For many parents of children with autism, going on a family vacation may seem impossible. The biggest obstacle is traveling, particularly flying in planes, as children on the spectrum may be overwhelmed by the new experience they are having. An airport in Alaska has begun a new project to help children on the spectrum ease their anxieties and be able to experience the joys of traveling somewhere new with their families.
The Arc of Anchorage, a nonprofit serving families of children on the autism spectrum, recently sponsored several Wings for Autism days, where airport workers focus on making children with autism comfortable with the travel process. These airport “rehearsals” have been held across the country by other chapters of the organization, creating an experience that aims to open the doors to travel. The organization gets children comfortable by introducing them to several of the experiences of flying, without an actual plane ticket involved.
Jacquelyn McGary, spokeswoman for The Arc of Anchorage, states, “[The rehearsals] also give a rehearsal try for employees in the industry, because those that are on the flight get to work with the individuals and get a sense of what their issues are”. According to the parents that participated in the event, the most common troubles involved in traveling are waiting in lines, being around crowds, being in a new, unfamiliar place, along with being stuck in a confined space for a significant duration of time.
The Arc used visuals to depict each stage of the screening and boarding process to help children understand the steps being taken, and what to expect next. At last week’s event, participants checked in at a ticket counter, headed through a security checkpoint, and boarded a Boeing 737. The airline captain ran the jet along the runway and accelerated the plane just enough to create the volume of a takeoff.
Upon leaving the plane, participants were greeted with a celebratory reception, as well as snacks. Wings for Autism aims to expand their program through creating more chapters around the country. Programs such as these enable families to introduce their children to new experiences, giving them better opportunities to enjoy things together, such as a family vacation.