AIR - Helping Families Soar

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Heroes Among Us

For Kids With Autism, Wings to Fly

Wendy Ross, 42

Philadelphia

Pediatrician Wendy Ross was in the office in ’09 when the mom of a patient, a girl with autism, called frantically from a Florida airport. Rattled by the boarding process, the child had such a terrible meltdown the family decided to get off the plane. “These families feel so trapped, it’s heartbreaking,” Ross says. “I thought, ‘What can I do to make this right?’”

So Ross, a married mom of two boys, worked with clinicians and airlines to develop an air-travel program at Philadelphia International Airport that lets kids with autism practice everything from check-in and security screening to boarding a mock flight. This month United Airlines starts rolling it out nationally through Ross’s Autism Inclusion Resources (autismir.com). Among those grateful for Ross’s help: Sheila Mitchell-Green and husband Derek. Their 11-year-old son Julian struggles with lines but traveled smoothly when they visited Disney World last year. “This made,” Sheila says, “all the difference in the world.”

By Moira Bailey