Autism and Airports
I’ve been flying passionately for 30 years of my life now and while it can be a frightening experience at first, over time you get used to it. We all fly for various reasons whether its for family events or occasions, vacations, business or for pleasure.
To some on the autism spectrum, flying can be very stressful and can result in overloads and meltdowns. Trust me, even as a frequent flyer, I am still at times intimidated by the TSA Agents and the security screening process in general. But once you get past airport security, the rest of the process seems like a breeze. Still it is a good idea to prepare for the unexpected and for what is to come at the airports.
This is why various autism and neurodiversity organizations such as the Arc are holding various mock travel programs to prepare autism families for going through the airport security process. It’s sort of like what I did with the police two years ago, you go to the airports and practice going through airport security.
You meet the TSA Agents and see that they aren’t the mean, tough guys that terrorize you. They are just there to protect you from any dangers that may impact your travel. In fact, I’ve actually met a few TSA agents that are very friendly, especially at my home airport, TF Green Airport in Providence, RI. As for my other home airport at Logan Airport in Boston, MA, eh…not so much.
Still, it’s not just airport security.
Airports in general are very overstimulating to autistic individuals. Even autistic adults are prone to being overstimulated whether its the environment, being among misbehaving airline passengers (which has been a major problem lately, I will say) or just dealing with airport delays.
That’s why airports across the country are installing sensory friendly rooms where children and adults with autism can go and destress themselves after having a meltdown for any particular reason. Several airports have already done this including in Atlanta, Myrtle Beach, Pittsburgh and Tampa just to name a few.
Personally for me, I would like to see sensory rooms one day not just at my home airport, TF Green, but also at the much larger Logan Airport in Boston. Remember that I am not the only one with autism in New England, I’ll have you know. There are other families that might benefit from having a sensory friendly room too.
Then there is the matter of the traveling itself…even the travel prep can be stressful for an autistic individual too. This is especially true when it comes to packing for a trip that is focused around a wedding or a funeral that involves nice clothes. Sometimes you will need to go get fitted for something and that’s just one stress over another.
For example, if I do a speaking engagement live at say an autism conference for parents and professionals, school training for teachers, administrators and superintendents or a major business, I will usually pack a button down dress shirt, khakis and maybe a jacket. This might require some fitting, but usually it doesn’t.
However, if I do a speaking engagement for a fan convention or with a small group of students, I’ll usually wear a polo shirt and jeans which does not require any fitting.
It also helps if you either have a checklist of things you need to pack or if you lay out what you are packing a few days before you travel. For example, I am travelling for a speaking engagement in Tampa this weekend and I already have most of my stuff laid out.
But if I could offer one suggestion, DO NOT wait until the last minute to start packing. If you want to minimize stress as much as possible, give yourself at least two to three days before you travel.
Go through what you are going to wear, what you are going to bring, what you are not going to wear, what you are not going to bring, etc. Ensure that your travel documentation is up to date, especially if its your passport for international travel.
Also, like I said, be prepared for the unexpected. If I could say one thing about being a flyer on the autism spectrum, it is that I have had to endure several airport delays in my flying whether it’s due to mechanical problems with the plane itself, airport operations, weather, you name it. Help by purchasing travel insurance, ensuring your cell phone is charged at all times and be sure to pack a lot of patience. I may not be the most patient person myself, but I try to be patient because the airline personnel don’t like delays as much as I do.
If you also want to get an understanding from another autistic who is passionate about flying, check out Haley Moss Esq’s article that she wrote for the Milestones Autism Organization in Cleveland, OH two years ago. In it, she goes over her own tips on how to travel while on the autism spectrum.
Catch you all later!!