We live in a rural Haines, Alaska where you have to travel by boat or plane to get to hospitals, therapist or just to get to Costco for supplies.We have been traveling since the first time we brought our son Alex home from Sitka, Alaska where he was born.
Traveling is more challenging now since Alex was diagnosed with Autism when he was two years old, and type 1 diabetes when he was 4. Alex is now 8 and has a service dog named Gus. Gus has been with us for 2 1/2 years, and has been a huge asset to us traveling. He is Alex’s guide through transitions, guide to social interactions and best friend. Gus is our anchor in the room in any situation.
We recently went to Seattle for medical appointment for Alex. Alex’s Dad Josh, a commercial fisherman, traveled as far as Juneau but had to continue onto Seward, AK to return to work on the boat. I prayed Alex would be ok with the fact Dad wasn’t going on the big jet with us to Seattle. Alex showed strength and pushed through it.
Additional stress was caused because both departing and return flights that we would be on were completely full. I was unable to get seats on the plane together regardless of the phone calls I made before hand. I had to make the reservation without being able to be seated next to Alex. This medical appointment for Alex couldn’t be missed, so I booked the flight, and hoped we could change the seat the day of the flight. I knew flying out of Juneau would be fine, being a small town, people know Alex and his disability and have always been accommodating.
I always need take a deep breath when coming home to Alaska. TSA at SEATAC Airport is stressful even for the most seasoned traveler, but with a child on the spectrum the waiting in lines, large crowds of people, and loud noises can be overwhelming. Alex doesn’t raise any red flags that he is Non Verbal Autistic. Alex is a handsome boy with a great smile. However, like is so common with Autism, Alex can suddenly, and unpredictably, be set off into a full emotional meltdown and act out in a fight or flight mode. This is where our service dog Gus acts as our ambassador to the public and assists me in redirecting Alex and to help him regulate.
However, this return trip was different. TSA agents were great to us! We glided on through security check. When Alex started to get agitated due to disruption in his routine, a TSA agent brought Alex his noise reduction headphones, and Alex quickly calmed down. The TSA Agent handed me a card that said “TSA Cares”. This card explains that when traveling we should call ahead of time and TSA will meet us to assist in anyway they can. TSA also explained that they are specially trained on how to help families with special needs. Just typing this-I tear up. Its moments like this that can carry you through a stressful day when you are traveling.
We were seated in an emergency exit row on the plane. Since Alex is a child, and we have a service dog, we are not eligible to sit in this row. Our earlier flight in Juneau, thanks to a friendly ticketing agent, we were able to get our seats on the plane together. While the agent in Seattle wasn’t thrilled about having to swap seats in an already full flight, she kindly announced, “Is there a couple that could switch to an exit row on the flight”?. I was holding my breath praying that Alex would patiently wait until a volunteer came forward. Alex held Gus’s harness and quietly waited. I could feel the eyes on us. Its in that moment of feeling for me where Gus wearing his service dog vest quiets my own thoughts and lowers my stress level and it lets us celebrate these moments of success, My son was calmly waiting! A few minutes later a man came up to the counter to volunteer. I thanked him and he said kindly,“It’s no problem”. I was filled with gratitude. We went to our gate ready to board our flight.
Timing is everything when we are traveling… If you arrive too early to the gate, the airlines may change gates on you. Packing up Alex and I and moving to a different gate can cause agitation. If you arrive too late, you may miss our early boarding opportunity, and boarding can be very visually overstimulated for Alex. It is imperative to do everything possible to avoid Alex getting into his fight or flight mode while you are on a plane waiting for others to get into their seats and clear the aisle.
We are seasoned travelers. Alex, Gus and I at one time had to travel to Juneau weekly for therapy. Diabetes came into our lives and we had to travel to Seattle quarterly visits. Luckily we don’t have to fly to Juneau weekly for therapy anymore, We have therapist here in Haines Alaska now. We continue to travel to Seattle. And we are ok with that, We have Gus to help guide us.
Some revealing amazing situations happened on this particular trip; The change we are seeing in public faces in our little corner of the world. The compassion, and willingness to be more understanding. We are all seeing it on TV, Internet web sites and Social Media that people/families who have dealt with struggles are being strong prime examples to others and paving the way for families like us. Monkey Tail Ranch is one of them; they train amazing breed of service dogs. We are teaching and being examples everyday when we put Gus’s vest on. So I respect the privileges that come with owning a service dog.
I have always believed and hope that by sharing our story can help other families. It’s not been easy to travel on this journey with Autism and Diabetes, but we do love our tour guides.
The Moore Family in Alaska
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