Traveling by plane can be a challenging experience for children on the autism spectrum, but a unique program at Logan Airport is trying make it easier.
It’s called Wings for Autism.
The program took flight all thanks to a local family. Ten years ago, Susie Littlejohn says her then 5-year-old son Henry just didn’t feel comfortable going through the airport and getting on a plane. A planned trip to Disney World never happened.
“As we were navigating through the airport, Henry was becoming more and more stressed out, overwhelmed with all the noises, everything going on, the hustle and bustle,” Littlejohn said.
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Henry is on the autism spectrum and flying on a plane was just not an option. His mom thought there had to be a better way. She contacted the Charles River Center who contacted Massport and then seven months later Wings for Autism was born.
“The Wings for Autism program, you can look at it like a dress rehearsal of sorts,” Littlejohn said.
“We have them come through and actually practice going through every single step of the journey,” said Mia Healy-Waldron, the Massport Deputy Director of Aviation Customer Service.
Logan Airport has hosted families of neurodivergent children. They let them practice getting tickets, going through security, getting to the gate and even sitting on a real plane.
“It takes some of the stress out of going on the trip if you know ahead of time what you’re in for,” Littlejohn said.
Wings for Autism has grown in popularity. Some 670 people have signed up for this Saturday’s event. After two years off because of the pandemic, the airport has added more touchless technology, more open spaces and creative seating. There are now 70 airports around the country that hold similar events.
“We’re really excited to be able to bring it back to the regular routine of twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall,” Healy-Waldron said.
Ten years later, Henry Littlejohn is now a regular traveler. He took his first flight in 2014 after going through the Wings for Autism program. And his family’s story has helped so many others.
“That was a huge success and ever since then, he’s a traveling man,” said Littlejohn. “It’s really impacted a lot of families which makes me so happy.”
Logan Airport will host Wings for Autism this Saturday.