Airports can be a very stress-inducing environment for travels. Most airports are filled with an excess of patrons rushing to get to their terminals, easily overwhelming the senses. This process can leave people with sensory issues feeling especially distraught and can even be a deterrent. Birmingham Airport (BHM) however, is attempting to change the way people on the autism spectrum and similar conditions view airport travel.
Last Friday, February 15th, BHM in Alabama, unveiled their new sensory room. The sensory room was developed with the help of Kulture City, a non-profit organization for children with autism. Kulture City features programs such as Toys AUcross America, which sends toys to children on the spectrum as well as lifeBOKS, a free kit provided to families with autism to prevent their children from wandering off and getting lost . BHM is now the second airport in the country with a sensory room. The first being Lehigh Valley International Airport in Pennsylvania.
The sensory room not only offers a haven for people on the spectrum, but also provides comfort for passengers with dementia, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The space features a bubbling water wall that emits soft lights, activity panels featuring a variety of games, and bean bag chairs. All of which combine to promote a calming retreat from the crowds, harsh lighting, and commotion. According to the Points Guy, a mother of a five-year-old with autism stated that, “noise and crowds [are] a big factor so that’s where these sensory rooms come in. Anyone can come in to a quiet spot, without the bright lights and really calm all senses. It removes all the stimulation that an airport has on someone and helps let them reset, child or adult”.
Hopefully more airports will develop sensory rooms and calming areas for passengers, encouraging individuals and families impacted by autism to fly knowing that their needs will be taken into account. Many people can benefit from an inclusive travel experience, regardless of their unique conditions.