The Benefits of Attending Jetblue’s ‘Wings for Autism’

What made you come to the JetBlue event?

I was approached by another autism family whose child had not experienced flying, thus affecting their ability to go as a family on holiday.

Their son and my son have been friends since nursery school, so there was a playful familiarity with each other. My son, Kai, who is 11, had already experienced many successful flights, although that path was initially quite rocky due to his sensory integrative dysfunction and inability to move beyond what was familiar or comfortable for him.
We both thought it was a fantastic opportunity to be with his friend who was fearful of this new experience, but to also be at the airport in a non-stressful fashion (like lugging bags and frantically packing the night before!)

Kai thought it would be a good idea to bring his other friend from Cub Scouts along, who was also an experienced flier and had autism.  All three of them had a grand time teaching each other new experiences in a very organic, non-therapy situation.

As it turns out, we made some new friends among the group of children there, and met with old ones, some we had not seen in months. Overall, it was a wonderful way to spend a play date at the airport!

On the benefits of attending JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' boys

Photo credit JDamian

 

What did you expect your child to get out of the experience?

Initially, I had assumed that my son would act as a role model for the other kids who had never flown before.
What I discovered was an entire world of additional opportunities:  We met several new friends: Christina Choe of Jet Blue (also an autism mom), Glenn Bustos from Autism Love Society, and Crystal Dodson, who is a holistic health coach and Son-Rise supporter.

While I was chatting with them, Kai had to learn to regulate himself amidst the noise and movement around the boarding gate area. He had to watch me carefully for cues like when to board, how to listen to the flight announcements, and even watch his backpack.
Over the years, I’ve taught him to keep his bags near him, but Kai still has issues remembering that. We have had some close calls with this at major airports like Heathrow and LAX.
I used this chance to monitor him and teach him to the multi-task while looking out for what was happening around him.

On the benefits of attending JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism'- boarding passes

Photo credit J Damian

How did attending the event help your traveling?

It helped!

I’ve been wanting to see how my physician’s letter explaining that I needed to travel with liquid medications and foods (dye-free, gluten-free and casein-free ) exceeding  TSA regulations would help.
I used this opportunity to get a feel of how the TSA  agents would deal with a case like mine and expose my son to the complex process.

On the benefits of attending JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism'- plane

Photo credit J Damian

Now that you’ve experienced first hand, would you recommend Wings for Autism to others and why?


Firstly, Christina Choe, the General Manager along with the rest of the Jet Blue and Burbank airport staff, were amazing, to say the least.
As a mom to a child with autism, I think, families should be encouraged to in participate in mock flight events like Wings for Autism.
The program introduces the children with Anxiety, Autism, or ADD/ADHD to the process of going through airport settings while dealing with different visual (security lines), olfactory( fuel odors), and auditory(loud announcements) distractions.

I would highly recommend attending ‘Wings of Autism’ event to all families with kids on the spectrum.   There is lots of anxiety that plays into a family’s ability to fly when they have children with autism or sensory issues.

There have been horror stories about families being kicked off flights, medications thrown into the rubbish bin, or foods necessary for the children with disabilities that are not provided by the airlines not allowed on the plane.
This can all be avoided!
There needs to be more awareness on the part of the airline and airport officials of how these families need to be accommodated. However, the families should do their role and provide the airlines with a doctor’s note explaining the child ‘s disability, sensitivities and special dietary requirements.

When parents are prepared their anxiety level diminishes, and that calms down their kids too.

On the benefits of attending JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' pilot

Photo credit J Damian

I heard your friend won the raffle tickets at the event and invited both of you to join them on their future flight.So, where would you like to go?

 

Yes, Michelle, our friend won the raffle tickets. She says she wants to travel with us some place educational that is autism-friendly. I love going to Europe.

However, New Zealand, Peru, or Hawaii are on Kai’s, and my bucket list. We’d love the chance to immerse ourselves in those cultures. Kai has been studying German at L.A German School this last year, so Austria and Germany are also countries he’s interested in visiting.

As a parent, I see these travel opportunities for Kai and myself as ways to reach out to other families who have children with any disability, as well as a way for us to regain our sense of connection with the world around us in a place far away from Los Angeles.

On the benefits of attending JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism'-deplane

Photo credit J Damian

Jennifer Damian is a classically-trained musician and educator in Los Angeles who has worked in the special education/disabilities field for over 20 years.  She is an autism advocate for her son Kai and others with disabilities.  She and her son Kai are avid travelers and promoters of the fine and performing arts in the UK and US.You can contact Jennifer  via her FB mom group for parents 

 

 

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