Jason Rudge had an idea to help his son travel. His 4-year-old, Presley, had been diagnosed with level three autism and struggled with overstimulation in busy places, such as airports.
“Parents who have a kid with autism are afraid of how others will react if their kid starts acting out or has a meltdown, especially since many people don’t understand autism,” Rudge, a heavy equipment operator at Pittsburgh International Airport, said in a statement. “Going shopping or out to eat can be overwhelming, and planning a trip with air travel involved can be especially daunting.”
Rudge petitioned the Pittsburgh airport for a special sensory room for his son, and other travelers like him, to be able to relax in a calm atmosphere before flights. The result: Presley’s Place, a 1,500-square-foot, fully soundproof sensory room that opened in the airport’s Concourse A in late July. The room is outfitted with a “transition foyer, a family room, individual rooms with bubble tubes, and an adult area all designed to have a calming effect in a noisy and stressful airport.” It even includes a real plane cabin and jetway so travelers can rehearse the boarding process and eliminate any stress there, too.
It’s all part of a broader push by the aviation industry to help make air travel more accessible to passengers on the autism spectrum and individuals with other developmental disabilities. According to the CDC, about 1 in 59 children are on the autism spectrum disorder. “We want to make flying accessible to everyone,” Christina Cassotis, CEO of Pittsburgh International Airport, said when the space opened. “This room is an opportunity for special needs travelers from children to adults to have a place to decompress and get prepared to fly.”
Pittsburgh follows airports like Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson, Alabama’s Birmingham-Shuttlesworth, and Ireland’s Shannon Airport in creating dedicated, calming spaces for passengers with autism and sensory sensitivities.
“There are many stimuli in the airport that can be very overwhelming, especially for an individual who has autism,” says Kerry Mauger, a senior manager of The Arc, which runs a nationwide flight rehearsal program called Wings for Autism for fliers with intellectual and developmental disabilities. “Unfamiliar environments and routines can bring on anxiety and fear.” Wings for Autism tries to remove those unknown factors with a practice run of what it’s like to be in an airport. The program “provides families with the opportunity to go to an airport and practice all the steps involved in air travel, from obtaining a boarding card, going through TSA security and boarding a plane in a safe, but realistic environment,” Mauger says.
The TSA is another resource available to fliers with autism. In 2011, the agency launched a hotline to help travelers with physical or developmental disabilities called TSA Cares. Travelers who have questions or need assistance getting through the security checkpoint can call the hotline 72 hours before their flight to set up support from TSA at the airport.
“It seems to me like there’s more awareness and more of a recognition that there are families out there that need a little extra support,” Lacey Pires, who has an 8-year-old daughter, Rayne, with autism told Seattle’s K5 News. Pires called TSA Cares back in May when her family took a trip from Seattle to California, and a TSA officer met them at the airport entrance and walked them through security.
“At one point she turned to me and said, ‘What signs do I need to look for if Rayne is getting anxious, as we’re walking through the airport?’ ‘What can I do if she starts to feel that way? What’s the most helpful thing for me to do if she does have a meltdown?’ And that was the most helpful thing she could’ve asked,” Pires said of the TSA officer.
For a traveler with autism, these services can mean the difference between exploring the world or staying home. “A caregiver for a kid with autism might think ‘I’m never going to be able to fly anywhere with my family—it’s too hard to travel with someone with autism,’” Rudge said in the statement. “Having a sensory room at the airport changes that thinking to ‘Maybe we can take that trip after all.’”
Source: Read Full Article