Gatwick Airport and the National Autistic Society (NAS) joined forces to mark the start of World Autism Awareness Week (2-8 April) by hosting an Autistic Awareness Day for children on the autism spectrum and their families.
On Saturday April 2, the airport’s North Terminal hosted two sessions attended by more than 50 autistic children, alongside their family and carers, to provide a fun and engaging overview of the airport environment and security processes.
Autistic people often see, hear and feel the world in a different, more intense way, which can mean they feel overwhelmed by ‘too much information’ when out in public. Travelling through an airport can be a particularly apprehensive experience for people with autism which is why Gatwick and the NAS teamed up to help provide greater assistance for passengers with autism.
Representatives from across the airport community including airlines, immigration, police, security, special assistance and the terminal team (including airport dogs) were on hand to explain airport processes and answer any questions. The day was also attended by the NAS’ cultural ambassador, Alan Gardner, star of Channel 4 series, The Autistic Gardener.
To coincide with World Autism Awareness Week, Gatwick has produced an autism-friendly visual guide for children travelling through the airport to help guide them through each stage of their journey.
Caroline Emms of Gatwick’s Terminal Team who organised the Awareness Day and is the mother of an autistic son said: “We want to create a positive environment for all our passengers travelling through Gatwick and to help make their journey memorable for all the right reasons.
“I am delighted that with the support of the airport community and NAS over 50 children were able to take part in the sessions helping to make the day a huge success.”
Daniel Cady, autism access development manager at the NAS, added: “Going on holiday can be difficult for many autistic adults and children who can need fixed routines to help them cope with the world around them. Unfamiliar and overwhelming environments - like noisy, bustling airports - can cause them extreme anxiety.
“The awareness days that Caroline and her colleagues run at Gatwick are a fantastic initiative. They’re not only hugely beneficial for parents and autistic people, they also raise awareness about autism and are fun for everyone involved.
“We at the National Autistic Society have been working with Gatwick to support all that Caroline is doing, helping them bring in often small changes such as pre-flight information to help people prepare for their trip, clearer signage and increased staff awareness.
“We all expect to be able to take a plane for our holidays or business and it’s important that airports and airlines know what they can do to make the experience as easy as possible for autistic people and their families.”