Air travel made easier for children with autism

Airport Autism

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MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota (KARE) — Travel can be stressful for anyone, but for kids with autism, crowded airports and security screenings can be downright scary.

Since the beginning of the year, Minneapolis-St. Paul International has been part in a new program to help the kids prepare for air travel.

For the Nielsen family, the already overwhelming adventure at the airport brings additional worries.

“We were really nervous about how the airport would go, it’s a lot of new things all in the same day,” said Matt Nielsen.

Two of Matt and Melissa’s four children, five-year-old Charlotte and two-year-old Elaine, were diagnosed with autism.

“Everyday we have to follow a very strict routine in order to keep them in the happiest frame of mind,” Nielsen explained.

So when Minneapolis-Saint Paul International and the Autism Society of Minnesota offered an opportunity for families to give the airport adventure a dry run, the Nielsens jumped at the chance.

“(They) really try to get over the sensory issues they’ll face like this, and hopefully have a good experience, and then when they do fly, they’ve already been through this,” said Dawn Brasch, with the Autism Society of Minnesota.

Volunteers lead the families through every step in the airport process, from security, to finding their way through the crowds, and even practicing the boarding process and finding their seats on a plane.

“Instead of doing it for the first time when there’s already added stress of going on vacation, it’s just like doing it again,” Nielsen said.

The Autism Society says it’s a helpful lesson not only for families, but for airport workers too.

“They don’t have the physical attributes of autism, you can’t just see it, so you don’t necessarily know when somebody’s coming through and they’re having a difficult time,” Brasch said.

Families interested in signing up for the monthly airport visits can sign up through the Autism Society of Minnesota’s website, or through Fraser, an autism services provider, at fraser.org.

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