Autism Explorers helps children prepare for travel
February 18, 2011 (WPVI) -- Many parents who have kids with autism avoid taking long trips not knowing if or how their child will tolerate going to an airport and flying on a plane. Now there is a new program helps those families prepare for a real trip.
Only Action News was on-board this special flight that allows families to practice travelling.
Traveling by airplane can be hectic, noisy, confusing and scary for all children, 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, very over-stimulated easily," said Christine O'Meara.
There is a new free program called 'Autism Explorers' to help.
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," says Dr. Wendy Ross.
"Going through security was rough for him; taking off his shoes and them taking his belongings," said Cassandra Gray, Ryan's mother.
Dr. Ross says the mock flight also helps families come up with strategies to avoid problems in the future... something all families who have children with developmental disorders can use.
"Waiting in line is our biggest issue," said O'Meara. "I did a couple of games in this line and she did great."
And 'Autism Explorers' doesn't just benefit families; it's also a learning experience for the TSA and airline crew. Both volunteer their time.
"We've worked with each side so that they can have the tools and strategies to build a bridge between them that they can cross freely," said Dr. Ross.
This was Mia's second time on an airplane. Her mother says 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," says Carla Faker.
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.
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.
The next flight here is in the spring.
Right now it is only open to families with children with autism.
There is a story book that serves as a tool to help kids understand what to expect, and Dr. Ross says talking any child through what will come, helps lessen the anxiety.
autism, air travel, special reports, ali gorman, r.n.
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