Autism Tourism – Hoping Airport Accessibility ‘Takes Off’

My husband, son, and I just got home from a wonderful weekend visiting ‘Grandma Mimi’ and ‘Papa’ in Minnesota. As we walked through the Minneapolis airport on our way back to Chicago, I noticed a sign that talked about all of the accessibility programs that are offered. The supports ranged from therapy dogs and art exhibits, to music therapy and support getting to your gate. They even offer the chance to meet a pilot!

I know the challenges that can come with travel for kids with autism, or at least, I used to. After my brother was diagnosed with autism at the age of 6 my family became acutely aware of how noisy airports were, how hot and crowded they could be, and just how far away the restrooms were when you needed them most. Unfortunately, these challenges were often too overwhelming for everyone involved. So my brother, a former frequent traveler, hasn’t ventured much beyond an hour car trip in over a decade.

These programs offered at the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport are all put on by Minneapolis’s Airport Foundation. I wondered what other airports had these types of programs? I’d heard of Delta’s sensory-friendly space in the Atlanta airport. Of course I was familiar with the semi-national Wings for All program by The Arc – letting families practice visiting the airport before they actually travel. For the international adventure seeker I learned London Heathrow has a quiet room in their family area and Shannon Airport in Ireland just recently opened a sensory room – which looks fantastic (as much I can tell from photos anyhow – Ireland here we come…)!

Will airline travel be in the cards again for my brother? I sure hope so, and now my hope rests of some really exciting airport accessibility programs that are ‘taking off’ !

I’m sure there are others – please feel free to contact me at [email protected] if you know of any!

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