Open Sky for Autism provides special-needs families with lifelike air-travel practice

PACOIMA, Calif. (KABC) -- Taking a family trip can be challenging for any parent - but it can be especially tough for families of children with autism or other special needs. One local company is making things a little easier, by giving parents and kids a lifelike experience on a plane before it ever takes off.

This is 11-year-old Brady Riordan's first Air Hollywood flight. With his family, he checks in and goes through a security checkpoint

His dad, Vince Riordan, keeps a close eye on Brady because he's actually more worried about this flying experience than Brady is.

"There's a lot going on that we have to manage and everything," Riordan said. "And I also have the other worries about him. He is always kind of looking around and darting off."

Brady hasn't been on a plane since he was a baby. He has autism.

Darlene Hanson of Reach Services said, "They're nervous. And if you have autism, oftentimes predictability is a difficult thing."

It all feels real, but it's a simulation courtesy Talaat Captan, owner of Air Hollywood, a famed airplane mock-up studio used in Hollywood movies.

Captan said he once witnessed a child with autism struggle at the airport.

"It was a really challenging day for these people. They had to be turned back and go home and they couldn't fly," Captan said.

So he developed Open Sky for Autism. It's a realistic journey designed for those with special needs and their families.

"If you're going through TSA and you can't take your shoes off today, that's okay," Hanson said, "The family knows then that's what we have to practice. That's what this is about.

After takeoff, the plane hits rough weather. Brady looks around as the plane shakes with turbulence.

Real-life flight attendants, TSA workers and pilots add to the effect. They come here to teach and to learn.

"The families also get an opportunity to learn about the rules and things that can be flexible in the airport and in a flying situation," Hanson said.

Going through security, the in-flight safety demonstrations, and the turbulence are all very important lessons. But probably the most valuable lesson families learn is how to deal with waiting.

"A lot of waiting is very important because we want them to wait," said Captan.

It pays off. Many families report successful travels.

"We realistically want to go to Hawaii some day," Riordan said.

Open Sky for Autism boards four to five times a year and the experience is free. To learn, more go to www.airhollywood.com/events/open-sky-for-autism.
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