This paper discusses Autism and the barriers it creates in travel, with the issues which are created by difficulties in communication and many other symptoms which can be mistaken for poor behaviour. The research found that although there are currently a lot of schemes available for families, there is not much public presence as it is largely through the academic network, leading to a limitation in the positive effect of the schemes.
Autism Spectrum Disorder, Communications, Barriers, Limitations.
Tourism is an astounding method of improving a person’s quality of life, and with the population of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) sufferers globally experiencing barriers to travel, the question stands, why hasn’t anything been done sooner? Autism is a disorder suffered by many, usually presenting during childhood, with an unknown cause. There are many symptoms, including difficulties with communication, sensitivities to many triggers such as sound, repetitive behaviours and obsessive behaviours. Due to the differential nature of ASD, it is common to find the public are unknowing of how to approach a child with Autism. This lack of knowledge can create difficulties for the families and lead to the avoidance of such situations.
All studies in tourism point to the benefits for the traveller; most include new experiences, cultures, relationships and quality of life. However, a child with ASD may not get to experience this due to difficulties they face accessing transport. There are options to drive or to access trains, but through research it has been highlighted that there is a distinct issue with air travel.
When travelling through an airport you must interact with many different people, while also following many strict rules for security, such as removing shoes and belts. A child who has difficulties communicating may struggle navigating security, or boarding a plane when there is an excess of noise. If any of the steps throughout the process were to trigger the child they may scream or cry, and in some cases, increase their repetitive behaviours. Any of these behaviours viewed in the eyes of someone who does not understand ASD and the symptoms may assume this is an unruly child or bad parenting.
The first case study presented highlighted the barriers faced by a child with ASD, in an environment in which no one had been educated in ASD. A woman on a plane with her 3-year-old son were escorted off due to complains by a fellow passenger; the experience had gotten too much for the child and his mother did not know how to calm him. The staff had a lack of understanding for the family, and instead demanded them off the flight which had already left for the runway.
In the further two case studies, both reflect on two airports which have introduced schemes which can aid in transitioning a child with ASD through an airport and onto the flight. Firstly, the TSA Care program which is run at many airports with focus on Atlanta Airport. They offer a guideline of 8 steps, for which you follow the TSA Care program, run by Transport Safety Administration Officers. Secondly, Southwest Airlines offer a guideline on what tasks their staff will and will not do for your family if you have a child with ASD. This is very useful, as the family can plan around what is offered, for example: the TSA Care, meeting flight crew, assistance to gates etc.
The suggestions put forward were found via an article referenced throughout, in which they had presented their own list of suggestions for a family/parent wishing to take their child travelling. Almost an “if they are not being educated, educate yourself” approach, for if they find themselves in a situation like that in case study 1. It was originally planned for there to be suggestions for the industry, but it has become clear that it is easier to educate those more directly affected than the greater public.
The research on ASD and the barriers have shown the complexity of the disorder and the uncontrollable nature of the symptoms which can present. It is up to the understanding of the staff involved in tourism as to whether a child with ASD can feel like they can participate.
It is concluded that there is a mass of information out there for families or companies who need help interacting with children who have ASD. However, it is also established that there are limitations, as a substantial portion of it lays in academic literature. For it to be more beneficial, there should be wider access to: information surrounding schemes, how to handle a child with ASD, and how airports are responding. The positive work of the programmes and knowledge behind them needs to be made more publicly known.
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