Autistic teen’s beach airport work experience

Images: Ben with the Barra Airport team and on his way to work

Barra Airport, the world’s only commercial airport with a tidal beach runway, has proved to be a perfect location for an autistic teenager to experience the working environment.

Ben, 15, is from Keswick School in central Cumbria and his family have always taken their holidays in cooler and quieter locations such as Scandinavia, the Faroe Islands and UK islands.

The open landscapes and the more relaxed nature and pace of local life suits Ben, giving him the opportunity to take a break from the sensory overload that life on the UK mainland can sometimes bring.

Whilst on holiday in Barra last year, Ben’s mum Julie discovered the island was a perfect environment for her son. He had often mentioned his interest in working in an airport and a plan was born. After contacting the airport staff, Ben was accepted for a week of work experience with the airport’s fire crew this summer.

Airports are busy places with the environment having many sensory challenges; however, they also have a routine which can feel secure for a person on the autistic spectrum, allowing them to become absorbed into the flow of the airport’s operations.

The team at Barra were keen to fully involve Ben in all aspects of airport operations and he spent much of his time being ‘hands-on’.

Ben was given the chance to wear the breathing apparatus the fire crew use and to test other fire service equipment such as the hoses. He undertook the daily inspections of the fire appliances and the runway inspections when required.

Crew manager Stephen Wilson said: “Ben was a joy to have around and we hope he learnt a lot from his experience. He was very keen and quick to learn and integrated well into the crew.

“We are always eager to be involved in the development of young people and were happy to give Ben a chance to experience first-hand from the professionals what life is like as a firefighter on Barra.

“We wish him well with his future plans.  Maybe one day he will return here to Barra Airport as a firefighter.”

Ben said: “It was a great experience. The work was varied and interesting, but the best thing was being included as part of a team. I got the chance to see what working with adults is like.”

Ben would like to eventually live and work outside of England and he likes the idea of moving to one of Scotland’s islands; however, his current focus is very much on his school exams next year, to ensure he has a wide range of options for future work and education.