SOUTH BEND – The skies will seem a lot friendlier for children with autism after they earn their wings at a Wings for Autism® event April 30 at the South Bend International Airport.

ADEC, a provider of services to children, adults and families living with the challenges of disabilities, and Thor Industries, are partnering with the airport and The Arc to bring the national program to Indiana.

Wings for Autism®, one of The Arc’s newest national initiatives, is an airport “rehearsal” specially designed for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, their families and aviation professional. The program helps families overcome their anxiety about flying by providing a walk-through of the complete process, from checking luggage and getting a boarding pass to finding a seat on the plane and buckling up.

“Going through airport security can be a stressful experience for anyone,” said Donna Belusar, CEO of ADEC. “Imagine how it feels to a child with autism who depends on familiar routines and predictable outcomes to get through the day?”

Michelle McGuin, director of ADEC Family Services, said, “Many families who have a child with autism avoid flying altogether because they’re not sure what to expect or don’t think their child can handle it.”

The Kirkton family of Middlebury is just one example.

In 2006, the family was headed to San Antonio, Texas with their three young children. Their oldest, Justin, who has autism, had flown before, but not since security had tightened in the wake of 9/11.

“When it came time to remove our shoes and put them on the conveyor belt, Justin was not about to give up his shoes,” his mom, Lisa Kirkton remembers.  “We had to hold him down and take his shoes off; he wasn’t able to understand that he would get his shoes back.  He attempted to grab his shoes off the conveyor belt!”

“Stories like Justin’s are what make Wings for Autism® so vital,” said McGuin.

The program was originally developed by the Charles River Center, a local chapter of The Arc in Massachusetts, and the Massachusetts Port Authority. The Arc began national expansion of this program in 2014. Since then 31 events have been held at 20 airports across the country and nearly 1,000 families have participated. ADEC is the local chapter of The Arc in Michiana.

During a Wings for Autism® event, airport personnel, TSA security staff and airline employees – ticket counter agents, flight attendants and pilots – carry out their regular duties to show children and family members what to expect. Participants must clear security, board the plane, fasten their seatbelts and prepare for take-off. They do not take off, however, or even taxi the runway. The program is a simulation, but not an actual flight.

“We’re excited to be a part of this,” said Julie Curtis, director of marketing and development, for South Bend International Airport. “We’re the first airport in Indiana to provide this program for families.”

To register for this free event, please visit and follow the links or go directly to:  Seating is limited, so please don’t wait.