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Air Travel with Autistic Children: A Look at Wings for Autism

air travel

Are you planning to travel for the holidays, or looking to take a vacation that will require your autistic child to travel on an airplane? For some children with autism air travel is an overwhelming, and frightening experience—for some adults, too. The airport is a chaotic place full of people, lines, and waiting. The idea of flying may be frightening enough, and navigating the airport, and boarding plane procedures can be enough to throw the child into a total meltdown. Many families have cancelled plans, or don’t make them if it requires their children to fly. Wings for Autism came up with a plan.

What is Wings for Autism?

Wings for Autism, one of The Arc’s, a community-based organization advocating for and serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families, newest national initiatives. It is an airport “rehearsal” originated by the Charles River Center, a local chapter of The Arc, in collaboration with Massachusetts Port Authority, JetBlue Airlines, and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

Where Are They Located?

Currently in their third year, Wings for Autism takes place twice a year at Logan International Airport in Boston, Massachusetts.

How Does It Work?

Autistic children need to know what to expect. New situations can be frightening and difficult for them to navigate. The Wings for Autism program is designed to not only make autistic children feel more comfortable on a plane, but also get them familiar with the airport process. Children get to practice getting ready to fly. They arrive at the airport and go through all the procedures they would need to if they were really going on a trip. They go through check-in, practice getting their boarding passes, travel through security, wait in the airport, and finally board the plane. Once on board the plane, children find their seats, get buckled up and are shown a safety demonstration. Refreshments are served, and the children also get to take a tour of the cockpit.

How Can My Child Participate?

The Wings for Autism program is open to all children with disabilities. To sign up for a future event, you can contact the Director of Autism Services at the Charles River Center in Boston.

By allowing autistic children to “practice” flying, they become familiar with airport procedures, and on-plane routines. Knowing what to expect takes much of the fear out of the new situation. When it comes time to fly (for real) the child is better prepared. In addition to preparing children, the program trains airport and TSA staff, and allows to them learn how to interact with autistic children in a structured environment.

Jeannie Davide-Rivera

Jeannie is an award-winning author, the Answers.com Autism Category Expert, contributes to Autism Parenting Magazine, and the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism. She lives in New York with her husband and four sons, on the autism spectrum.

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