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DFW Airport program helps children with autism get real-life airplane experience

<i>KTVT</i><br/>After two years off due to the pandemic
After two years off due to the pandemic

By Nick Starling

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    DALLAS (KTVT) — After two years off due to the pandemic, the “It’s Cool To Fly American” program is back to help hundreds of families with children who have autism get real-life airport and airplane experience.

According to the CDC, about one in 44 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Certain things, such as traveling, can be hard for them to endure.

“My daughter has ADHD, so being on an airplane you have to be respectful, calm and my biggest concern is she has a lot of energy so I’m concerned she’s going to run up and down the aisles,” said Janet Diorio. Her 8-year-old daughter Caroline is on the autism spectrum and Janet wanted to see how she would act while traveling on an airplane.

“We just wanted to give my daughter kind of a trial run, and this is a great program to see how she is going to respond when… the time does come to fly,” Janet said.

American Airlines’ program gives parents and their children a mock traveling experience, including checking in, going through security, waiting at the gate, and boarding.

The hustle and bustle of a crowded airport can be a lot for these kids, so this real-life scenario helps parents gauge how their children respond.

Jim Moses, the Vice President of DFW Hub for American Airlines, said, “[It’s important], for families with special needs, to make it as real as possible… without actually taking off. I believe now as travel demand has really started to increase and people are really looking forward to traveling again, it’s even more important.”

Now comes the real test; getting on an airplane, going through the motions, and finally, the airplane moves. It taxis for about half an hour, speeding and slowing down.

Mansfield parent Mayra Cabrela said, “So far, they’ve done amazing, everybody’s been so kind and helpful and it’s just been a great experience for us.”

While some children were restless, the majority seemed to handle the mock flight really well.

This opportunity is available just once a year at nine airports across the country.

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