Rethinking Healthcare

At a busy airport, practice run helps autistic kids fly

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All the noise, lights, and close quarters sometimes spell trouble. A Philadelphia program offers practice runs, from curb to cabin, to help autistic kids fly more comfortably.

Airports are loud, hectic places. (I’m flying in/out of at least 5 this holiday season myself.) And all the noise, bright lights, and close quarters might be intolerable for people with autism.

So, a program at Philadelphia International Airport is bringing families, airport employees, and airlines together to help autistic kids fly more comfortably. WHYY reports.

A practice run! At the 12th busiest airport in the world.

"We do everything from curb to cabin and back," says developmental pediatrician Wendy Ross, who started the practice program after a patient had an especially bad experience flying.

The families start by waiting at the check-in counter, where they get their boarding passes.

Then, going through security, no children have to take their shoes off, but all the adults do.

Going down the jet way is sometimes a problem. One participant gets nervous if he can’t see what’s in front of him. In such cases, watching the family struggle was a valuable lesson, one flight says. "Most of all to have patience, and to be aware of the situation."

When the families settle into their seats, they’re greeted by a United Airlines flight crew. The plane doesn't actually go anywhere, so families get off after a snack.

Then they gather their belongings, and each kid receives a pin with wings from the airport.

"Literally, we are helping kids fly,” Ross says, “but as a metaphor, travel is so much more than how we get from one place to another, it is how we experience opportunity."

From WHYY via NPR.

Image by dziner via Flickr

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Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure