Children with autism have their day at Trudeau airport

Employees volunteer their time to allow children to trial run to board and sit on a plane.

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Carmen Arellano’s son Robin has been on a plane every year since 2016, yet he’s never flown out of the city.

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Robin, 11, is non-verbal and has autism, but he always enjoys going to Dorval’s Trudeau airport for the Premium Kids Program, which was held Saturday for the first time since 2019. He was among about 200 people who took part in the event .

The pandemic forced the cancellation of the annual activity that allows children with autism and their parents to have the experience of going into an airport and boarding a plane to both demystify the experience, and as practice for an eventual plane trip.

“I think he’s finally ready to go on his first flight,” said Arellano, a resident of Laval. “I want to take him to PEI or Vancouver, but I think we’re just going to start with PEI, so we can start with the shortest flight.”

Arellano explained Robin also suffers from epilepsy, and he’s sensitive to loud noises and chaotic environments, so it’s not so easy to bring him on a long plane ride if he doesn’t already understand what the experience will be like.

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“It’s a good activity for him,” he said. “This helps to make the experience as normal as possible for him. We want it to be a good experience so that he is excited for the real thing.”

She doesn’t yet have a date planned for the next trip, but Arellano said it could be next year during spring break.

“We’ve been working toward (a flight on an airplane) since 2016, and it’s a lot of work, so I was happy that the event returned this year,” Arellano said. “He’s not able to follow the instructions on a plane. I know that incidents are rare, but I don’t know how he would react to that.”

She said for the most part, the experience went well, but Robin had to sit next to a baby for a few minutes and that made him nervous.

The event also gave a chance to Arellano to speak with pilots and other airline employees, security personnel and customs officers, who were all on hand, most of them volunteering their time, to answer questions and allow the children to have the most authentic experience possible. . The plane was donated by Air Transat for the day, but it remained parked in the gate. About 30 employees donated their time for the morning.

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Speaking for Aéroports de Montréal, Anne-Sophie Hamel said the annual event is part of the airport’s outreach every year, and she’s happy it was able to resume Saturday after a two-year hiatus. This was the eighth time the event was held.

“Flying can be very stressful, especially for children with special needs,” Hamel said. “We hope that this can reduce some of that anxiety by allowing them to understand what it’s like to go through the passenger process. It helps parents determine if their children are ready to go on a real flight.

“It’s also a good training experience for us at the airport.”

While employees who volunteer are aware of the special needs of the children involved, Hamel said they still try to make sure the experience is as close as possible to a real flight scenario.

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“Our amazing partners make sure the kids feel welcome at the airport, and are having a positive experience, but the kids do wait in line, because that’s part of travelling,” she said. “We want to make sure the day is as realistic as possible.”

Children who participated in the event received baseball caps, stress balls and stuffed animals, both in the shape of airplanes.

Hamel said the airport adapts services for all people with special needs, and those who have questions about traveling can contact the airport administration before hand if they want specific information about how they can have their needs accommodated.

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