Posted in Autism, Fun Side of Nick

Blog #16~ Up, Up and Away!

Blog #16~ Up, Up and Away!

A question I often get is, “How does Nick do traveling and on airplanes?” I mean he has Down syndrome and autism, really can you do that?  Short answer, he does really well.  But that has been crafted over many years.

It wasn’t always so easy.  An overseas flight from San Francisco to London with Nick (then a five year old) and not yet toilet trained was daunting.  Prep for such an endeavor started with a bland diet twenty-four hours before take-off.  Follow that up with a dose of Imodium AD to act as a cork, much like the bears that go into hibernation with their butt plugs in place.  While this takes care of #2’s, the issue of #1 had to be addressed.  We padded Nick down with 5 pairs of Pull-ups and as the flight progressed, I would take him to the bathroom and like an onion skin, peel the soaked ones off him.  Naturally the backpack contained dry pants just in case, tricky but it can be done.  It also helped that we flew Virgin Airlines. Richard Branson does know how to fly his customers in style.  Cheers to the free cocktails, and private movie screens at every passenger’s seat!

 We give a thumbs up to Richard Branson….

The iconic Tower Bridge in London……..

Last weekend, we took off for the Overbey Family Reunion held in Oregon. Here is a glimpse of an experience traveling with Nick. I love all the great people watching, don’t you?   Yes we make fun of people and give them nicknames.  First stop through security where the perfect gag me, VIP” family cuts to the front of the line with their noses up in the air. (Insert my eye roll, gag me, whatever here “Oh you are first class and we are steerage.”) My older son rattles out, “I’m pretty sure their shit doesn’t stink.” No kidding Hank.

Nick compliantly takes his shoes off and sets them in the plastic bin. We sandwich him between myself and Hank who acts as catcher after his bro walks through the metal detector (yes, we play the special needs card so we can bypass the body scanner.)  On the other end while putting on our shoes Al points out a man sitting next to us in a green golf shirt who has a dollop of white shaving cream on his ear about the size of a dime.  I try to keep a straight face but it’s hard when I glance at Hank who has raises that smile of his trying his best to suppress a laugh.

Now the counting begins.  It’s 6:30 a.m. so the tally is sluggish.  There are usually two looks we get when people take notice of Nick.  We have named them “Curious Stares” and “Sympathetic Smiles.”  By the time we get ready to board the count is:

 Curious Stares=5

 Sympathetic Smiles=7

We proceed down the jet way scanning for any red buttons that Nick might lunge across us to push.  Speaking of buttons, there is one final count we keep is “Call Button” pushes.  Nick takes the window seat and I am next to them and there will be none on my watch.  The flight is packed to the gills.  I look over at Hank and point out a dude that looks just like Rob Zombie.  I look at him and say, “Two Lane Blacktop” (a Rob Zombie song) and he gives me the head nod.

Besides giving nicknames, we also have “code words” for the people we observe.  I’m not sure I should divulge these but I will offer up a few.  The first one is “TTH” which means “Trying Too Hard.”  You know those people dress over the top or way too young for their age. They scream look at me for attention.

Then there is “HM” which stands for “High Maintenance.”  Sure enough as the flight attendants are reminding everyone that it is a full flight and only put larger pieces in the overhead bins I look up at an young Asian lady who is cramming a tiny draw string “Cats” mini backpack along with another satchel and yet a third; Chicago’s infamous Garretts Popcorn.  She is completely oblivious to the passengers who need to get around her to take their seats. Total HM!

Nick loves the part when we take off.  He gets jazzed up in his seat as his arms open airplane style swaying his body back and forth with a big smile. By the way call button pushes=0.  (Last year while sitting next to Al, who kept dozing off he hit it 5 times and had the cabin crew and people around us laughing.) Besides a handful of guttural burps, wiping a booger on my shirt and incessantly uncrossing my arms that I wanted to fold across my body, he did great.  He was much quieter than “HM” who just had to retrieve her Garrett’s Popcorn out of the overhead bin and eat it loudly opening the brown paper bag and folding it back up over and over again.

Wheels down, Portland, Oregon= Columbia wear…. Snapshot in the airport:  Hippie and granola looking peeps wearing straw hats, hiking boots and brown socks with guitars and pup tents strapped to their back like sherpa’s. It is a broad brush of odd balls who were walking around aimlessly and headed out west to the end point where the rocks meet the Pacific Ocean. Just like the Lewis and Clark’s expedition which ended at Seaside they settled here, a final destination. I found this area and the people fascinating.

View off Highway 101….

Famous landmark, Haystack Rock with Hank….

By the way, for those of you keeping score at home, the final tally upon retrieving luggage and making our way to rental car area:

Curious Stares= 15

Sympathetic Smiles=17

Nick helping with luggage at baggage claim….

These looks barely faze me.  Eighteen years have hardened my shell. People will stare and act accordingly.  Bottom line, I feel solid in the fact that we have always included Nick in our travels here and abroad. It is not easy but it can be done. We made it thru another crazy mix of curious stares, sympathetic smiles and had a great experience with Nick hanging in there. 🙂

That is what’s in my noggin, sometimes the journey over can be one of the most memorable parts of a vacation. Robert Louis Stevenson said it best, “For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” Until next week remember there is great beauty out in the world, get out and explore.


Lewis and Clark…….


Teresa is the Author of "A New Course: A Mother's Journey Navigating Down Syndrome and Autism" and the mother of two boys. Her youngest son, Nick is 29 years old and has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism (DS-ASD). Teresa's passion is helping others understand and navigate co-occurring Down syndrome and autism. She is a DS-ASD consultant, advocate, speaker, and author. Follow Nick's world on Facebook, Instagram & Pinterest @Down Syndrome With A Slice of Autism and on Twitter @tjunnerstall. For more information and media links, visit

4 thoughts on “Blog #16~ Up, Up and Away!

  1. Teresa, funny and enjoyable blog! Great read felt like I was traveling with you and experiencing the fun and annoying aspects of traveling….sounds like Nick did a great job and was a good traveling companion. I like the fun travel games…Oh what fun!

    One of my fav quotes which ties reading and traveling together: “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine.

    Great read!

    1. Joleene, without a doubt we try and keep it light and take it in stride. Great to hear from you and hope that your summer travels have brought some fun fare and rich memories. 😉

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