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Health Care

Kids With Special Needs Navigate The Airport

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Sammy Mack
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WLRN

It’s a bustling morning in terminal D at  Miami International Airport and 11-year-old Jonathan Mizrachi is checking in for his flight.  

“I’d like to go to Paris,” he tells the agent at the counter.

He’s not actually going to Paris. That’s make-believe. But everything else about his travel through the airport on this day is real: a TSA screening, gate agents, flight crew, boarding and eventually de-planing.

Jonathan has autism. And this practice run at the airport is part of MIAair—the “air” stands for “airport information and readiness”—a new initiative to help young travelers with autism or hearing loss get used to what goes on in the airport. 

“It’s gotten a lot better over the years and we really enjoy flying out of MIA because they do seem to be very concerned about our daughter,” says Craig Leen. 

His 10-year-old daughter Alexandra has autism and requires a large stroller. The first time he took her to an airport she got out of the stroller and ran onto the wrong plane.

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Credit Sammy Mack / WLRN
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WLRN
Craig and Alexandra Leen practice preparing for takeoff.

“You know, she likes to travel too,” says Leen, who’s on the board of constituents for the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD), based at the University of Miami and Nova Southeastern University. CARD and the Ear Institute at UHealth teamed up with the airport to develop this project. 

There are similar programs at other airports, but the academic partnership makes this one unique. 

The project isn’t just practice for the kids; TSA staff and other airport workers also receive training about kids with special needs.

“TSA is a lot more patient now with parents that are traveling with children with special needs,” says Melinda Mizrachi, Jonathan’s mother. 

She hopes other passengers will follow suit.