Wings for Autism Workshop: A Parent’s View

By Tonia Ferguson, Director, National Initiatives at The Arc

Plane in Sky

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending Wings for Autism Workshop at Logan International Airport in Boston, MA.  As a parent of a child with autism I didn’t know what to expect, but was excited to participate. I can’t even begin to describe what a wonderful program this is and how much of a difference it can make to children on the spectrum and their families.

I’ve never travelled with my son, Jared because I have always had concerns about how he would deal with security and the excess of people and noise that fill airports on a daily basis.  Observing the way that Wings for Autism addressed the concerns I had, and went into further detail to prepare individuals for all the aspects of travel truly impressed me.

The daylong event gave parents and children a “test run”, where they went through every step of traveling on a major airline. With volunteers from JetBlue including flight attendants and pilots, officials from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), ticket counter agents, and collaboration with other airlines and their staffs the simulation truly prepares parents and children for what to expect when traveling. The simulation requires families to clear security, board the plane, fasten their seatbelts, and prepare for take-off.  A highlight for the kids was a tour of the cockpit given by a pilot.

For children that are having issues with the various parts of the simulation there are behavioral specialists on hand to help parents and children work through any problems they may be having.

While this event is intended to benefit the families participating, I was impressed to see the volunteers from TSA and JetBlue benefiting from the experience as well.

The Arc’s national office plans to work with The Charles River Center (a chapter of The Arc) to expand Wings for Autism. If you are interested in the program and want to find out how to bring a workshop an airport near you please do not hesitate to email me.

This experience opens up a world of possibilities for my family and other families with children on the spectrum, the sky’s the limit. I look forward to working with Wings for Autism as they expand this innovative program and I hope to take Jared to a simulation at our local airport in the near future.

To view a video about the event visit The Charles River Center’s website.

3 thoughts on “Wings for Autism Workshop: A Parent’s View

  1. One of the most rewarding and stressful things I have done with my son is travel. We have been on airplanes and cruises, trains and buses. We have done this since he was about 5 or so. His first plane flight was when he was 10. His travel adventures predate him having any real verbal communication although he is a really articulate young man in his 20’s now.

    I plan carefully and have familiar entertainment and snacks. I make sure that we have enough time to be early for security and that he knows the procedure in advance. We pack and dress for getting through the lines quickly (velcro on shoes, his computer/ipad in my carry on). I also step up to security with our documents together and tell them I need their “slow” line and that I will need to stay with him as he goes through the scanner. They usually get my gist without me having to spell things out for them. This is where it is better if our kids don’t look too “normal”. I find that my demenor going through security really rubs off on him, so I stay cheerful.

    I keep all of his medications in my purse and keep aware that these types of situations can trigger seizures so I am always very close to him as we walk through terminals.

    He enjoys seeing new places and experiencing things he has seen in books and movies, so although it is stressful to travel it is still a good experience over all. I don’t want his life to be limited by my fears or his medical issues. We have done some pretty cool things and those memories last forever. This does not mean I have not had tense moment at the border or that he hasn’t told the TSA guy that it is stupid to take off his glasses since he needs them to see, but we got through and had fun. We have climbed on ruins in Belize and snorkeled with stingrays in the Caymans. We hiked Mt Ranier and cruised Alaska. His life is good and travel is a big part of that, so feel the fear and do it anyway.

  2. I guess this is only for families in Boston. It would be pretty ridiculous for a family out of town to travel by plane to get to another airport in order to have a “dress rehearsal” for traveling by plane. How about a social story, book, video, or better yet, have a specific day and time each month where every airport will conduct this workshop. Children may not remember the protocol a few months after the fact.

    • Yes, this event was ideally aimed at local families in the Boston area. But hopefully, the best practices (and event) can be expanded in the future.

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