Today we have wings and we’re going to fly,” said Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief as she greeted children and their parents who were participating in the 5th Annual Autism in Flight program at Broward County’s Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport.

The Autism in Flight Program began in 2013 after Mayor Sharief was contacted by a family in her district with an autistic child and learned of the potential challenges they faced when using airports.  Seven Broward County Public Schools now participate in the program that provides a real life travel experience for children with autistic spectrum disorder.  An estimated 5,000 children with autism spectrum disorder are enrolled in Broward County Public Schools (BCPS).

“Autistic children experience the world quite differently than the rest of us.  Airport travel can be daunting, so this is a learning experience for the children, the families and airport employees. In the past five years this program has grown and we are able to help more children and families enjoy traveling on an airplane,” said Sharief.

The children check in at the ticket counter, go through a TSA security check and board a real airplane provided by JetBlue for a mock “take-off.”  Trained JetBlue crewmembers provide assistance throughout the process. JetBlue pilots and flight attendants are onboard to simulate the true flying experience as they meet and interact with the children. Behavioral consultants are on hand to assist students with any issues that might arise. The plane actually travels on the tarmac for a short distance before returning to the gate.