An Important Role Airports Can Fulfill
BY TOM MALAFRONTE
The impetus for Manchester-Boston Regional Airport (MHT) to develop a formal “Wings for Autism” program was the steady increase in requests for airport
tours made by families affected by the disorder.
Initially, the phone calls and emails came from just
a few families per month. As word about the tours
spread throughout the airport and
autism communities, the number
of requests substantially increased.
We soon realized that the number
of families impacted by autism was
much greater than we had anticipat-
ed. In fact, research shows that one
in 55 boys and one in 88 girls born
today have some form of autism.
The numbers are staggering to learn
and even more difficult to compre-
hend. Although the airport was able
to accommodate all of the tour requests, we recog-
nized that there were probably many more families
whom we had yet to hear from that also might need
some guidance and assistance.
In early 2012, as many families were beginning to make preparations for summer air travel,
the requests for tours continued to increase. We
learned that there was a critical need for families that have children with autism to be able
to visit the airport before their scheduled flight
in order to “rehearse” the travel process. This
walkthrough provides an opportunity for families to become familiar with all of the sights,
sounds and complexities associated with an airport. Based on the steady increase in the number
of tours the airport was conducting, it became
increasingly apparent that we needed to broaden
the scope to include large groups. A larger scale
event, we surmised, would offer a greater number of families from across the region the opportunity to visit the airport and learn what — if
any — trigger points their child/children might
encounter along the way.
Further research lead us to the Charles River
Center (CRC) in Needham, Mass. The CRC is an
organization that specializes in working with children and adults with developmental disabilities,
including autism. When we first learned about
the CRC, the organization was working with the
Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport) to host
a Wings for Autism Workshop. The workshop
afforded us the opportunity to learn more about
the CRC, as well as the Wings for Autism Program.
Jennifer Robtoy, director of autism support services