If you take a walk along the perimeter fence of any large airport you’re certain to find an interesting bunch of people – plane spotters. Most you’ll find with cameras to their faces capturing the planes in all their glory, others may be writing things down and some may be just enjoying watching the planes take off and land. What does a large proportion of this group have in common? Autism.

What is Autism?

Autism is a developmental disorder which mainly affects social interaction and communication, commonly associated with restricted and repetitive behaviour. It affects all aspects of life, from how their worlds are perceived to relationships and education.

It’s a spectrum based condition, where all people with the disorder share similar characteristics – but their autism will affect them in different ways. There are big differences in diagnosing autism in girls and boys. Some people may also have learning difficulties, mental health issues or other conditions as well as their autism – and others may only show characteristics under stress.

It’s said that everybody is on this spectrum, and you may even share common characteristics as those diagnosed. It’s important to understand that having autism is not a bad thing and that those with autism have happy and fulfilled lives.


One of the most recognisable characteristics of autism is obsession. They will have highly focused and intense interests, normally from a young age. They may change over time but most continue to be lifelong interests. Plane spotting is one of the most popular obsessions, but people can also be interested in trains, art, music, computers, car registrations, postcodes or even more unusual things like traffic lights and air raid sirens.

Other obsessions manifest in more physical ways, with the need for routine and physical tics – such as hand flapping, finger moving or rocking. These repetitive actions will all have different reasons but generally they fall into four categories:

  • Gaining sensory input (rocking to stimulate balance)
  • Reducing the effect on sensory input (focusing on one sound amongst a loud environment)
  • To deal with stress and anxiety and block out uncertainty
  • To pass the time and enjoyment

How Plane Spotting Helps

These obsessive interests are seen as being fundamental to autistic people’s wellbeing and happiness. It helps them to ground themselves and their busy minds.

This BBC News report talks about Calum and how the airport and plane spotting helps him take control of his mind and brings him back to a normal state, being more relaxed and calm. It’s also had a surprising effect on his social interaction, allowing him to talk to like minded people about his interests. Some people have channeled these interests into their careers – for example Albert Einstein and more recently Anne Hegerty from popular quiz show, The Chase.

At Plane Finder, we’re proud that our app is being used by autistic plane spotters. Our app gives you live data on the planes you can see overhead, such as the type of aircraft, year made, how far into the flight it is, where it’s come from, where it’s going and even things like speed and altitude.

We turn traditional plane spotting into so much more!

Download the App

You don’t have to be autistic to enjoy plane spotting, it’s a hobby for everybody! Download the Real time flight tracking app from Plane Finder – available for iOS and Android.

We hope you found this article helpful. We're a small team of enthusiasts dedicated to making live plane tracking available to everyone at the touch of a button. If you'd like to find out more why not try out one of our apps for your Android or iOS device?

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