In an uplifting story, here’s how Heathrow responds to a young man with autism who regularly flies from England to Boston to attend school.
The 21-year-old has severe autism and obsessive compulsive disorder,
but has to negotiate the hectic bustle of Heathrow airport to attend
Boston Higashi High School in the US.
To cater for him, staff have attempted to re-create the same conditions every time he flies.
Four times a year for five years, Aaran has met the same
airport staff, at the same check-in desk, visiting the same shops,
leaving from the same gate on to a plane on which the same seats are
The article works through his condition and how predictability is key for negotiating the complicated landscape of Heathrow (and, no doubt, the rest of his life).
There have been hitches, such as when Aaran went to one of the stores he routinely visits at the airport.
Mrs Stewart said: “It was an HMV but now it’s a Dixons, so he retraced his steps inside as if it was HMV.
“It’s routine-based. If there are any delays he’ll think
you’re going to try to change something which will then panic him. When
we get to the gate he’ll settle.
“Everything’s gone to plan, he’ll wait for the bus, we’ve got the seats we need and we’re off!”
Mrs Stewart later explained that on arrival the bus did not
display the flight number due to a malfunction on the screen, which led
to Aaran growing suspicious about its destination.
Fortunately the driver was able to quickly swap buses so he
could display BA215 which resulted in Aaran getting on board and making
I love that the driver was able to swap buses quickly, and presumably without a fuss, to accomodate Aaran.
In the EU, one has a right to extra assistance at no cost. I don’t know the full EU law, but I suspect it contains language akin to the “reasonable” in the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Acts), one of the most contested words in the history of litigation. It must contain some kind of limiting factor.
Disability consultant Geoff Adams-Spink said of Aaran’s experience:
“Hats off to the people who organise it. All too often it’s wheelchairs
all round and it doesn’t matter what your disability is, someone will
turn up with a wheelchair and can get quite irritated if you don’t sit
You can see here one strategy. Someone announces they have a disability. They are put in a chair and wheeled, a passive object, no agency. Compare that to what we read about with Aaran, where he negotiates the airport himself . . . with a supporting community.
And that it’s such a temporary community makes it even more impressive, willing and able to come back together four times a year for this young man.
It’s enough to make me want to fly to England!