I’ll be honest, the first time someone mentioned “airport rehearsal” to me, as a mom with a special needs child already managing a full plate, my first thought was, “That sounds like a lot of extra work.” After all, packing up, parking, navigating through the airport, going through TSA and flying with a special needs child can be overwhelming when there’s a fun destination on the other side of it. Wouldn’t it be that much more so with no “reward” on the other side? I clearly hadn’t had my coffee yet and was missing the bigger picture – the rewards are plentiful. A good experience at the airport and on the plane definitely starts the trip off on the right foot; practicing in a friendly environment helps with that.
Airport rehearsal with a child with special needs like autism provides numerous benefits.
Airport rehearsal with a child with special needs like autism provides numerous benefits. Your child can go through the airport and airplane boarding process at their own pace, helping them process what’s going on and learning what to expect, removing the fear the unknown. There are experts from the sponsoring organization, airport, TSA and airlines available at every step, trained to explain and assist, so your child feels comfortable and your questions get answers. For example, having an expert explain how the TSA Security conveyor works, and that your child’s woobie is safe and will come out on the other side, then watching that happen can save a melt down later. It also helps the air travel professionals understand your needs better. They work side by side with the experts to learn techniques that will help them be better equipped to understand and respond to special needs.
What does an airline rehearsal look like?
In many cases it involves everything from check in and TSA through boarding and taxiing on the runway. Your child has the time to explore the plane and interact with the crew, hear the sound of the engine and feel the movement of the plane. All in a relaxed environment, designed just for them, with friendly faces all along the way. Alaska Airlines is involved with the program at SeaTac airport with the Arc of King County and the Wings for Autism program, and provided me with this information from their event.
How can you find an Airport Rehearsal near you?
- Wings for Autism, created by The Arc, works with airports, TSA and airlines (Alaska Airlines in Seattle) to coordinate events nationwide. Here’s their current schedule of Airport Rehearsals, some upcoming events are in Houston, TX, Lehigh Valley, PA, Chicago, IL (Midway), and Tulsa, OK. Other airports with future events TBD are in Seattle, WA, Greensboro, NC, Boston, MA and Washington DC.
- The Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), Fraser and the Autism Society of Minnesota (AuSM) have teamed up to create the Navigating Autism program. Find out more about airline rehearsal events at Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport.
- Blue Horizons events hosted by JetBlue and Autism Speaks brings airport rehearsal to several airports in California, New York and the Dominican Republic. Find out more about Blue Horizons airline rehearsal events
Here’s a great video from The Arc’s web site for a glimpse into the event: