As Autism Awareness Grows, so do Facilities & Services for ASD Community, Pt. 3

Air Travel

Wings for Autism®

Wings for Autism®

A study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2014 showed that the prevalence of autism in the US has increased to 1 in 68 children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). As awareness of autism and the needs of the ASD community grows among the general population, a number of companies and public facilities have recently established initiatives to address these needs.

As we expect this trend to grow in the future, this 3-part series highlights some of the current programs and initiatives from around the country that were created to help improve the lives of autistic children, their families, and other people with disabilities. Part 3 of the series discusses programs designed to help autistic children deal with airports and traveling on airplanes.

Help to Ease the Stress of Air Travel

Many families with autistic children are reluctant to take vacations due to the fear that their child may have a “meltdown” or trouble dealing with sensory overload issues at airports. An airport’s size, the lights, sounds, and crowds rushing here and there can be overwhelming for anyone, but is especially the case when it comes to those with the sensory stimulation sensitivity that comes with many ASDs.

A number of programs have been developed by the major airlines and airports across the country to help introduce autistic children to an airport’s hectic environment, their facilities, and the planes that fly in and out of them.

Virtual Flights Help Reduce Autistic Children’s Anxiety

As we wrote about in our article Autistic Children Take Flight with “Wings for Autism”, the Wings for Autism® program provides families with the opportunity to rehearse for their upcoming trip or potential future flight. Participants get a chance to practice entering the airport, obtaining boarding passes, going through a security check, boarding a plane, and settling into their seats in preparation for takeoff. They may even get an opportunity to visit the cockpit and speak with the Captain and flight crew.

By creating this sense of familiarity, the children’s fear of the unknown, and the stress related to air travel, are reduced to levels they can handle. After their experience, many of the children express their desire and anticipation for their first real plane trip. Wings for Autism® programs have been held in major airports across the country, including Boston, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New York, Detroit, Phoenix, Atlanta, Washington D.C., Seattle, and others. The events have been run in cooperation with a number of leading airlines, including Southwest, Alaska Airlines, JetBlue, American Airlines, and Delta.

A Quiet Place to Help Prevent Meltdowns

Sometimes no matter what parents may do to try to prevent them, the vibrant environment of a major airport may be too much for an autistic child to handle, which can cause an adverse reaction, causing him or her to have what is often referred to as “having a meltdown.” Well, one airport is doing something to help prevent a major meltdown, or at least reduce the consequences of one, if it occurs.

As an article posted by WMBF-TV (NBC) reported, the Myrtle Beach (SC) International Airport recently unveiled it’s new autism-friendly Quiet Room, located next to baggage claim. Only the second such facility in the US, it is a simple room, with chairs and raised cubbies, a safe place to help a parent put their autistic child at ease. Professional therapists and teachers who work with children with autism daily believe this room will give families the push they need to really start living.

In other related news, Jon Meyers, the executive director of the Arc of Arizona, recently announced a new accommodation at the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport that caters specifically to families with special needs. The new quiet room, located on the east end of the third floor of Terminal 4, provides a safe space for families to get away from the hustle and bustle of the airport environment.