Dozens of people on the autism spectrum participated in a travel “rehearsal” at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport this week to practice making their way through the airport and onto a plane.
“The air travel experience can be particularly challenging for children and adults with autism spectrum disorders… We recognize the world’s busiest airport can be a bit intimidating for some of our passengers,” said Hartsfield-Jackson general manager Roosevelt Council.
The rehearsal can help introduce and acclimate people to “the everyday sights and sounds of the airport” with a “realistic but relaxed” experience, Council said.
The rehearsal for children and adults with autism includes the steps of air travel from entering the terminal to getting boarding passes, going through security screening, and boarding and touring a Delta plane. The event also helps to increase awareness among airport, airline and TSA workers who participate in the rehearsal, according to airport officials.
Delta pilot Erich Ries, who participated in the event and whose 10-year old son is on the autism spectrum, said the difficulties when his son was younger included “hypersensitivity to smell and sound and light… the meltdowns in the airplane.” But now, he said his son has traveled more than 45 times “and he does amazing…. I was able to develop a lot of tips and techniques.”
The rehearsal Wednesday was organized as part of National Autism Awareness Month in partnership with Delta Air Lines, the Transportation Security Administration and The Arc, an organization for people with intellectual and developmental abilities.
Those interested in participating in next year’s event can contact The Arc.
Hartsfield-Jackson also has a sensory room on Concourse F aimed at helping children on the autism spectrum prepare for a flight.