MSP helps families affected by autism prepare for air travel

Travel can be stressful for anyone, but for people with autism, crowded airports, security screening and aircraft boarding can be downright scary. Now there is a program designed to help families living with autism prepare for air travel.

“Navigating Autism” is designed to familiarize participants with every step of the air travel process, from the time they park their vehicle at the airport to the time they buckle their seatbelts on a plane,” said Shelly Lopez, who manages the program. “Children with autism who are familiar with the sights, sounds and spaces at the airport and associate them with positive experiences are more likely to respond well to actual plane trips.”

The program begins even before a family leaves for the airport, with a social story that has photographs and text explaining step-by-step what travelers will see and do at the airport and on board a plane.

Families then register for a guided walk through the airport aimed at mimicking the experience of someone who is traveling. Children practice coming to the airport, undergoing security screening, finding their airline gate, boarding a plane and locating their seats.

Guided walks are provided monthly, and registration is offered on a first-come, first-served basis. Families can register online at www.ausm.org or at www.fraser.org.

Following the walk, families have the opportunity to play in the free children’s play area, visit the observation deck or purchase a meal at an airport restaurant, helping reinforce the notion that the airport is a fun place to be.

The program also provides a valuable training experience for airport staff and helps strengthen their awareness of challenges people with autism can sometimes face when traveling.

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