|Quiet rooms for autistic children popping up at airports|
Article from Gemma Cairns for Ability Chicago Info | April 24, 2017
Following the news earlier this month that Shannon airport, in Ireland, has unveiled a quiet room within their main terminal for children on the autistic spectrum, in order make their travelling experience more comfortable Albany International Airport, in New York State, have unveiled their own scheme to ease the experience as much as possible.
At the launch of the scheme, 12 children on the autistic spectrum visited the airport where their were issued with dummy tickets, proceeded through the security checking area, reported to a gate where they discussed the boarding and de-boarding process with experienced members of staff, and then returned to the terminal so that they could experience the baggage claim process and explore the various ground transportation options available at the airport. The idea of the scheme is that children with autism, and their families, can familiarize themselves with the processes involved in air travel and determine whether it is an experience that would be right for them without having to purchase an expensive airline ticket only to find that their child experiences a sensory overload and does not feel able to board the plane. When discussing the program, Albany County Sherif Craig Apple said that: "Many families aren't sure if air travel is a possibility for them if they have a child with Autism. By participating in this event, they can safely simulate everything just as if they were traveling." The program was introduced as part of National Autism Awareness Month, and is the first time that a program of this kind has been offered in a New York State airport.
Easing the Challenges of Travel
At the time of year when many people will traditionally begin to plan and book their summer vacation, it is a positive move forwards that the needs of individuals with often invisible disabilities are being considered. Travelling when you have autism, or when you are travelling with a child who has autism, can be a very challenging experience. Airports are incredibly stimulating environments that could well lead to sensory overload, and some children will struggle to be confined in a new environment for the extended amount of time required. Added to this, parents also need to consider the expense involved in travelling with children who have additional needs: increased medical and travel insurance costs, for example, as well as the additional expense of paying for private quiet lounges at the airport (so that the children have a calm and safe place to rest) and potential upgrade costs of both travel and accomodation, in order to ensure it is as relaxing an environment as possible. Prior preparation, such as the scheme being introduced by Albany International Airport, can certainly be beneficial to some children, but there is also additional airline specific support to look out for that can make the process a little easier. Some airlines, for example United and JetBlue to name just two, allow passengers with additional needs, including those on the autistic spectrum, to board the plane first which is a great support as those children can be guided to their seats and settled whilst the plane is at its quietest. Many airlines also provide information about travelling with children with autism on their websites, and will try to accommodate any additional requests to make your journey run as smoothly as possible, provided you make those requests in advance of arriving at the airport.
Every child is different (regardless of whether they are on the autistic spectrum or not) and whilst some children may love air travel, some may find it palatable, and many more will not be able to tolerate the experience at all. This is why schemes such as the one introduced at Albany International Airport at so valuable: they enable the experience of travel to be something that can be tested and explored in as relaxing an environment as possible. Repetition often makes tasks much easier to understand and complete, and could be the difference between an enjoyable far flung family vacation and not being able to get on the plane at all. Travel in enriching for everyone, and there are so many benefits to be reaped from broadening your horizons and heading out the see the world. Life on the autistic spectrum should certainly not stop anyone from experiencing air travel if this is something they want to experience.