Nonprofit, Airport Offer ‘Travel Rehearsal' for Children With Autism

A program launched by a local nonprofit and the San Diego International Airport is helping families of children with autism have smoother travels by rehearsing everything associated with taking off on a trip.

Navigating an airport and catching connecting flights can be stressful for anyone – but the unpredictable crowds, noises and procedures of a busy airport can be especially difficult for people with autism.

Many families that have children with autism cannot travel because the chaotic environment of an airport induces anxiety, behavioral changes and communication breakdowns that often result in stressful travel delays and missed flights.

In an effort to make airports more accessible to individuals with autism, local nonprofit organization Include Autism has teamed up with the San Diego International Airport to offer a program that will help families with autism have an easier time making their way through the airport.

On Tuesday, the organization took a handful of young people with autism from its Community Coaching program to the airport for a travel “rehearsal” of the entire airport process.

The rehearsal aimed to cover all situations one must deal with during a day of travel – from ticketing and going through security, to navigating different gates and actually boarding the plane.

Due to security concerns, the airport doesn’t offer this program on a regular basis. However, Tuesday’s rehearsal offered families of children with autism a much-needed practice run with their loved ones.

Robin Kulek, a local mother whose son has autism, spearheaded the airport project.

"We haven't been able to fly together as a family since Sammy was four because he was not able to manage his behaviors through the airport process," she said.

Now that Sammy is 20 years old, she figured they should try again.

It was at that point that she reached out to Include Autism, an organization Sammy had been involved with for years as a member of their Community Coaching program.

"Practicing the airport process ahead of time will help Sammy know what to expect and ensure everything goes smoothly on our upcoming trip,” Kulek explained.

Not only is the program designed to help individuals with autism navigate an airport environment, but Include Autism’s behavior specialists were also on hand to provide support and teach coping techniques throughout the process to participants.

The program also hopes to give San Diego International Airport staff more insight into the challenges that individuals with autism face and how to better accommodate these families in the future.

Include Autism founder Tina Waters said the organization hopes to work with the San Diego International Airport on an ongoing basis to host these rehearsals for local families.

The organization hopes programs like this will empower individuals with autism to explore their communities and that the community will reciprocate by working to solve common challenges that families with autism face on a day-to-day basis.

Contact Us