Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Simplest Ways to Make the Best of Airports and Autism

Any parent will tell you travel is a nightmare for families traveling with an autistic child, so much so that many families just stay home. The first time I took Nick on a plane the only tip I was given, was give him some Sudafed and it will knock him out.  Which I later learned was the “go to” plan for many families. Today as corporations like Disney reduce supports for families impacted by autism – in environments known to be very stressful which trigger negative behaviors for children with autism - others are embracing our children and making efforts to accommodate them.  

Two airports have stepped up to improve the travel experience and accommodate families!  First Delta, in partnership with Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and autism advocacy group The Arc, launched the Atlanta Airport’s first multisensory room on April 12 to provide a calming, supportive environment for passengers on the autism spectrum and now a room opened inside the Myrtle Beach International airport in South Carolina to help families with autistic children by providing a designated quiet space to decompress after a flight.

The rooms features include pillowed and cushioned cubicles and seats marked with the words “Quite”, a mini ball pit, bubbling water sculpture, a tactile activity panel and other items children can interact with to help calm and prepare them for their travel experience. 

If you dig you will find that a parent of a child with autism drive this type of change, and this instance is no exception.  Delta First Officer Erich Riese, who has a 9-year-old son on the autism spectrum was the voice of the program for Delta. He even came over the intercom on the day the room was opened to provide travel tips and best practices based on his personal experience. These tips include:

-Prepare children for the upcoming trip by reminding them of it regularly
-Book a window seat near the front of the aircraft
-Pack a small carry-on bag containing comforts from home
-Board last as it minimizes the time spent on the airplane

“When my son was born, I couldn’t wait for him to be old enough to travel with me,” Reise said. “When doctors diagnosed him with autism, we looked at his diagnosis as a positive. Instead of traveling less, we traveled more… The key is to simplify, simplify, simplify.”

It's only two airports right now, but I do hope others will follow.