On April 14, 2017, I attended my second “Wings for Autism” annual event in order to volunteer along with findings ways to help improve the rehearsals. Whereas I signed up to get an overview of the whole process last year, I signed up to volunteer this time around. While the last meeting was 12 months earlier, I was more determined than ever to meet the right people in order to see this program get off the ground by way of major expansion. Meanwhile, I managed to connect with an organization who not only works for Delta Airlines but also has a son with mild autism as well. The pilot, who is the director and I both discussed that I was welcome to join the regularly monthly two-hour tours along with submitting my ideas written in my last blogs in bullet-pointed lists. Correspondingly, I have followed suit. Although I have provided Delta with a very expensive and time-consuming bottom-up way of expanding the program, I came to the complete realization that much observation from every angle needs to be taken. For the time being, there are steps that families can take while inside Hartsfield Jackson whether in rehearsal or in on an official travel date.
With Hartsfield Jackson International being one of the busiest airports in the world, I have simply learned that being in this airport for long periods can be very taxing. Yet, there are many steps that one can take to keep the stress levels down.
First and foremost, it is recommended that one on the spectrum gets proper amounts of sleep the night before. As someone who is on the spectrum and has flown a fair amount, I find that getting to bed early in order to get a good night sleep will help me function better in an extremely stressful environment.
The second recommendation for traveling and rehearsals is to eat a healthy breakfast that which can also help manage stress. Once again, I have learned that I function better when I have had a meal with lots of protein before I travel. On the other hand, it might be helpful to eliminate the sugar as much as possible as it can weaken the immune system for a long period of time. This is especially since the airport has people from all walks of life coming from different corners of the US and the world for that matter.
A third recommendation is since Hartsfield Jackson is one of the busiest in air travels, it’s going to often be crowded. Since passengers often head from the main terminals to catch their flight, most will use the plane train, which can be crowded. Yet, there is a second option that I highly recommend to passengers travelings with loved on the spectrum. On the same level that one can catch the plane train, one can use the tunnels which have regular and moving walkways. Upon making observations after yesterday’s tour, I took the plane train from concourse F to Concourse E so that I could walk through the tunnels. Though an auto recording about using the moving walkways, it was otherwise quiet and less stressful. What’s more is that individuals can avoid dealing with the flickering of the fluorescent lighting by using sunglasses and glasses with colored lenses if that is a problem. Meanwhile, if the noise in the loudspeaker is a bother, using headphones and earplugs may help reduce stress as well.
A fifth recommendation that could help reduce stress levels for families and individuals would be to get to the airport as early as possible. That way, an individual could become acclimated to the hustle and bustle of the airport. All the way, finding a section of gates that are being unoccupied for a few hours between usages of departures and arrivals which can make the environment seem friendlier for one who struggles with lots of stimulation and sensory overload. In the middle of the wait, the loved one could watch a movie on a tablet or laptop, play with a fidget spinner. play games, eat a meal, stimulate or even watch airplanes take off.
Last but not least, Hartsfield Jackson Airport has a first of its kind sensory room in concourse F. Though there are strict procedures to get inside this room, a family could get ahold of the airport in advance to let them know that they need the sensory room for a few hours. Though this room has mats, a bubble machine, and a ball pit, I would recommend that each family brings a few stress balls, fidgets, and weighted blankets so their loved ones can benefit from the usage of this room. That way, officials at the airport will be able to see the greater need and hopefully create and open other sensory rooms in each concourse being that Hartsfield Jackson is so large. Beyond that, the world’s business airport.
While I am starting to share my input with family members as we speak, I realize that much more work needs to be done in order to help create a safer and more familiar environment for people with autism. Though these tours only meet once a month, I recognize that we have not only changing the lives of others but also reshaping the way traveling has been done for many years. What’s more is that these changes aren’t just happening in the airport but outside of them as well.