Airport's Accommodations for Autistic Passenger Gives All Moms Hope
by Lisa Fogarty
Imagine a mom's anxiety when she sends her teen son or daughter with autism off into a world that she knows isn't prepared to accommodate his or her needs. It happens all the time. But for one family, at least, one of the most stressful experiences that anyone has to deal with -- flying -- has been made a bit easier, thanks to the unlikely efforts of one of the busiest airports in the world.
For the past five years, staff at London's Heathrow Airport have helped 21-year-old Aaran Stewart, who has severe autism and obsessive compulsive disorder, deal with the extremely uncomfortable reality -- particularly for a person with autism who doesn't cope well with changes -- of having to fly four times a year to attend a school in Boston.
Heathrow has gone out of its way to be a role model for other corporations. But efforts like its should become the norm, and not the exception.
Understandably, the Stewart family made Heathrow aware of Aaran's needs prior to his flying. But they responded like champs and, for the last five years, Aaran has been greeted by the same airport staff prior to each flight and he has been able to, more or less, follow the same routine each time, which includes visiting the same shops, checking in at the same desk, departing from the same gate, and reserving the same seat on the plane.
According to Aaran's mom, Amanda, these accommodations aren't a luxury for her son. They are absolutely necessary, as any change in his routine will cause him to panic and become suspicious of what is really occurring around him. It's vital for corporations and people to understand this. If they are fortunate, many students with special needs like autism have attended schools in which teachers have been trained to provide modifications to the curriculum that will challenge them, but keep their needs in mind. But what happens after graduation? Many teens with needs are expected to just deal with the world and change themselves to suit it. It's an impossible thing to ask of them.
I applaud Heathrow and hope this is a step in the right direction. Young people -- all people -- with special needs should receive the accommodations they need in order to live a normal life. Just as we wouldn't expect a person with limited mobility to ditch his wheelchair and bounce up three flights of stairs, we shouldn't expect people with extreme autism to deal well with change. As a mom, it makes me feel hopeful to know some corporations are practicing compassion and making the lives of people with needs a little easier.
How do you feel about the changes Heathrow made to help this young person with autism?