Since the age of eight, I have been become accustomed to common procedures at airports that are immensely daunting to anyone, like me, with Asperger’s syndrome. The regular pat down, the endless queues for no apparent logical reason, the complete and utter flaunt of the ‘one meter of personal space’ rule. Not to mention the instances where strange people instruct you to do various different things, such as take off your shoes or take off your belt.
The good news is that some airports are taking steps to be more autism friendly. Liverpool John Lennon Airport, my most accessible port of call, has recently undergone a transformation of sorts. They have signed up to the Autism Champions scheme, which is a promise made to assist individuals on the spectrum in response to the stressors in an airport environment. Adjustments are made so that passengers are treated equitably in accordance to their need, and it’s important to note that this strategy not only helps people on the spectrum, but it also applies to passengers with guide dogs, or those with Alzheimer’s, for instance.
When I booked my holiday to Fuerteventura online with my partner Alex, by chance we came across the airport’s autism awareness scheme. Alongside providing an online guide – very useful for Alex who seldom uses airline travel – they also provide autism awareness vouchers for people on the spectrum, or for families who may find these situations difficult. The vouchers work as a discreet visual for staff at the airport – you can approach them at any point in your journey and whenever you are having difficulties. These vouchers influenced my decision as, although I rarely encounter problems these days, there is always the chance that I will relapse. It’s a thought that makes me anxious.
As a child, and not understanding social boundaries, I once chose to fiddle with the bag of a passenger in front of me. I thought their key ring was fluffy, comforting and soft. They thought I was a nine-year-old, coming-of-age pickpocket and security was called. Perhaps if my mother had had an autism voucher (or had even been aware at the time that I was on the spectrum!) the pleasantries resulting from that situation could have been avoided.
But back to today. No matter where I go, I always find check-in stressful. You might see me fiddling through my bags anxiously and spilling my stuff all over the floor. That will be because perhaps my headphones are broken, or my iPod has lost charge. Listening to music has always been a key strategy to counter my sensory differences, and if I can’t block out all the noises I find distressing, I have to find something to fiddle with (hence the scene with the fluffy key ring).
Security is another stress point. Liverpool have put in place a lot of visual structure telling people which lane they need to go to and, alongside the Fast Track lane, there is also a lane for people with disabilities.
The prospect of a possible ‘deep search’ at security can be immensely stressful for an autistic individual – no touchy! When I told the Liverpool staff I am autistic, they made some simple adjustments, such as giving me time and space to take off my shoes. The procedure was excellent and could potentially be improved further by having visuals at hand to explain to non-verbal people.
In a way, I see Duty Free as my reward for going through security; be that as it may, most airport Duty Free sections present problems for those on the spectrum. We can be overwhelmed by all of the clashing scents. It’s not particularly nice to smell Mrs Beckham’s new bargain fragrance, mixed in with a very pungent tray of chilli vodkas and sugar sorbet. Liverpool specifically separates these products into a logical order to soften the impact as much as logistically possible. For those who find it a bit too much, there are also quiet areas in the airport.
All in all, Liverpool John Lennon airport are making excellent progress to making the place more autism-friendly. The staff are deeply considerate and I commend the amount of effort they are making to make the airport inclusive.
In a world that is starting to understand that there’s no ‘one size fits all’ for autism, it’s the little considerate adjustments that matter. For this reason alone I, as an autistic passenger, will continue to enjoy travelling to places far and wide with Liverpool John Lennon airport.
April lives in Wirral. Liverpool John Lennon airport is one of our Liverpool Autism Champions