April is Autism Awareness Month, and to mark the occasion, we are shining a spotlight on the stories of individuals and their families who make our work possible, and who provide hope and support for the autism community. Our thanks to everyone who keeps this community strong, supportive, hopeful, and compassionate. We celebrate and appreciate each of you- this month and throughout the year.
Today, we welcome Ben as a guest blogger to share his experience about his first independent plane ride, in his own words:
I have always wanted to go by myself to visit my brother Dan in Georgia. He goes to Toccoa Falls College and they were hosting a college preview weekend. I thought it would be fun to go visit him then to meet all of his friends and go to some of the college weekend events.
I have traveled by plane before with my family and also went to Disney for my senior trip with my high school. Before the Disney trip, my teacher took us to visit the airport to prepare and we took a special tour, practiced going through security and looked at the gates.
My teacher told me about TSA Cares which is a program that can help anybody with special needs. I called them and told them about my trip to Georgia and asked for help. On Thursday morning, my dad dropped me off at Philadelphia International Airport and TSA Cares met me at the security desk and helped me through that and then walked me to the right gate. The hardest part was that the plane was delayed for 2 hours but I was really patient.
When I got to Atlanta, they told me to stay on the plane until everyone else got off and then the Spirit Airline staff took me to the baggage claim where I caught the shuttle to the college.
I had so much fun at the college, I was on my brother’s radio show taking about video games. We went to an open mic night and we went rock climbing on campus. We had a pizza party and I stayed in my brother’s dorm room. It was awesome.
I had to come back home on Saturday and my brother and his friend drove me back to the airport. I was not worried about going back home but the airport was different than Philadelphia so again TSA met me and helped me get to my gate. My dad sent Donna, the TSA agent, my picture and a little about me so she could find me. She was so nice and she helped me find my gate. I was so surprised when I got home to see that she made a donation to my Eagles Autism Challenge page.
Spirit Airline switched my gate and I told them that I have autism and needed help finding my gate and seat. The staff were all so helpful and friendly. I told them about my story and gave them all ribbons and showed them my Eagles video. They loved it and we took a picture together. They also saw my fundraising page and said they would send it to the CEO of Spirit Airlines.
The people at the Spirit desk asked for more ribbons so they could give them to the flight attendants and the captain and I asked if we could take a picture with the crew. When the plane landed they let everyone else off the plane and then we all took a picture together. They were so nice and the plane crew walked me out to the curb to meet my parents who came to pick me up.
I would tell people with Autism who want to travel to not be afraid to ask for help. They should call TSA Cares ahead of time to make arrangements because they were wonderful.
I hope I get to travel again to more places to spread more awareness about autism.
Fox 29 highlighted Ben’s trip in a recent news story! Click here to watch: http://www.fox29.com/news/local-teen-with-autism-shares-experience-flying-alone-for-first-time