Have Tics, Will Travel

We’re off to the US tomorrow, first to New York to give a talk at BRIC in Brooklyn and then on to Portland to work with Boom Arts. I’m really excited to be heading back to North America.

Before starting Touretteshero I rarely left the country, and air travel was something I found incredibly stressful. Not because I was scared of flying but because my tics make me stand out and often mean I shout the worst possible thing in any given situation – as this post about a flight I took with Ruth demonstrates.

In the last few years I’ve been incredibly lucky to have opportunities to travel and perform in places I’d never otherwise get to see. I’ve also got used to going by air and now have several strategies to make this easier. I thought I’d share these here in case they’re useful for others.

1) Book assistance or call ahead – Most airports have special assistance teams to help disabled people board their plane. You can often request this support when you book, or you can call the airport or airline ahead of arriving. The special assistance teams can help you get through security, get to your gate, and board your plane. Generally the assistance teams are great. While they’re best set up for helping people with mobility or sensory impairments, they seem to be getting better at supporting people with other types of condition too – introducing fast track lanyards for people with autism for example.

2) Select the seats that work for you – Leftwing Idiot has become very skilled at making sure we’re seated in the most convenient place on the plane. For me that usually means being close to the toilet. Because I experience a lot of pain, and lying down is more comfortable than sitting up, I’ll often negotiate to have extra seats on flights that aren’t full.

3) Come prepared – When I travel I keep a letter detailing my diagnoses with me. I also make sure I have all the things I might need to manage in busy, over-stimulating environments – like my ear defenders that help block out certain types of noise. Recently I’ve been traveling with a fold out mat so I can lie down in the airport and be in less pain while waiting to board. I’ve generally found that airline staff are helpful when it comes to allowing me extra items that relate to my access requirements.

4) Explain to the crew – I always let the flight team know I have Tourettes as soon as I’m on board. I explain that this means I make involuntarily movements and might say things that sound provocative. I also tell them that my tics can intensify and look seizure-like while reassuring them that I have all the support I need from the people I’m travelling with. I tell them that I’m happy for this information to be shared with the people around me if necessary.

For me, taking these steps usually means I have a positive and comfortable experience both in the airport and in the air. Travelling with a condition like Tourettes can feel daunting but I feel incredibly lucky to be able to explore new places and meet new people.

If you have additional tips for air travel please do share them in the comments section below.

Now, though, I’m going to concentrate on packing, otherwise I’ll arrive cool, calm and collected, but without enough pants!

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