Starting Our Adventure Right: Helping Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder SOAR In Their Communities

December 10, 2013

Members of the LEND program at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center/University of Cincinnati have collaborated with community partners to develop the Starting Our Adventure Right (SOAR) program to support individuals with ASD to participate in steps for flying with appropriate assistance for success. SOAR is a collaboration between Cincinnati/Kentucky International Airport (CVG), The Kelly O'Leary Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TKOC) at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center's (CCHMC) Division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics (DDBP), and The Autism Society of Greater Cincinnati. SOAR brings family members, professionals, and community partners together to identify ways that CVG airport can support families and prepare individuals with ASD for the airport experience. 

Building on the Wings for Autism program, developed at Boston Logan International Airport, SOAR consists of multiple components. SOAR team members, led by Dr. Jen Bass, director of the Cincinnati LEND Program provided an educational training session to CVG airport staff that focused on various topics including facts, strengths, and challenges associated with ASD, possible challenges specific to the airport, and effective behavior supports. On October 26th, eight families of children with ASD participated in a simulation day at CVG in which they practiced all of the steps of air travel from ticketing to claiming baggage without committing to the financial obligation of buying airline tickets. Families participating in the inaugural event were provided with customized visual supports (e.g., written stories, visual schedules, and list of expected rules) to prepare the individual with ASD for the airport simulation. Following completion of the training session and simulation event, airport staff and family members completed online satisfaction surveys. 

The SOAR program will be expanded to include adults with ASD and then adapted to support individuals with other developmental disabilities beyond ASD. Using the airport location as a model, the program will then be expanded to other locations (e.g., museums, zoo, aquarium, grocery stores, libraries, restaurants, movie theaters) within the greater Cincinnati community so that families of individuals with ASD and other developmental disabilities can feel confident that these community locations are appropriately prepared to support the unique characteristics of these individuals. LEND trainees will have the opportunity to participate in service learning events as the program expands to reach a wider variety of community partners.