Traveling with Autism and the TSA
We consistently hear about nightmares that people suffer at the hands of the TSA.
But I want people to keep something in mind; thousands if not millions of people travel on a daily basis, and these intrusive incidents are few and far between.
A lot of it has to do being adequately prepared just like it says in the Boys’ Scout motto. Ok, sometimes that doesn’t’ help either, but, in reality, being prepared could avoid many issues that people have.
Traveling with children who are on the autistic spectrum can seem rather daunting to the best of us. Now with the implementation of airport security, we have yet another hurdle to jump over – making certain our children have a pleasant trip.
Having just returned from a trip, this is what we did to prepare for the airport.
Let me explain a little about us.
Our boys are not boys anymore; they are young men both in college. They are at an age when they can participate in the planning and execution of trip preparation.
They are very aware of what it takes to go through security. We traveled extensively right after 9/11, and both boys have been consistently pulled out of line and even patted down.They have never minded it. It gave them a sense of security.
So, next time you are chosen for a pat down-remember that you want to make certain your child is left with a feeling of security.
Due to circumstances we were not able to travel in the past three years, so there were a few new things we had to go over with the boys before we went on our past trip.
The first thing we did was sit the boys down and explain to them what was going to happen.
We even drew little maps to show them the lines and the different steps for airport security.
We practiced what questions they might be asked and how to respond.
We went to what was appropriate to say and what was not appropriate to say.
Example: don’t talk about terrorism, bombs, and planes flying into buildings or as in the case of my oldest don’t go around telling everyone how to survive a plane crash.
My oldest son is obsessed with Air Emergency on television and is petrified of flying.
He researched how to survive a plane crash and sent everyone he knew all the information he found.
He printed off a copy of survival tips for the plane, which my husband told him he could not take out once we got to the airport and could not discuss it with anyone.
We did explain to him that it was critical to watch what he said for two reasons: you do not want to frighten people or cause security personnel to think you many be a threat. So, when you get to an airport, you do not talk about bombs and plane crashes; it is a societal no-no.
Then went through their backpacks with them to make sure that they were not carrying any items that weren’t permitted. We found the rules on the TSA website and read them with them to make sure they understood what they could and could not take on board.
We also made sure that they had the proper documentation. If your child is over 16, they must have a picture ID or passport to get on that flight. In fact, it is not a bad idea to always have a photo of your child with you. In our case, the younger son has a learner’s permit for driving and the older one has a state issued ID.
State ID is very easy to get.
You go to the motor vehicle department, bring the requisite documentation, and they issue the ID.
The woman, who helped our son at the DMV, realized because he was very hesitant in answering her questions, that he had some “issues”, and allowed my husband to assist him in the process.
Everyone again was kind.
Now of course, as with all preparations, there is always a glitch.
With the oldest he forgot that there was a water bottle in his backpack, and the TSA screeners were not pleased.
But they were not rude or disrespectful.
My husband helped and intervened by throwing out the bottle, and son apologized.
They then went through the scanner again and everything was fine.
Another thing we did was to organize all items in compartments.
We made sure that everything for the laptops and phones were in one pocket and were readily available so that they could be taken out and placed in separate containers on the conveyor belt.
We had tried to get the boys to wear shoes other than sneakers but they wanted to wear what they wanted to wear, so it just took a little bit longer to get everything rearranged once we were through security.
I recommend you wear slip on shoes of some kind or even flip-flops if you can.
Another thing that happened was they had to take off their belts (yes, pants started falling, and underwear became rather apparent) and, as usual, empty their pockets.
The TSA did ask if anyone of us had a retainer or a bridge in their mouths. Yes of course, again the oldest and he got ‘wanded’.
Then we stepped through the “porn” scanners.
Now this I got a kick out of and so did the boys.
We showed them that only the Agent could see them. We made sure the boys did what they were told and said “yes ma’am” or “no, sir” as the case may be.
I know these scanners freak some people out, but honestly considering I am a middle-aged menopausal woman who has given birth twice, who does not like to see myself naked, I figured if someone wants to see me naked go for it.
The boys didn’t care about the see through the scan.
There was a bit of an anomaly on my scan, however, and they patted down my arm. The boys came through, and I thought they were to be patted down as well, and I had them assume the position.
But everything was just fine.
So we got through airport security with no screaming, yelling melting down or real issues.
Preparation is key.
Organization is key.
Remember too that your children will take their cue from you.
If you act out and cause a scene, then your child will become upset.
If you do not act respectful and cooperative neither will your child and issues will ensue.
Remember, you can tell security that your child is autistic; most will be very understanding, but that does not mean your child can skip security.
In fact, many terrorists will use those considered disabled in their schemes.
So, while you know that your child is not smuggling bomb parts, the US government does not.
While you are aware that your child’s wheelchair, braces or crutches are simple wheelchairs, braces and crutches the government does not.
Be prepared for the TSA to take the time to check out these objects.
No one is picking on you.
Life is what it is.
It is your job to make the situation easier and less complicated for your child.
Smile, be friendly, be helpful, and be cooperative. Better yet, teach your child to think of it all as a game and part of the adventure of travel.
Let them think of themselves as Indiana Jones or ‘Jonesette.’
Listen, security is part and parcel of travel in today’s day and age so it shouldn’t be a big deal if you take a little extra time to prepare.
Guest writer, Elise Ronan is the happily married parent of two young men with Aspergers syndrome. She is a volunteer parent and child advocate in her town and community. She is the author of the popular blog Raising Asperger’s Kids.