The Reno-Tahoe International Airport will soon host Wings For All, a program that provides an airport rehearsal day designed to help children with autism and their families learn to navigate air travel. Our reporter Holly Hutchings found out more.
For families affected by autism and other intellectual disabilities, air travel can be extra stressful because of the unfamiliar surroundings, long lines, loud noises and bright lights.
Carol Reitz directs the JUSTin HOPE Foundation, which is a partner in the rehearsal event. Her 15-year-old son Justin has autism. Even though he is a teen, he is over six-feet tall and two-hundred pounds.
“For him, you worry about the TSA basically mishandling him, not knowing that he has a disability because you can’t really see it. It’s a hidden disability,” Reitz said. “So it’s just that anxiety component on both ends, for the parents as well as the child, and then airport personnel. It’s just easier for us to just drive.”
Their family tried to fly to LA when Justin was younger.
“He had his hands on the seat in front of him and he pulled the hair of the lady sitting there,” she said. “It was just by accident and I kept having to apologize, and it’s just such an uncomfortable feeling. And just having to go through that whole security and not knowing what he’s going to do and how he’s going to react.”
Those attending the rehearsal will get a boarding pass, go through security and board a Southwest airplane. Although the plane won’t taxi or take off, participants will still experience the sights and sounds of an actual flight.
The main goal for the event is to remove barriers for these families and open a world of travel possibilities to them.
For more information or to participate in this experience, contact Carol Reitz at (775) 453-9262. Wings For All is a national initiative of The Arc.