"Autism Explores": A unique flight for children on the spectrum

February 18, 2011

Traveling by airplane can be hectic, noisy, confusing and scary for all children and even more so for some children with autism such as 7-year-old Ryan Brooks and 6-year-old Mia O'Meara.

"She gets very overwhelmed, over-stimulated easily," Mia's mother Christine O'Meara said.

So to help is a new free program called 'Autism Explores.' It's a collaboration of Dr. Wendy Ross at Albert Einstein Medical Center, Philadelphia International Airport and the TSA, and several airlines including U.S. Airways.

The program takes children and their families through the whole airport experience from checking in, going through security, finding the gate, waiting, boarding and waiting some more. It helps kids understand what to expect. "Because preparation is a huge part to any new experience," Dr. Ross explained.

Ryan's mother, Cassandra Gray said, "Going through security was rough for him, taking off his shoes and them taking his belongings."

Dr. Ross says the mock flight also helps families come up with strategies to avoid problems like this in the future. Such as having Ryan screened instead of going through the screening tower.

For Mia, her mother said her biggest struggle was waiting in line so on the trial-run Christine had some games ready. "I did a couple of games in this line and she did great."

And 'Autism Explores' doesn't just benefit families. It's also a learning experience for the TSA and airline crew. Both volunteer their time.

Dr. Ross said, "We've worked with both sides so they can build a bridge and really cross-relate."

This was Mia's second time on an airplane. Her mother said the first time could have gone better, but now with extra practice she's confident they can book a trip. Same goes for the Reich family travelling with Luke and the Faker family with their 14-year-old son Alex.

"We have family in Florida and New Mexico and we can't wait to visit them," Carla Faker said.

As for Ryan his first so-called flight had a little turbulence but with a little more work, his mother believes he'll be able to travel. His desired destination is "to vacation!"

Dr. Ross is hoping to expand the program to many more airports both Nationally and internationally. Several airlines have signed on to volunteer their time. It is free to the families. Right now it is only open to families with children with autism.

For more information, visit:
Autism Excessibility Program
http://www.einstein.edu/yourhealth/autism/autism-accessibility-program.html
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