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Learning to fly “without apology” with CAN & YVR

Kerry and her husband Ryan have a son with autism and a younger daughter. Last month, her family participated in the 5th Annual CAN & YVR Autism Accessibility Tour.

Held on April 18, the tour is offered to decrease anxiety often associated with air travel. Individuals and families with autism were invited to familiarize themselves with the pre-flight process, including check-in, security, finding their gate and boarding a plane.

In addition to the tour, each individual with autism was given a YVR Resource Kit, which features an activity storybook, step-by-step checklist, airport map, tips for travel and a tote bag to carry each item.

By increasing expectations and providing a simulated airport experience, the goal of the annual event is to build confidence for future travel.

It was Kerry’s first time at a Canucks Autism Network event. That same night, she shared this feedback with us:

***

Yesterday night, I was front-loading my oldest for the tour. He announced: “I don’t want to do it. But I’m ready to do it. I will use my courage.”

To prep himself on the way there,  he requested that we play “Brave” by Sara Bareilles on repeat.

With his visual schedule in hand, he put that song into action at the airport—conquering check-in and security. He fearlessly filed onto the Air Transat Airbus A330, filled with families just like ours.

Sample pages from the CAN & YVR Activity Storybook.

Travelers with autism can obtain the YVR Resource Kit, including the Activity Storybook (pictured above), at any YVR info desk.

The beautiful thing about this whole experience was that it provided a safe place for nervous fliers and their supporters to just be, without apology.

Meltdowns, earmuffs, iPads, fidgets, and endless questions about every step—it was all okay. There were no dirty looks or hurry-ups, because everybody there just “got it.”

To be honest though—when I signed up for this event, I was thinking mostly of myself. I wanted to have a picture of what traveling with a child who is fearful of crowds, machines, noise, and new things would look like.

And I left with not only that, but also with this sense of feeling deeply loved by countless kind strangers. To the service agents, security and customs officers, airport volunteers, flight attendants, and to the many, many genuinely smiley helpers sporting Canucks Autism Network t-shirts—why do you care about my family so much?

The tour also included an opportunity to sample the YVR Customs Declaration kiosks.

This week, spectrum-related struggles had me feeling extra lost & lonely, and ready to resign from this parenting gig. Tonight felt like the gigantic hug I needed. Thank you Canucks Autism Network and YVR for allowing me and my family to feel seen & safe.

***

We launched this program with YVR in 2014, because we had individuals and families with autism like Kerry’s in mind. Air travel can be a significant challenge for those on the spectrum who have anxiety or sensory sensitivities. But with the correct supports in place, they can accomplish so much.

We have always recognized that the entire family that shares the struggles and successes of an individual with autism. That’s why the tour allowed for the entire immediate family to join in on the experience.

Kerry’s husband & daughter were also able to experience the entire CAN & YVR Autism Accessibility Tour.

The larger the community of support, the better we can all support those on the spectrum. In addition to YVR, this year’s tour was also made possible by collaborations with Air Transat, Canadian Air Transit Security Authority (CATSA), Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and US Customs & Border Protection (CBP).

Thanks to these incredible partners, we can continue striving towards our vision for every individual with autism to be understood, accepted and supported in all community spaces.

Learn more about YVR autism accessibility: yvr.ca/autism.
Check out the Facebook album for the 2019 CAN & YVR Autism Accessibility Tour.

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