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Helping Families Affected by Autism Fly

Thursday, 2 May 2013: 14:00-18:00
Banquet Hall (Kursaal Centre)
W. Ross, Einstein, Wynewood, PA
Background: Patient families affected by autism reported a reluctance to invest in air travel secondary to fears of negative experiences and reactions based on their child's atypical behaviors.  An interdisciplinary team in Philadelphia created a program to help acclimate families affected by autism to air travel.

Objectives: To help families affected by autism to engage in air travel by preparing families for the experience,  by preparing the air travel industry for the families, by training clinical staff to support community based efforts, and by creating and engaging in a practice experience that involves everyone.

Methods: We educated airport, airline, and TSA employees about autism in thirty-minute sessions that included pre and post surveys to ensure the efficacy of the intervention in increasing practical fund of knowledge. We prepared families for the experience with the use of tools like social stories and picture schedules. We prepared clinical staff to support families in the community. We implemented a practice air travel experience, which includes doing everything from curb to cabin and back, with the exception of flying.

Results: We have had practice flights for over 50 families.  Many of them subsequently had successful air travel experiences. We have worked with several airlines and currently have an international airline partner to help standardize and spread the program. We have educated over 300 airport, airline and TSA personnel about autism through thirty-minute educational talks with pre and post surveys that demonstrate improvement in fund of knowledge.  We have additionally exposed personnel to children with autism through the practice sessions, leading Senator Lautenberg to add language to the 2011 appropriations bill requiring TSA engagement in practices for families affected by autism.  We have been invited speakers by the Department of Transportation. We have involved over 25 clinical professionals of varying backgrounds, including medical, psychological, therapeutic, and educational.  We are now creating curricula and tools to help standardize the application of clinical skills to community practice, especially for a population that may not be able to generalize abilities to new settings without support. We are working with the LEND program and presenting at AUCD with United Airlines, TSA, and DOT to help establish a standard in air travel inclusion for families affected by autism.

Conclusions: An intervention that involves preparing the airport, clinicians, and families can help facilitate air travel for families affected by autism.  Families are seeking community experiences and value the components of preparation, supported practice, and educated community partners.  A thirty-minute educational lecture can successfully educate community partners. Clinicians are seeking community-based application of their skills. Community partners are willing and supported by governmental forces to engage in supporting those affected by autism to engage in air travel.  Next steps involve further developing the strategies and tools and creating a standard practice.

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