Glasgow Airport played host to an innovative new sensory experience designed to give people a better understanding of some of the difficulties faced by people with autism.
The Autism Reality Experience delivers hands-on training and taster sessions to help people better understand how acute sensitivities to light, sound and other things in the everyday environment can negatively impact individuals on the autism spectrum.
Passengers and many of the airport’s 5000 staff visited the Autism Reality Experience’ mobile sensory unit, which was based outside the main terminal.
Those taking part attempted a series of tasks while being subject to a range of effects designed to overload their vision, hearing and thought processes.
Glasgow Airport’s Terminal Compliance Manager Paul Scott said: “We regularly receive requests from the carers or parents of people with autism who are planning to travel through the airport, and the level of support they require can vary depending on the specific needs of the person travelling.
“We’ve been arranging pre-flight visits to the airport from families for a number of years. These can vary from a coffee and a chat through the process to arranging airport familiarisation tours.
“Both the terminal team and our Person of Restricted Mobility (PRM) supplier OCS work together with the airlines and our security team to tailor each of these visits to suit the individual.
“The number of requests we receive each year is increasing, so we thought it was important to bring in the Autism Reality Experience team today to ensure that both our staff and passengers can better appreciate the difficulties faced by people with autism doing something seemingly as straightforward as going through an airport.”
Charlene Tait, Director of Autism Practice and Research at the charity Scottish Autism, said: “We are delighted with Glasgow Airport and fully support its commitment to create the best possible environment for people with autism.
“Many autistic people and their families can find travelling through an airport to be a stressful experience. The crowds of people, bustling atmosphere, security requirements and higher than usual noise levels, which are common features in many airports, along with the added tension that accompanies flying, can make air travel untenable for individuals who live with the condition.
“All these factors can cause sensory overload for people with autism, who can often have an adverse reaction to a unique which they cannot control.
“As a charity dedicated to helping people with autism get the most out of life, we are very pleased to see Glasgow Airport taking the lead within their industry by introducing this new initiative."
The Autism Reality Experience was developed by Experience Training Ltd’s Managing Director Glenn Knight and was introduced to provide structured training sessions to organisations across the UK which employ staff who directly or indirectly work with people with autism.
This includes care and nursing homes, day centres, hospitals, hospices, local authorities, universities and the retail sector.
Glenn Knight said: “By making the Autism Reality Experience training available to both staff and passengers, and by being the first UK airport to do so, the team at Glasgow has led the way by demonstrating a clear understanding of the complex and varied sensory difficulties people on the autistic spectrum face.
“By taking part in the taster sessions, an even wider number of staff from across the airport’s 5000-strong campus will be better informed to be able to support both people with autism and their families as they go through the terminal.
“They will certainly have a better understanding of how making simple changes can make a huge difference to people living with autism.”