Learn To Fly: Helping Autistic Children with Air Travel

Air travel can be challenging for children. There are big crowds, confusing noises and tight spaces. What's daunting for many children can be downright intimidating, even terrifying, for children with autism. In Philadelphia, parents now have a unique opportunity to prepare their autistic children before a trip by air.

Find available tutors

tips for traveling with autistic children

Why Air Travel and Autism Don't Mix

One in 100 children are diagnosed with autism each year. For many families with an autistic child, the prospect of travel, especially air travel, brings on apprehension. This is because both the airport and airplane experiences are full of elements that can be difficult for children with autism.

First of all, autistic children may struggle with new or unexpected things; they do best with order and familiarity. As anyone who has been stuck in an airport can attest, air travel is rampant with repeated delays, rushes to make connections and generally chaotic time management.

Airports and airplanes are also full of loud noises, crowded spaces, long tunnels and tedious waits in lines. While no one enjoys these things, they put particular stress on children with autism. These children may struggle to remain calm, have trouble breathing and begin to panic. When a family has a bad air travel experience with an autistic child, they may forego future trips for fear of the stress it can cause.

The Philadelphia Model

One bad experience is exactly what happened to a Catanese family from outside of Philadelphia. Young Gena was planning to pre-board a flight home from Florida with her parents and sisters. Yet she was told that she could only pre-board with one parent. This caused Gena to become agitated and anxious, going so far as to bite her parents. The family had to abandon plans to make that flight.

They then contacted Wendy Ross, a developmental physician. Ross was inspired to start a program at Philadelphia International Airport for children like Gena. Now, families can embark on practice trips that include every aspect of air travel, from checking bags and getting boarding passes to boarding the plane and hearing the pilot's announcements about the trip. This all happens without a plane ever leaving the gate.

The program enables autistic children to get comfortable with the entire air travel experience. They can get familiar with the airport, going through security and the various lights and noises they're likely to encounter. At the end of the trail run, they receive a pin with wings from the airport.

Benefits Beyond the Children

The Philadelphia program is a large-scale collaboration involving autism experts, the Philadelphia airport, the Department of Homeland Security's Transportation Security Administration, the Gray Center and participating airlines, which thus far have included Southwest, United, US Airways and Frontier.

While the program helps families with autistic children, it also benefits airport and airline staff. Last spring, Ross led a training of 130 airport and airline employees on autism. This was a chance to help the staff understand the unique needs of children with autism. They learned about how not every child with autism is the same and, therefore, the challenges these children face may vary widely.

Ross has larger aspirations that extend beyond Philadelphia. She hopes to encourage more airports throughout the country to institute similar programs. If she succeeds, more families with autistic children may feel comfortable and confident embarking on trips by air.

Did you find this useful? If so, please let others know!

Other Articles You May Be Interested In

  • More Blog Articles
    Should IT Matter How Your Child's Teacher Dresses?

    Dress codes have long been a staple in many schools across the country. In some cases, students and even parents have opposed them. But what about dress codes for teachers? When it comes to this issue, just where do most people stand? And should a teacher's clothing even be of concern to parents?

  • More Blog Articles
    How Can You Know if College Is Right for Your Child?

    A prevailing school of thought is that most people need college in order to be successful. But this certainly may not always be the case. Quite simply, not everyone is college material. If your teen will soon be graduating from high school, you may need to contemplate whether college is right for your child.

We Found 7 Tutors You Might Be Interested In

Huntington Learning

  • What Huntington Learning offers:
  • Online and in-center tutoring
  • One on one tutoring
  • Every Huntington tutor is certified and trained extensively on the most effective teaching methods
In-Center and Online

K12

  • What K12 offers:
  • Online tutoring
  • Has a strong and effective partnership with public and private schools
  • AdvancED-accredited corporation meeting the highest standards of educational management
Online Only

Kaplan Kids

  • What Kaplan Kids offers:
  • Online tutoring
  • Customized learning plans
  • Real-Time Progress Reports track your child's progress
Online Only

Kumon

  • What Kumon offers:
  • In-center tutoring
  • Individualized programs for your child
  • Helps your child develop the skills and study habits needed to improve their academic performance
In-Center and Online

Sylvan Learning

  • What Sylvan Learning offers:
  • Online and in-center tutoring
  • Sylvan tutors are certified teachers who provide personalized instruction
  • Regular assessment and progress reports
In-Home, In-Center and Online

Tutor Doctor

  • What Tutor Doctor offers:
  • In-Home tutoring
  • One on one attention by the tutor
  • Develops personlized programs by working with your child's existing homework
In-Home Only

TutorVista

  • What TutorVista offers:
  • Online tutoring
  • Student works one-on-one with a professional tutor
  • Using the virtual whiteboard workspace to share problems, solutions and explanations
Online Only

Our Commitment to You

  • Free Help from Teachers

  • Free Learning Materials

  • Helping Disadvantaged Youth