Children with autism are frequently overwhelmed by new surroundings — loud noises, large crowds, and being touched by strangers can all cause panic. This can make traveling through airports a huge challenge.
Massport is trying to help. The agency this month ran its seventh “Wings for Autism” (See Below) event at Logan Airport, bringing together volunteers from three airlines, the Transportation Security Administration, and other vendors to offer about 160 kids with autism and their families the chance at a trial run going through airport security and boarding a flight. The daylong seminar is free and runs twice a year, in November and April. At other times, families with upcoming trips can schedule practice runs with Logan customer service staff or through the agency’s partner, the advocacy group Charles River Center http://charlesrivercenter.org/.
The Massport program has quickly become a national model: Six other airports have already followed suit, and as many as 13 others are considering similar efforts. Massport launched the initiative after hearing of the experience of Susie Littlejohn and her son, Henry, who is autistic. In 2010, the Littlejohns were forced to call off a trip to Disney World after a glass elevator at Logan caused Henry to melt down. At this spring’s event, Henry, now 9, walked right on the plane and sat down. Says Susie Littlejohn, “The chance to practice has made all the difference.”
Wings for Autism
To launch this unique program Massport teamed up with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), JetBlue and the Charles River Center (an autism support center).
A Different Kind of Dress Rehearsal With this unique concept in mind, Massport hosted a “dress rehearsal” open house day to give these families the opportunity to experience travel through Boston Logan before their actual trip.
Since 2011, Boston Logan held four Wings for Autism events and more than 1000 people attended. Families were able to familiarize themselves with the airport and travel procedures and kids had a chance to practice entering the airport, getting boarding passes at the ticket counter, checking bags, being screened at the TSA security checkpoint, and boarding the aircraft.
Increasing Awareness Not only is this a benefit to the families who participate, but it also provides a valuable training opportunity for airport, airline and TSA personnel to learn how to accommodate children with special needs and increase awareness within the airport community so that children with autism – and their families – can have a positive travel experience.
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How To Get Involved If your family is interested in participating in the next Wings for Autism event at Boston Logan, please contact the Charles River Center.*
*Note: You do not have to be affiliated with the Charles River Center to participate and there is no cost for this program.