GREER, SC (WSPA) – For many people, going to the airport can be a stressful experience. For families with a special needs child, sometimes flying isn’t even an option.
Shannon Spilker has three children with autism, and says she’s nervous about taking her family on a plane.
“I think the biggest fear is [my daughter] gets quite overwhelmed by noises and sounds, and new experiences. so there’s meltdowns and different things like that,” Spilker says.
Susan Leiby with the South Carolina Autism Society says most families with a special needs child avoid flying all together.
“We know what happens if we go to the grocery store and our child has a difficult time. We get the stares and the glares and the comments. If you imagine that at happening at 30,000 feet when there’s no way to get out, you’re probably just going to avoid even trying it,” Leiby says.
To help make families feel more comfortable, GSP International Airport partnered with autism groups around the Upstate to host the Wings for Autism program.
“We learned just how many people there are on the autistic spectrum, and that translated into potentially hundreds, if not more people coming through the airport every day that are on the spectrum,” says Roslyin Weston with GSP.
The program allowed families to practice the entire airport experience from start to finish. The kids got their boarding pass, went through security and even got to board the plane.
“It takes the fear out of the process because they’re all so process-related, schedule-oriented that when they go through it, they’ll be able to know what to expect next,” Spilker says.
Oficials with GSP say this won’t be the last Wings for Autism event. They hope to hold this practice at least once a year.