11 February 2019

Dear friend,

Whilst patiently cueing for passport control, I watched priority travelers whizzing through their separate section. I kept the boys busy talking and handed out sweets. I was trying to keep big lad out of the crush and in a safe space, as much as possible.

Getting on the plane customers were given priority: disabled and elite members. We waited while people, who should know better, jostled for position with me my 2 kids and 3 bags. The whole situation shed light on my sons invisible disability. Ok he wasn't freaking out but he was uncomfortable, and exhibiting stressed behaviours; repeating the same question, pacing, fidgeting. What would make this better for him?

As an EXPAT we are regular fliers, visiting my family in England a few times a year. My big lad is used to flying and actually enjoys it. He has been flying since he was 3 months old. But, flying can be a very stressful experience for someone on the autistic spectrum. Especially at busy times of the year.

My son finds it extremely difficult to be in unfamiliar situations and in crowded areas. He has super sensitive senses and struggles with the lighting, sound and amount and proximity of people in the airport.

I don't want to highlight my boys disability. I don't want him to be given a high visibility coat or special card to wear around his neck. He doesn't want to feel any more different. I just want to reduce his stress (and truth be told mine too). How hard would it be to make invisible disabilities a priority?

Sadly many autistic families choose not to travel!

I have never considered myself a campaigner but after this difficult experience and spurred on by reading about changes made at airports in the UK I decided to mail Schiphol airport and KLM. I urged their care teams to begin providing support for people with hidden disabilities.

Amazingly my letter landed on the desk of a staff member who had an autistic daughter. He started a project, Flying with autism and in the last 2 years has made real changes for autistic fliers at Schiphol. He introduced us to the DPNA code (Disabled passenger needs assistance). You can have this code applied to your ticket and then receive assistance at the airport when you fly.

Write the letter. You could be the one who helps make a real difference!

Photography @My_Dutch_Angle

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