By Tonia Ferguson, Director, National Initiatives, The Arc
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 email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.