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Taking the Kids: Let's #CelebrateDifferences

Eileen Ogintz, Tribune Content Agency on

Who hasn’t had a travel nightmare when taking the kids? But the worst I’ve heard is having a plane of angry passengers booing your family as you try to calm a child on the autism spectrum.

“People are very quick to judge,” explained Laurie Cramer, who now is executive director of the Autism Society of Greater Akron, Ohio.

She recounts a flight experience where her 10-year-old autistic son screamed uncontrollably because he had to put away his electronic device for takeoff and hadn’t been given any warning.

Cramer explained that she subsequently learned that for kids like her son, not being told what to expect can be difficult and enough to set off the tantrum, as well as bad reactions from strangers. “People were awful,” she recalled. “My lesson from that is to always be upfront to flight attendants and others to ask for accommodations.”

April is Autism Awareness Month. The Autism Society of America, the largest autism advocacy organization, has launched a #CelebrateDifferences campaign to highlight the need for acceptance and inclusion to support people with autism.

That includes vacation, said Christopher Banks, president and CEO. “We want to keep kids in the game,” he explained, adding that families traveling with someone who is on the autism spectrum should be able to do what other families do on vacation.


“Instead of passing judgment on someone whose circumstances you don’t know, ask what you can do to help,” said Banks.

Autism diagnoses are growing, both in children and adults. Last December, the CDC announced that one in 44 children have been diagnosed with autism. Over 7 million people in the United States are on the autism spectrum, many diagnosed as adults, Banks said.

Many in the travel industry “have prioritized creating an inclusive, kinder, more accepting world,” said Arianna Esposito, VP of Services & Supports for Autism Speaks, another major advocacy organization. The organization has developed an Autism Friendly Designation program, and an employee-training program adopted by businesses. Both programs are committed to providing the highest quality of customer inclusive service and support for people with disabilities, including autism.

“I can’t say if the public is more accepting. I think the industry is more accepting,” said Dawn Barclay, author of “Traveling Different: Vacation Strategies for Parents of the Anxious, the Inflexible and the Neurodiverse.” The book, which is available for pre-order and will be published in August, highlights an array of strategies and suggestions for travel, including autism-certified zoos and aquariums, resorts, cruise lines and more.


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