Preparing for a trip and going to the airport can be a stressful endeavor for many people, even those who are used to traveling. So for families with autistic children it is easy to imagine how the experience of being in an airport and boarding an airplane can prove to be a challenge. The simple act of being in an airport can be overwhelming enough for an child on the spectrum who experiences sensory overload especially in crowded and loud places. “Everything from announcements made over a loudspeaker to bright lights and loud noises, choreographed chaos, getting from point A to point B, waiting in line with hundreds of other passengers, going through security, and even a simple request like removing a child’s shoes can trigger a meltdown,” explains Myki Romano, Autism Society of Illinois training coordinator.
That’s why Dr. Wendy Ross, a developmental pediatrician fromPhiladelphia, is making moves to help children and families have a smoother experience when traveling in an airplane. Four year old autistic Nathaniel Horsely recently navigated O’Hare International Airport inChicagowith the help of his mother, grandmother, and teacher during a “dry run” flight training program offered by United Airlines and a program called Autism Inclusion Resources (AIR). Nathaniel did really well, reports his mom, up until where they had to wait on other passengers. She explains that Nathaniel, who also has ADHD, has trouble sitting still, staying on task, and waiting in stressful situations. “The clinical support of this program means we’re much closer to being able to get away for a quick trip and maybe one day experience Disney World as a family. Being able to go through a dry run and see how he experienced being at the airport and on an airplance put us much more at ease.”
Dr. Ross has been working with other clinicians and airlines since 2009 to develop this training program for families and airline staff alike in order to help families like Nathaniel’s get where they need to go. “We tap an unmet need for families, who aren’t necessarily worried about an autism spectrum diagnosis and finding a cure, but most concerned about building life skills and enhancing the daily living opportunities for their child,” says Dr. Ross who’s goal is to create functional flyers. Apart from providing social services and clinical support, Ross’ foundation partners offer on-site training programs not only inChicago, butNew York, Philidelphia,Houston, andLos Angelesas well. Myki Romano remarks that, “Families need to experience where the pitfalls may be for their child in an uncharted territory and have support to help navigate the challenges…United Airlines trial run from takeoff to touchdown is an absolute blessing to these families who can now board an airplane and successfully reach their destination.”
For more information about AIR, click HERE