For people with autism, especially children, flying can be a stressful experience. Many people with the condition find the whole process of air transport distressing, as they are confronted with large crowds, loud noises and unfamiliar surroundings.
Any break in a person with autism’s routine can cause alarm, so to ensure that they can travel with the minimum level of stress, many airports have now issued advice for parents which can prepare them for the experience.
Vancouver Airport, for example, has issued a handbook for children with autism that not only prepares them in advance for their journey, but also guides them through the entire process with a check-list, detailing each stage of the airport experience, from arriving at the airport to landing at destination. Security screening, for example, is often a very scary experience, but with the proper preparation, parents can ensure that their child’s anxiety is kept to a minimum.
Manchester Airport also provides a similar handbook, which sets out details of the journey for each of its three terminals, and Dublin Airport provides guidance for parents, including advice like regularly reinforcing clear, memorable, ‘holiday rules’.
Other airports, in partnership with airlines and autism charities have also been running ‘dry run’ schemes, where children can practise the airport experience before the day of the actual journey. One such scheme, run by JetBlue and the Autism Tree Project Foundation, called Blue Horizons for Autism, has been met with enthusiastic support. The scheme allows children to interact with airline staff at the ticket counter, undertake a security screening, a walk through the terminal and eventually the boarding of an empty aircraft for a mock flight, followed by a short taxi journey around the airport. The first event at JFK International Airport welcomed 100 families.