Mum shares her ideas for visual cue cards to help her autistic son make sense of the world

LIKE a number of people on the autism spectrum, when 11-year-old Joshua Taylor is faced with a new or unusual situation with groups of people he does not know, he can find it frightening and bewildering.

Photo: David Hurst
Rebecca Taylor of Lever House Lane, Leyland, with her son Josh, who suffers from autism, and the information cards she has devised for disabled plane passengers.
Photo: David Hurst Rebecca Taylor of Lever House Lane, Leyland, with her son Josh, who suffers from autism, and the information cards she has devised for disabled plane passengers.

Knowing this, mum Rebecca Taylor put a lot of time and effort into producing a timeline of pictures and words before taking her son on an aeroplane for the first time to make the experience as smooth and trauma-free as she could for him.

Rebecca, who lives in Farington, Leyland, explains: “When Joshua sees a group of people he is not used to, he can become quite tense and clingy, particularly when he is in an environment he has not been to before, such as the airport.

“People with autism take a lot in on a visual manner and their brain fills up with images.

“Joshua has autism spectrum disorder, mitigated echolalia and sensory modulation dysfunction, so I knew it would be difficult to get on an aeroplane.

“Last August, I decided to do a day trip to Dublin with Joshua along with his father.

“I put a lot of work in beforehand to produce a timeline of pictures and words for Joshua so he would understand what would happen and in what order.

“What I produced was a 12-page, full colour document which explained everything from leaving the house to going through security in Dublin and vice versa.”

Before their departure date, Rebecca contacted Manchester Airport who produce a full colour autism awareness document for each of the three terminals and they sent her a blue band for Joshua to wear to help him get through the airport without waiting in lengthy queues.

Rebecca says: “We flew with Aer Lingus and throughout the check-in process, I pointed out all the different parts of the procedure and it went smoothly.

“During the process, various people asked to look at my book as they were fascinated by it. Iexplained it to them briefly and we continued with our day.

“During the boarding of the aircraft, I could see people pointing and looking at both myself and Joshua and, once on-board, I told the crew what I was doing.

“They were great with all of us and again, once the book had been seen, they, too, were very interested.

“As we landed in Dublin, Joshua burst into tears – purely because he had taken so much on in a visual manner. It was as if his brain was trying to filter all the information really quickly.

“A cabin crew member asked Joshua if he was OK and he simply replied that he wanted to stay on the plane!”

Throughout their day in Dublin, they had a great time and Rebecca gave Joshua plenty of time and opportunities to see the booklet she’d made so he would understand the procedure for going back to Manchester.

Rebecca says: “My son responds better to routines and timelines as do many people on the autism spectrum. Everyone who saw my booklet said to me that I had to do something with it as it was such a great piece of literature that could help so many children, young people and adults with autism and other disabilities to enjoy a new experience onboard an aircraft.”

Rebecca, who used to work as cabin crew for British Airways, knew there were safety cards for people with a sight impairment or blindness but realised there was nothing for people with other disabilities.

When she returned home, she thought about all the 
elements that would be needed to produce a card or booklet that would be easy to read and understand, as well as giving all the necessary information.

She contacted Widget in Warwickshire, which is a pioneer in the field of developing materials for people who have difficulty in understanding and using text, and is known for ‘Writing with Symbols’.

After numerous meetings with them, they came up with four different styles of cards for the different age groups.

Rebecca explains: “Firstly we made the ‘key symbols’ which are two pictures accompanied with short sentences which can be used for the older ages.

“We then did ‘full symbols’ which are a symbol for each word and better for younger children.

“On top of that, there is ‘My Flight’ for short haul or domestic destinations and ‘My International Flight’ is for long haul flights.”

After seeing how the information helped Joshua, who is a pupil at Astley Park Special School in Chorley, Rebecca is now passionate about others having access to them.

Rebecca says: “The combination of pictures and words together works in a powerful way and I want other people to be helped by these inflight information cards.”

After lots of editing and with the assistance of Widget, Rebecca has now designed the inflight information cards and they are now available.

l The My Flight Key Smbols A4 card is £3.50.

l The My International Flight Key Symbols A4 booklet is £5.

l The My Flight Full Symbols A4 Card is £3.50.

l The My International Flight A4 booklet is £5.

l These can be purchased online at [email protected] Postage is £1 in the UK.