Airport's Accommodations for Autistic Passenger Gives All Moms Hope

Inspiring 10

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? 

Image Via lunchtimemama/Flickr

autism, behavior, education, in the news, independence, kid health, special needs, teens, tweens


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katyq katyq

What exactly did they do?

Movie... Moviebuff

Just their job I don't know why this writer is making a big deal out of it.

hopel... hopelee2009

because do how hard it is for a child or a person with autisim to be in public

must less fly on plane!!


Amakenr Amakenr

What they have done and continue to do for this young man is wonderful. I have several friends who have children with autism. Being around their children has taught myself and my son a great deal about how much patience is needed to care for children with autism and how great and "normal" these children are. I do not have autism but I still feel a gigantic need for following a routine in most aspects of my life. If something causes a routine of mine to fall askew I have been known to have panic attacks and extreme mood swings. I can only imagine how a small change in this young man's daily routines affects him AND his family. Kudos to this guys parents for not having their very own panic attack as they sent their severely autistic son out into the world. Even more kudos to the airport for being so kind and helping this family in the wonderful ways they have. I would love to see other companies treat their customers with a smile on their faces and do what it takes to treat everyone with such respect, generosity, and heart warming kindness. We remind our 4yr old son everyday to treat others the way he wants them to treat him. It is amazing how your whole demeanor and out look on life changes for the better once you incorporate such a simple concept into your life.

nonmember avatar Sarah

I have Asperger's Disorder, which is now apparently falling under the autism spectrum, and hearing that an airline is doing so much to help this guy makes me extremely happy. Having any kind of change in my routine usually makes me have an anxiety attack, and if I have to do something that involves being around large crowds of people it gets so much worse. I can't go to sports games or the mall, and my senior trip to Disney World I panicked and ended up going to the medical station. It was terrible. And just knowing that there are people out there that will go so above their job requirements makes me happy.

nonmember avatar AnnMarie

I completely disagree with this. I have a son with autism. What they are doing is creating a false environment in which their son will never grow. At least vary the routine by a slight degree so he becomes accustomed to change. What happens in a few years when they are unable to continue to recreate this environment? They are simply prolonging the inevitable. We need to continue to push boundaries, even by baby steps. These kids need to understand how to transition, baby, baby, baby steps. Work on it NOW before the parents die and the child is left without the buffer.

Bonneata Bonneata

I am giving the a standing ovation! The fact that they realize that it is an issue and are accommodating him is huge for an airline. Getting accommodations for an autistic child on airline is pain the fact they are doing this for a grown man hallelujah! 

Movie... Moviebuff

@Annmarie you are right

nonmember avatar toomanyjenns

I am glad that they are willing to help, but I agree with AnnMarie that this is a bit much. My son is Autistic. I do ask for assistance with a couple of things both for my sons comfort and for those around us. He doesn't do well with queuing so we try our best to limit it to avoid a panic attack and we beg for a seat at the bulkhead because he will compulsively kick the seat in front of him, but he is young and I'm sure this won't go on forever. Like she said, baby steps.

nonmember avatar va

Autism is among my "issues." I think the idea of accommodations is great, however I also think it is important to learn to function in a world that isn't always comfortable for people who operate differently. If this is a person who is functioning well enough to be going to school a plane's ride away then he is functioning well enough to learn to use the airport the way everyone else does. For me the airport is a terrifying experience, but my only "accommodation" was my dad doing it first and writing me an extremely detailed account of exactly what the airport would look like, which way to go down the hallway and basically everything about the experience which I went over numerous times, and in the weeks before I had to fly home my counselor role-played the whole thing with me over and over. And then I did it. The airport never needed to know how hard it was for me. I'm not saying anyone did anything wrong here, but I think we need to re-evaluate whether we are enabling people or providing accommodations they could not live without.

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