Calls for plans for sensory room in Cork Airport to move forward

A spokesperson for Cork Airport said that plans for a sensory room had been paused during the pandemic, but prior to Covid-19 a site had been identified and plans were in place for construction.
Calls for plans for sensory room in Cork Airport to move forward

Kian O'Donovan, with mother Theresa, father Tony, and sister Lauren.

A CORK mother is calling for a sensory room to be opened in Cork Airport, after her 21-year-old autistic son had nowhere to go during a meltdown at the departures gate.

Togher native Theresa O’Donovan is mother to 21-year-old Kian, who is autistic and has other complex needs.

On a recent trip through Cork Airport for a family holiday, Kian became overwhelmed and suffered a significant sensory overload episode, which resulted in an anxiety meltdown.

Ms O’Donovan said there was no space for Kian to go to calm down, and she has now started a petition to see a sensory room installed in Cork Airport, similar to those already in Dublin and Shannon airports. The petition has received over 1,000 signatures since it was started a week ago.

Ms O’Donovan said that travelling through airports is always hard for people with autism, particularly due to sensory overload.

Their first family holiday since the pandemic required a lot of organisation, and explaining to Kian what would happen throughout the day to keep anxiety low. While the family made it through security and were able to avail of a disability support escort, there was no way to control the chaos and noise of the airport, and Kian become overstimulated.

“I could see the beginnings of a meltdown, and I knew it was going to be significant, but we couldn’t calm him down, there was nowhere to bring him,” she said.

“Kian was fully aware he was beyond the point of calming down. He got very upset, as there were people staring at him and passing comments, who had no experience of autism. It was like a show and my son was the main star of it. It felt very, very wrong,” she added.

Ms O’Donovan is calling out for a sensory room to be installed as soon as possible, so that those with autism or otherwise in need of disability support have a space to calm down, and can ultimately live a full life, including being able to go on holidays.

A spokesperson for Cork Airport said that plans for a sensory room had been paused during the pandemic, but prior to Covid-19 a site had been identified and plans were in place for construction.

They said that management have resumed working on a “state of the art sensory room, constructed and equipped to best standards”.

“Cork Airport will be in a position to provide an update on the provision of a sensory room in the very near future,” they said.

The Cork Airport spokesperson highlighted that Cork Airport has a section on their website for those travelling through the airport with autism/ASD, and was the first airport in the republic to introduce the sunflower lanyard initiative with OCS Passenger Services, which helps staff to support passengers with hidden disabilities such as autism.

“Cork Airport regularly engages with disability and advocacy groups from across Ireland and we implement, where possible, any suggested improvements to the passenger journey and experience,” they said.

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