The fifth annual Wings for Autism event was held Saturday at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. The event gave people with autism, other disabilities and special needs an opportunity to practice flying without the stress of travel. 

Wings for Autism is hosted by The Arc of Anchorage. It provides families and individuals a chance to practice going through the airport and being on an airplane.

Barbara Rodriguez-Rath, CEO of The Arc of Anchorage, says Wings for Autism allows them to go through the routine and be better prepared for traveling.

"People and families and loved ones often have challenges around sensory issues such as lights, and crowds and lots of noise, and so that's a challenge often for people," Rodriguez-Rath said.

The Alaska Autism Resource Center partnered with The Arc of Anchorage. They gave out a few tools to the participants, including a task analysis keychain that breaks down the steps of going through an airport.  

Participants met by the Alaska Airlines counters at 11 a.m. They practiced getting their boarding passes, going through security and waiting at the gate for the flight.

At around 1 p.m., it was time to board the flight. The participants were high-fived by volunteers as they walked down the line to have their boarding passes scanned.

Two princesses and Spider-Man were there to entertain the kids, and books through the Read-to-Fly program were available for the kids to read. There were also national response K-9 units to support the participants.

Seven-year-old Beau Johnson has autism. His mom, Kathryn Johnson, said he has only flown a few times in the past. 

"We have trips planned for next year, and so having gone through this entire process, I think he's going to be so much more comfortable," Johnson said.

Beau said he was excited for the fun, and he even got to try "flying the plane" while it was still at the gate.

"I didn't think he was actually going to get to do that. But he got in the seat and was using the steering wheel, and so he had a great time," Johnson said. 

She also said Beau has so many questions when he flies.

While inside the cockpit, he asked a few of those questions like, "How do you drive this plane?" To which the pilot replied, "Very carefully."

Beau Johnson, 7, sits and chats with pilots in the cockpit during the Wings for Autism event Saturday, Nov. 2 at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. (Makayla Clark / KTVA)

On the plane, Lucy Odden, has a different story. She was a volunteer for two years, but this year she was a participant. Odden has developmental disabilities and says she wanted to have fun, show other people how to be leaders in their community and how to ride on an airplane.

The flight taxied around the runway, stopped for a bathroom break and for refreshments to be served. It was back to the gate by about 2:30 p.m. but not before giving out raffle prizes, which was seemingly a highlight for some of the kids.

"To be able to go through this and start at the ticket counter and go all the way to the very end was just really amazing for us," Kathryn Johnson said.

Johnson said, normally, she doesn't get an opportunity like this.

"We go through situations and not everyone understands Beau or what he needs,” she said. “And to be able to be here and everyone understand that he has some challenges, and everyone be so welcoming, that was just amazing for us. It was a positive experience and we don't always have that happen."

Rodriguez-Rath says the event was a neat way to bring the community together to create not just a safe and fun opportunity to practice traveling, but awareness and education for the community at the airport.

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