AIRPORTS are being urged to raise awareness about the support they offer for passengers with autism.
Mark McDonald, SNP MSP for Aberdeen Donside, has joined forces with the National Autistic Society Scotland and Scottish Autism to call on the country’s airports to ensure that support is more widely available and promoted.
The campaigners said that many people with autism can find the unpredictability of airports distressing and disorientating.
An investigation by Mr McDonald found that all Scotland’s major airports offer support for autistic passengers to allow them to familiarise themselves with airports, and the processes of passing through them.
Examples of best practice included fast tracking through queues and security, fact sheets with pictures to prepare people for what to expect at the airport, and familiarisation programmes offering a tour of the terminal.
However he found that the information is often difficult to find and may not be readily available via a call to the switchboard.
“We know that travelling by air can be a stressful experience for people generally,” said McDonald, “for autistic people and their families that stress is often magnified. Many of the processes in airports - such as queuing, going through security, and experiencing the different sounds and smells - can cause sensory overload and lead to difficulties.
“I have identified a lot of good practice in Scotland’s airports, either developed or in development, but I am aware that more needs to be done to promote the support that is available for passengers with autism and their families.
“Often a familiarisation visit or series of visits can remove some of the stress and difficulty and can lead to simple alterations being made to allow for a more pleasant flying experience for the individual and family concerned.”
The National Autistic Society Scotland welcomed his report.
“People with autism and their families want to access the same opportunities most of us take for granted, and this includes holiday and travel,” said policy and campaigns officer Robert MacBean. “But many can find unpredictable situations distressing and disorientating, and rely on routines to make sense of an often unpredictable world.
“By making certain, small adjustments that help build familiarity with the airport process and environment, Scotland’s airports are making important progress. But raising awareness of the support available is crucial, as is ensuring advice and information is easily accessible.”
The report looked at Aberdeen airport, Edinburgh airport, Glasgow airport, and Glasgow Prestwick and 11 belonging to the Highland & Islands Group, the largest of which is Inverness airport.
It recommended that all airports should have a page on their website highlighting what services they provide for people with autism and how to enquire about them.
Scottish Autism also welcomed the news. The charity had already been in communication with the airports regarding the issue.
“Having recently developed a support package with Edinburgh airport and Wideaware to help passengers with autism and additional support needs, we welcome the additional attention this report will give to this issue,” said Charlene Tait, director of development.
“People with autism can be disenfranchised from air travel because they cannot cope with the unpredictability of the airport environment.
“Fact sheets that illustrate what will happen at the different stages of an airport journey and familiarisation programmes can be very helpful in preparing someone with autism for travel. Raising awareness of the assistance that is available is also important.”