Airports can be a stressful place for everyone, so imagine what a struggle they can be for a child with autism. Wings For Autism, a program run by Autism Support in Natick, MA, has pioneered an outstanding effort to give autistic children and their families more opportunities for travel.
In partnership with the Boston Logan International Airport, TSA and several airlines, “Wings for Autism” events take place twice a year and allow children to practice the airport and flight experience. Children are exposed to the sights and sounds of the check-in process, security checks, and boarding. While the plane never leaves the ground, engines are left running to simulate the sounds of take-off. Families even get the chance to tour the cockpit and be served as they would by a flight attendant onboard.
Although it can take much longer for an autistic child to become comfortable with traveling, the opportunity for discovery and acclimation can make a huge difference, and also makes families feel understood and aided in the process. Reception of this event has been huge, with 300 families in attendance per event and several airports opening their own events across the country.
Airlines are also using this as an opportunity to raise awareness within their staff of the challenges of autism, hoping to teach staff how to be responsive and most helpful in situations where a child is distressed during the boarding or flight process. The organization hopes this will aid children and their families in having the ability to travel, and feel supported along the way.