rest of the day was filled with taxi rides, subway rides, great food, a trip to the Hockey Hall of Fame and a long Via train ride home. (I wasn't about to book another flight in case it all was a disaster.) An exhausted but extremely proud boy rolled into bed that night. I couldn't be happier.

An expensive day it was but the benefits were priceless. We are now thinking about where to vacation next. There is no longer a 'but' or 'if' in our plans, just a 'when'.  The door is wide open and the possibilities are endless.

Snacking on our Market picnic and playing DS on the train ride home.


  1. Wow! That's awesome, Pam. Your approach was so nurturing, supportive and effective. I'm so pleased for you.

  2. Owen rocks. That is more than awesome. And his mom, yeah she's pretty awesome too. ;)

  3. Oh, that's wonderful! You must feel so free - the world is your oyster! Can't wait to hear about your future adventures together :).

  4. Wow - nothing else but wow - for a brave boy with a brave mom.

  5. That is marvelous news Pam. Good for you for perceviering and thankfully you have a supportive doctor on your side.
    I am a little anxious for our mega trip on Wednesday to Dubai and Kenya, with my little Ellie, but your story has inspired me!