These transit enthusiasts want you to get on board for autism awareness — but be sure to stand clear of the closing doors.
More than two dozen local kids with autism lent their voices to Metro for the Autism Transit Project in April, recording boarding and safety announcements, and celebrated the launch at the Franconia-Springfield station.
Jonathan Trichter, who co-founded The Hubbard School in Connecticut, got the idea for the Autism Transit Project after learning more about how children with autism spectrum disorder can become intensely focused on works of mechanical engineering, particularly trains.
“That’s a phenomenon well known to frontline transit workers around the world,” Trichter says.
In addition, kids with autism “often come to language differently than neurotypical children. They have to grab onto phrases that they hear and then try to piece them together to learn to communicate. As a result, it’s not unusual for a child on the spectrum who loves trains to have his or her first full sentence be something like, ‘Stand clear, the closing doors, please.'”
Trichter, who has been “tickled and humbled” by the project’s success, says it was “pure joy” for everyone involved.
“The project was enthusiastically embraced by Metro’s top leadership, including and especially [WMATA General Manager and CEO] Randy Clarke, but really his entire team and the entire system and the employees,” Trichter says.
One Metro employee took the day off just to be there.
“He introduced himself to me and identified himself as somebody with autism who had leveraged his disability into a strength and helped advance his career by working in mass transit, a labor of love for him, and that was inspiring,” Trichter says.
So far, more than 100 kids across the country have taken part in the endeavor.
Last year, Trichter’s Autism Transit Project saw autistic children in New York City record public service announcements as part of a pilot program.
This year, the MTA in NYC hosted it again, as did transit systems in the Bay Area (BART), Atlanta (MARTA), New Jersey (NJ Transit), and DC.
It continues to grow.
“We have received way more attention this year than I anticipated,” Trichter says. “And as a result, we’ve got inbound inquiries from other transit agencies in the U.S., but also worldwide. And my goal is to take this project international next year, especially in places that might have state of the art mass transit systems, but mixed histories when it comes to incorporating the developmentally disabled into their civic life or into their societies.”
Trichter’s objectives for next year include Tokyo, Berlin, London, and Paris.
He is also looking into starting a nonprofit to raise funds for the Autism Transit Project and create work force development programs so he can “connect children on the spectrum who love mass transit to the mass transit agencies to see if I could place them for internships, and eventually jobs.”
Feature image courtesy Jonathan Trichter
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