New campaign aims to make air travel easier for families with autistic children

The hustle and bustle of the airport can be nerve-racking and overwhelming for any traveler.  But for families with children on the autism spectrum, most avoid air travel altogether, because the process is just too difficult.

“Going through security nowadays, you have to take your shoes off, your belts off, take your jackets off,” said Lindsay Naeder, response team manager for Autism Speaks.  “Who knows how long the parents had to work with the child just to get them to get their shoes on.  So something as simple as a five-minute switch of taking your shoes on and off can represent a big challenge for a family facing autism.”

Naeder says traveling with kids who are on the spectrum doesn’t have to be stressful – if you plan ahead.

“What Autism Speaks did was create a social story, which is basically a visual story,” Naeder said.  “There are some words involved that can help families to help their child on what to expect, and one of the suggestions that we do include is that they include some type of comforting devices or toys – something that gives their child a sense of home and familiarity when they are going through this routine.”

Some other helpful tips for parents traveling with a child with autism:

- Have your child wear noise canceling headphones
- Plan travel during off times and off seasons
- Book destinations with short flight times
- Take a “test run”

“Blue Horizons for Autism” is the new partnership between Autism Speaks and Jet Blue Airways.  The campaign will host events across the country, which will give families the opportunity to practice the entire travel experience.

“Our hope is that it will allow families to go on  vacation and actually realize that they can accomplish this,” said Kate Wetzel, manager of corporate social responsibility for Jet Blue.

Autism Speaks has trained Jet Blue crew members to assist families with special needs children and teenagers.   Felicia Garcia, a customer service liaison for Jet Blue said the training program was an eye-opening experience, and she hopes that this will help spread awareness.

“Not everyone is educated in regards to autism awareness,” Garcia said. “I think it will enable our crew members to just take it another step in regards to customer service.”

Jet Blue’s future goal is to have the “Blue Horizon for Autism” program in all of the 79 cities they service.

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