As I surf the web for the latest news concerning autism, I try to keep an eye out for articles describing new programs developed to better accommodate children with autism and their families. To me, such programs signify an increase in autism awareness and acceptance in our communities. This week one particular program caught my eye.
The Department of Pediatrics at the Albert Einstein Healthcare Network in Philadelphia have developed the Autism Accessibility Program. The goal of this program is to work with families and community organizations to increase the inclusion of children with autism in various public places. To accomplish this, the Autism Accessibility Program stages practice sessions at participating community locations to provide families of children with autism exposure to such places in a safe and controlled manner. After the trial runs, both the family and community organizations will take away valuable lessons. Children with autism and their families gain experience and familiarity with public places that may have otherwise been too hectic or stressful to visit. Moreover, employees receive training on autism and gain experience interacting with and assisting children with autism and their families.
A further component of the Autism Accessibility Program is the Airport Autism Access Program. The Albert Einstein Healthcare Network has teamed up with several organizations including Southwest Airlines and the Philadelphia International Airport to allow children with autism and their families to practice traveling via airplane. The program stages mock flights in which families of children with autism can practice checking in, navigating through security, waiting in the terminal, boarding the plane, sitting through a simulated flight, exiting the plane, and retrieving luggage from the baggage claim.
With the current prevalence of autism diagnoses at 1 in 110 children, it surprises me that there are so few programs out there dedicated to better including persons with autism and their families in public arenas. As a result, I am always delighted to hear about programs, like the Autism Accessibility Program, that are committed to raising autism awareness and acceptance within our communities.