It's been a good three years since Little A was last on a plane. At age 5, he absolutely couldn't bear clapping, and two consecutive trips made that summer were a real challenge as he was always on high alert and would melt down at the slightest provocation.
We made a lot of road trips with him in the years in between, and he took it upon himself to desensitize himself to applause, so much that these days his favorite activity is "conducting" pretend concerts with lots of clapping and cheering at the end.
Since Big A and I have been on so many overseas trips these past two years, I asked if we could please take Little A somewhere. He agreed to a Singapore trip with much trepidation, and on the condition that the Au Pair came along.
We booked an apartment in the city for three nights, bought seats on the flagship carrier that has long been known in the expat circles to have the most accommodating crews for special needs children, girded our loins, and packed our bags.
I had confidence in our son, but was naturally apprehensive, and enlisted the help of his teachers and therapists to prepare him for the trip. I saved his favourite YouTube videos for offline viewing, prepared pre-cut paper and markers for in-flight desktop activities, and had his snacks, books, and toys on hand.
D Day came, and Little A exceeded all our expectations at every turn. He got through the airport and tolerated the plane ride, despite being extremely anxious, without a single tantrum or tear, and when we entered the flat that was to be home for three nights settled down instantly and never wanted to leave.
Our activities were things we knew he would enjoy, and one big question mark on the last day, when we were to meet up with his godmother and uncle, Big A's sister and brother in law, who lived in Singapore.
The Night Safari, Singapore Zoo, and River Safari were like dreams come true for him as he saw and fed his favourite animals. Then came Challenge Day - Universal Studios.
Neither Big A nor I has ever been fond of theme parks, and as children we were never taken to any. But we figured it might be something to try, to see how Little A would react. We were fully prepared to buy tickets and get a refund, or to spend a few minutes and then leave.
Little A, once again, surprised us. He entered the noisy, sensory overloading main gate, and typed on his iPad, "wait brave". We sat on a bench by the turnstiles to wait for him to gather the courage to move into the main park. No tears, no tantrums.
After about 15 minutes, and two quick recon walks by myself and the Au Pair to "check" for possible scary things, Little A shielded his eyes, kept on his earphones, and walked down the main street.
Slowly, we made our way through the park, always at his side, reassuring him that nothing would happen unless he wanted it to.
By the time we got to the more child-friendly zones, he had relaxed enough to sit down with a book while Big A and the Au Pair went on a ride. We had lunch, then Big A and I went on a scary roller coaster while Little A and the Au Pair sat in the shade to wait for us. We sat in a cafe and he watched the Sesame Street puppet show through the window, and then we headed for his favourite toy store as a treat.
So, challenge day was a complete success. The flight home was uneventful, and the days since have been spent looking at the photos, finding videos of the Zoo, and looking forward to the next time we visit.