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Victoria International Airport offering autism resource kits for travellers

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Victoria International Airport (YYJ) has partnered with the Canucks Autism Network (CAN) to make autism resource kits available to children, young people and families who are travelling by air.

The kits were specially developed by CAN to help reduce the anxiety of travel, including noise-cancelling headphones, sensory fidget items and an air travel themed activity book.

CAN says that in the near future, the kits will also include an interactive checklist, an airport map and travel tips.

"Having these resource kits available at YYJ is a game changer," said CAN training and engagement director Hallie Mitchell.

"With one in 29 children and youth on the spectrum in B.C., this new initiative seeks to increase autism accessibility, reduce the anxiety associated with air travel and help with some of those sensory sensitivities that folks might encounter[while travelling]."

Mitchell adds that she hopes the kits will help more people feel like travelling by plane is a possibility for them and their family.

To launch the program, YYJ welcomed 50 people from the CAN community to rehearse the entire pre-flight experience. The April 29 event included a step-by-step walkthrough of the air travel process, from check-in and pre-flight security to boarding an airplane for a simulated flight.

"Many people on the autism spectrum experience anxiety and sensory sensitivities related to air travel, and for some individuals and families this holds them back from travelling," said Mitchell.

"Airport rehearsals can greatly benefit autistic individuals and the step-by-step travel resources can help people understand what the experience will look like leading them to feel less anxiety and a little more predictability about the experience."

The partnership between CAN and the Victoria International Airport Authority to make the autism resource kits available launched after the success of the program at the Vancouver International Airport (YVR) and Kelowna International Airport (YLW). The program also received support from the Air Canada Foundation.

"Families who have access to resources and who come in to an airport environment that is accepting and understanding of some of the differences they might face are welcomed in to that air travel experience," said Mitchell. "They feel that world of air travel is a possibility for their family."

The autism resource kits are available at the YYJ's Red Coat information desk in arrivals, or the customer service desk in the departures area and online.

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