You’ve seen them at the airport, at the beach or in a restaurant. A child is thrashing or kicking or on the ground while a desperate parent hovers nearby, trying to ignore angry glances from passersby. I know because I’ve been that anguished parent.

On display are “cognitive disabilities,” invisible handicaps related to how children’s brains work. For many kids with cognitive disabilities or developmental disorders, a car can be a prison, a plane or a new hotel room can be sheer terror.

In the past, families were stuck, barely venturing outside the county, certainly not on an overnight trip. Travel meant potential trauma minefields, and unfortunately, we live in a world where bystanders are more apt to call the police or Child Protective Services than offer help to the parents.

“You’re in this constant fear you’re going to get kicked out of the hotel because of whatever is going on with your child,” says Sara Lawton, 38, a Shoreline mom of an 8-year-old son with fetal alcohol syndrome disorder (FASD). He was adopted six years ago.

“We have been planning a trip to Disney for a long time, but the idea of putting him in an airplane is panic-inducing for us,” she says. “You’re stuck in a tube hurtling through the sky, and what if he has a meltdown and he is swearing and kicking? What are we going to do?”

If a pilot makes an emergency landing due to a panicking child on a crowded plane, unless treated as a medical emergency, the cost to the parents could be north of $10,000. Lawton has managed to take her child to the Christmas lights in Leavenworth and Great Wolf Lodge south of Olympia, even though hotel noises stress her child out.

“It feels really, really lonely,” she says. “You see all these other families having fun and being carefree, whereas your kid is so full of anxiety, he cannot have fun. So our world has gotten really small.” (Read more…)