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Myrtle Beach Airport opens nation’s first autism “Quiet Room”

August 30, 2016

By Mendy Hecht, Hamaspik Gazette

The “Quiet Room” space for young travelers with autism, a national first for airports, officially opened at the Myrtle Beach Airport in South Carolina on Tuesday, August 23. 

The opening was marked with a formal ribbon-cutting attended by Congressman Tom Rice; Horry County Council Members Mark Lazarus and Tyler Servant; Brad Dean, CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Brad Dean; and Horry County Airport Administration officials

Myrtle Beach Airport’s Quiet Room was conceived by the South Carolina-based Champion Autism Network, an advocacy group founded by autism mom and activist Becky Large.

Family air travel with children who have autism is notoriously challenging, with the unpredictable sights, sounds and enclosed spaces of busy airports and aircraft interiors typically highly overwhelming to sensory-sensitive young people with the developmental disorder.

The air travel industry has shown increasing sensitivity in recent years, though. “Our members have a number of programs to assist passengers with special needs,” said Jean Medina, a spokesperson for trade group Airlines for America.

In September of 2013, for example, commercial carrier JetBlue launched its five-part Blue Horizons for Autism program to families of children with autism.  That program was designed to acclimate young travelers to check-in, security screening, boarding, take-off preparation, and deplaning.

The first leg of Blue Horizons, a simulated pre-take off routine, had 300 youngsters with autism and their parents board an actual plane and taxi about the airfield for some 20 minutes.

The MYR Quiet Room had actually opened to the public before the ribbon-cutting.

In the interim, Delta Airlines opened the second-such U.S. airport-based facility, a “Sensory Room,” at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. 

Myrtle Beach Airport is five miles north of Surfside Beach, South Carolina, which in January of this year declared itself the nation’s first “autism friendly travel destination” at the behest of the Champion Autism Network—offering a number of “kid-proof” hotels and beach cabin rentals, and beach-area businesses that have been trained to accommodate children who have autism..

New Apartment Complex Being Built from Ground Up Around Autism Inclusion

Heidelberg, Pennsylvania will soon become the home of the country’s second-ever apartment complex built with autism integration in mind, according to a recent report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The August 9 article quoted Elliot Frank, president and founder of the Pittsburgh-based Autism Housing Development Corp, as saying that the only other such apartment project in the entire U.S. exists in Richmond, Virginia.

“Most housing for people with autism is just for people with autism,” Frank told the Post-Gazette.  “Inclusiveness is what makes this different.”

Frank explained that when educational and social services stop at age 21, many people with autism “graduate to the couch,” with most living at home with their parents.  Frank founded the autism housing group in 2011 to develop safe and affordable housing for adults with autism.

As such, half of the 42 apartments now under construction are reserved for people on the autism spectrum, with the other half open to the typical population.

All are for people with low- to moderate incomes, with monthly rents of $565 to $795.  They are all also wheelchair-accessible, with six also fully meeting all Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) disability construction standards.

The building also has a community room, a “quiet lounge,” an exercise area and an office for staff from NHS. That non-profit, which provides education and human services for people with special needs, will be on site 25-40 hours per week to help tenants, including linking them to social opportunities, financial counseling and medical services.

A Port Authority bus stops at the apartments, and grocery stores and other shops are within walking distance.

More housing for people diagnosed on the autism spectrum is planned. Frank told the newspaper that said his organization is “exploring a couple of opportunities with other groups.”

The Dave Wright Apartments complex is a joint project of Autism Housing and ACTION-Housing, a Pittsburgh-based disability social-justice non-profit founded in 1957.  Construction is scheduled to end before Sept. 15, the designated tenant move-in date.