Summer is upon us and we all long for a vacation, but any autism family who’s attempted to fly knows what an ordeal it can be. Increasingly, airports are providing special trial runs for autism families to put them at ease prior to undertaking a journey.
Logan Airport in Boston recently offered training to dozens of JetBlue volunteers to host such an event, going so far as to bring an Airbus to a gate to allow families to familiarize their child with the plane and practice staying seated and belted once aboard.
Of course, people with autism and other special needs are not exempt from screening procedures, so airport staff are being trained to understand their behaviors. The alien environment and aggravating wait times cause many children to flee, so advocates hosting the event designed a special autism lapel pin so that screeners would know who to allow more time and so security could help reunite a bolting child with their family.
Airports in Philadelphia and Newark have staged similar events and Manchester Airport in London actually produced a great brochure on flying with autism.
Massport (the parent company of Logan Airport) will set up individual practice times for children and assign a customer service representative to accompany families through security on the day of a flight and it is worth it to inquire if such services are at the airport in your area.
If nothing is available, taking the child on a tour of the airport prior to travel day is certainly a good idea. Noise-canceling headphones definitely help with sensory overload. Parents have found tracking bracelets and even helmets to shield a child throwing a fit useful. Surrendering cherished possessions to go through the X-ray machine is a particular flashpoint to prepare your child for.
Additionally, be sure to take advantage of airline pre-boarding accommodations for travelers with special needs. It may never be needed, but be prepared to provide documentation such as a doctor’s note or IEP paperwork to prove that your child or fellow passenger does in fact have an ASD diagnosis. This will avoid having to wait in the general boarding lines, which can often cause undue stress for a child or young adult with autism.
Carrying favorite books to read or music to listen to helps with long waits. And packing never-before-seen coloring books, DVDs and other items of entertainment is also recommended. Don’t forget those favorite snacks as well. In advance of your flight, call for bulkhead seats. I recall spending a seven-hour flight trying to keep peace with our neighbors as my sons relentlessly and unwittingly kicked the poor people’s seats in front of them.
Frustrated parents launched the event at Logan and hopefully, airports across the nations will follow suit. It’s certainly in their best interest to accommodate autism families eager to be able to fly.
And if you aren’t under distance or time constraints, don’t forget the option of traveling by train. Kids love trains and it’s less of a hassle. They can walk around and personnel will deliver dining car food to your seat or compartment.
Whatever your mode of transportation this summer, we wish you happy and safe travels.