We recently went on a much awaited and much anticipated trip to India to meet our family. This was my son’s 1st trip in a long time since he visited India 3 yrs back when he was a little over 4 yrs old. So, obviously, I was extremely apprehensive. For those who don’t know, from where I live, the journey to India can be anywhere between 20-25 hrs. long, with almost 16-18 hrs. crammed inside a plane. Now add to it my son’s Autism and this trip felt all the more challenging. My husband and I, on multiple occasions, used to get cold feet just thinking about it. The long flight, the jet lag, the sensory overload, especially in terms of sound and a deluge of new faces…we were not sure how our son would respond to so many new experiences. Our fear was that this might turn out to be a very negative experience for everyone. This is where we were completely wrong! If anything, this was a huge learning experience for us and a trip worth remembering. Let’s start from the very beginning:
The most feared part of our trip. The long arduous fight, tied up in a seat for extended, really extended period of time. With the pediatrician’s recommendations, I was carrying a bottle of Benadryl. It could make my son a little drowsy during the flight and help him sleep through most of it. We did carry a few of his favorite toys as well — his iPad, his musical toy and a few straws but we were pretty sure he would get bored of these soon and have a meltdown of some sort. However, to begin with, we really did not need Benadryl. The dimmed lights and his body’s natural sleep cycle took care of most of sleep. The rest of the time he enjoyed playing with his stuff, lying down in our lap, cozying up with us, and just getting our unadulterated attention. We all actually enjoyed this unusual family time more than we expected. Ideally I would fret over his meals but this time around I decided not to do that and this helped ease out the stress we have around meal time. A day of disrupted meal was not going to affect his health in any way. So long story short, the flight was a breeze compared to the apprehensions we had. We had a few rough moments but then who doesn’t!
Lesson learnt— something is challenging only until you haven’t tried it.
**Jet lag and the saga of a new bed**
This is the part where when everyone sleeps peacefully, you lie down and stare at the ceiling and when others are up and about you are walking in a daze. We knew that the jet lag would go away in a day or two. What was a bigger issue was Vedant’s anxiety about sleeping in a new place. The light sleeper that he is, he would wake up suddenly, sometimes within minutes of sleeping and throw up out of stress of sleeping in a strange bed. This went on for almost 5-6 days during which none of us could sleep enough and we all were miserable. Several times during this stressful period we felt like taking the plane back home. But we decided to persevere. Instead of constantly trying to make him sleep ,we tried to have more fun on the bed with him along with his little cousins .This made him feel safe and have a positive feeling about the bedroom. Soon he started sleeping better and we were back on track.
Lesson learnt— patience and endurance always pay.
**Meeting our family**
Amazing is what I would describe it. Vedant was not just affectionate but also excited to meet his cousins. Back in the US I’ve seen him be around kids and for the most part I’ve noticed him coil in a corner and keep away from everyone. However, I found him enjoying the company of other kids here. This had a lot to do with how the kids interacted with him. They did not try to play with him…they tried to play like him. That got his attention and his interest in them. I saw him respond to a few of their questions, I saw the twinkle in his eyes when he was with them and saw the child in him that I have always longed to see. This was so encouraging because now I knew there is hope…. there are ways to enter his world and to get his attention and I learned it from little kids we so underestimate. I saw his cousins being proud of him and showing him off to their friends. I believe somewhere, it made Vedant a more confident young boy who wanted to make his cousins just as proud. The extra attention he got from his family — uncle, aunts, grandparents was phenomenal. He warmed up to them just as well. He likes deep pressure so all the hugs that came his way only made him happy and seek more. The entire experience taught me so much about Vedant in terms of how to work with him and get the best out of him. I know now that he does not lack in social skills. He just prefers a different kind of interaction. It’s us who lack in our understanding of his needs.
Lesson learnt — to know a kid, be a kid–there is no better way to do this.
**A whole new setting**
There was a lot that was new for Vedant during this trip but he really took it all in his stride. The loud noises on the street bothered him but he knew how to regulate himself instead of having a meltdown. Normally a little bit of walking would wear him out. He would insist that we pick him up or else he would be cranky. There, we climbed over a 100 odd steps to visit a temple and had to go up a steep hill to see a waterfall and he happily went along, without complaining even once. Back home, we would not even have tried doing this.
I had believed that Vedant really did not notice us not being around. This was because in the past there had been occasion when his dad or I had to be away but he did not really seem to look for us. So I was pleasantly surprised when he came looking for me in the kitchen, pulled my hand and said “mumma come” when he couldn’t see either of us in the room. So, he really did notice!!! I was so happy. I guess being in his “safe place” did not elicit his insecurities, but when he found himself alone in a new place he immediately felt the need to get one of us. This was such a great thing to know. Now I knew that he was not always in his own bubble, oblivious of things around him. He noticed. He did!
One of us, almost always, kept an eye on Vedant since it was difficult for others to understand him. However, there were times that we got busy and let him be on his own. It was then that we noticed him using his iPad’s app for communication (TouchChat) and actually communicate. Initially we dismissed it as being random because he had never used it back home. However, over time we realized that he was actually typing what he wanted to say, like going to the toilet, playing with a toy, or asking for a specific food item and then he would come up to us and verbalize that. To say that we were over the moon would be an understatement. We had never seen him do that before! We never knew he could use it the way he did. I strongly believe that this happened because unlike home, our son was in a place where he did not know his way around, giving him the necessity to communicate using the app.
Lesson learnt— sometimes we need to get out of our comfort zone to know what we are capable of.
There were many big and small revelations we had during our trip. A lot of what we had stayed away from doing in the past, we got to do back in India, especially because we knew we had a family around to stand by us. This gave us the confidence and the courage to try new things with Vedant that we had not tried earlier. This was my learning experience. For some it could be a trip to a beach or a sleepover at a friend’s. Life gives us so many opportunities to learn and to rediscover; we just have to keep our eyes, ears, and mind open for it. Our fears are our biggest enemies and once we take a step towards facing those fears, there is a whole new world on the other side. This trip to India was our family’s way of discovering what we are made of and it has helped us see our son in a whole new light. He is capable of so much more than we think he is. All our kids are!