Children Given Special Attention through Wings for Autism Program
With summer a few months away and spring vacations starting galore, autistic children may require some extra attention when it comes to helping them cope with an air flight experience. Flying is frightening enough for the average child; those with certain sensitivities may find it nearly impossible to get through the first time around. Forcing a child through that experience may then cause irreversible trauma.
I believe myself to be a good example of this. I am the type of person who hates changes and find it hard to come to terms with things that are unexpected. I don't remember my first airplane experience, but I do remember the excruciating pain in my ears every time that flight took off and began to land. I remember crying so hard that nothing could appease me. You see, I had an ear infection as a baby that left my hearing ultra sensitive to certain pitches and pressures. I cannot withstand whistling and certain birds cannot sing around me without my feeling like a knife is tearing through my ears. Needless to say, travelling by plane was probably the worst thing for me. What got me through it all was the excitement that prevailed as we went on one adventure or another. I learned how to deal with it over time, figured out how to mitigate the pain and decided to fight against the discomfort. Now I love to fly, but always carry a few packs of gum and some suckable candies to ensure my ears stay open and my mouth keeps moving.
Wings for Autism
I believe one of the greatest programs that I have heard or read about is the initiative by Charles River Center (a chapter of The Arc of the United States) in relation to a program called "Wings for Autism" that caters to helping families with autistic children ease the stress of flying. To launch this unique program, the Center teamed up with Massport, Transportation Security Administration (TSA), JetBlue and the Charles River Center (an autism support center).
A rather serious problem existed that The Arc took measures to solve. Many families with autistic children were unable to go on vacation due to their inability to have their little ones feel comfortable enough on a plane to actually enter the plane, let alone fly off. In Boston alone, the "Wings for Autism" trademarked program has been run seven times since its inception in May 2011, with more than 2,300 people served. The program has also been run in Anchorage (AK), Burbank(CA), Hartford(CT), Jacksonville(FL), Manchester(NH) and Seattle-Tacoma(WA). Since 2011, the Boston Logan International Airport has held four Wings for Autism events wherein over 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. According to The Arc of the United States' webpage on the program, National expansion of Wings for Autism™ is being administered and will be available for implementation at airports throughout the country in the future.
“Loud noises are much louder to them, and obviously an airport terminal is very loud,” Tom Glynn, the CEO of Massport, said at the day-long seminar that was held this past weekend. “They do not like people touching them, but if you go through TSA, sometimes that is something that happens. So it’s kind of a dry run for them before they actually have to get on the plane. So they get used to it, [and] so we train ourselves about how to do a better job serving them.”
Interestingly enough, though Massport is in fact a key collaborator in the program, it is not the creator of the program as it has made itself out to be, nor does it execute any of the laborious responsibility behind the "Wings for Autism" program, training across multiple airports, etc. That is all handled by The Arc of the United States.
What I like most about the program is that not only do the autistic children get to have a simulation where they can feel safe and try the procedure out as many times as necessary, the staff are also trained in how to react and behave when witnessing meltdowns, frightened faces and refusals to comply. They can thus accommodate children with special needs and increase awareness within the airport community so that every family is given the opportunity to have a positive travel experience.