The Following are highlights from an article on travelling with a special needs child:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in 88 children has been identified as having an autism spectrum disorder, health officials say. And for the parents who struggle to navigate the nation’s airports and airlines with these children, aviation officials are providing more help.
Over the past two years, Washington Dulles International Airport, along with airports in Atlanta; Boston; Bridgeport, Conn.; Manchester, N.H.; Philadelphia; and Newark, have offered hundreds of parents and autistic children “mock boarding” experiences, allowing them to practice buying tickets, walk though security lines and strap themselves into a plane that never leaves the gate.
As of now, Jet Blue, AirTran, Continental, Frontier, Southwest and United Airlines have participated.
The early word suggests that the programs, which are free, seem to help. Autism experts and parents say that increased familiarity with busy airports helps autistic children and their caretakers travel more comfortably. And airport and security officials say they gain a better understanding of the difficulties experienced by autistic travelers.
…Hoping to avoid such unpleasant experiences, many parents are developing their own survival strategies. Some carry letters from doctors describing their child’s autism diagnosis, pack noise-canceling headphones and dress their children in brightly colored T-shirts that declare “autism awareness,” trying to make the invisible disability visible.
TIPS FOR THE TRIP: EASING THE PROCESS FOR PARENTS
Taking a child on an airplane for the first time is often a stressful experience, but for parents with children with autism, that stress is multiplied. What follows are some suggestions on how to minimize the anxiety and the potential for surprises.
• Pick a short flight — an hour or so.
• Visit the airport ahead of time to familiarize your child. If possible, participate in a mock boarding experience. If none is available, call your local airport to see if they will allow you to show your child the ticketing counters, security lines and waiting areas in advance. Parents interested in participating in a mock boarding experience at Boston Logan International Airport, either Nov. 3 or next spring, can use this link —http://bit.ly/W7zNh9 — to register. Washington Dulles International Airport plans to offer additional mock boarding experiences in the spring. Check the “What’s New” section of the airport site — mwaa.com/dulles — next year for information.
• Call the TSA Cares hot line — (1-855) 787-2227 — 72 hours before your flight to alert them that you might need assistance going through security. Some parents ask to go through the handicapped line with children who have difficulty in crowds or waiting in long lines.
• Call the airline ahead to alert them that you might need to board early or require additional assistance onboard.
• Tell your child what to expect, including delays and long waits, in the airport and on the airplane. Philadelphia International Airport offers a story —www.phl.org/passengerinfo/Accessibility/Documents/SocialStories.pdf — that can be read to children to help them prepare. It is designed for mock boarding experiences, but can be adapted to any trip.
• Pack a carry-on bag with anything that might be soothing during a rough patch. Be sure to include documentation of your child’s diagnosis that you can share with security and airline personnel.
Autism Speaks, an advocacy organization, offers a page — http://bit.ly/lZXYba — with additional online resources and travel tips.