Posted by: myautisticmuslimchild | April 13, 2010

Air Travel with Autistic Kids – Part 2

Vacations with a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder can be chaotic, nerve-rattling and stressful!


While we tend to look at the negatives and the difficulties on this subject, we forget to see the potential benefits we can all receive from it.  In fact, I just now got home from a trip to the Northeast, and although it was bumpy at times, overall it was a real success. I will have smile on my face when I look back on this trip.

As I mentioned in part one of this post, planning is crucial, along with being creative.

Explain everything to your child. What can they expect starting from at home, and be very patient. If your child is verbal, you will be getting a lot of questions. If your child is not verbal, try to reinforce everything with gestures over and over again until you see them being comfortable with the actions.

The Transportation Security Authority must screen everyone, regardless of age (even babies), before they can go through the security checkpoint at the airport. That can be  difficult and if it is not going well for your kids, it can have a very negative impact on your entire flight time. I wanted to share  some little tricks and facts, that might help to alleviate your worries about what to expect when traveling with a loved one with autism.

Provide advance notice to your airline if you require assistance at the airport. The TSA can only assist you with the screening process. Your airline will assist you through the airport facility and the screening queue line.

If a personal search is required, you may choose to remain in the public area or go to a private area for your screening. If you refuse either option you will not be able to fly.

You should be offered a private screening before the beginning of a pat-down inspection if the pat-down will require the lifting of clothing and/or display of a covered medical device. You should be offered a disposable paper drape for additional privacy before the beginning of a pat-down. You may also request a private area for your personal search at any time during the screening process. Your companion, assistant, or family member may accompany you and assist you during a private or public screening. After providing this assistance, the companion, assistant, or family member will need to be re-screened.

You may request a pat-down inspection in lieu of going through the metal detector or being hand-wanded. You do not need to disclose why you would like this option.

You have the right to ask a Security Officer to change her/his gloves during the physical inspection of your accessible property, before performing a physical search (pat-down,) or any time a Security Officer handles your footwear.

Medication and related supplies that are carried through a checkpoint are normally X-rayed. However, as a customer service, TSA now allows you the option of requesting a visual inspection of your medication and associated supplies.

Family members or traveling companions can advise Security Officers when they are traveling with someone who has a hidden disability, which may cause that person to move a little slower, become agitated easily and/or need additional assistance (Autistic kids can be in this category).

Family members or traveling companions can offer suggestions to Security Officers on the best way to approach and deal with the person with a hidden disability, especially when it is necessary to touch the person during a pat-down inspection.

Play at home how to take off the shoes and put it in a bin, how to put your coat in the bin and yes…your favorite toy or item (if they have it with them) into the same bin to go through the x-ray machine. Make it a game. Play a peek a boo game with them, than put all the items into the bin, and tell the child that they will  play peek a boo with you, and lets go through the gate to see them again. It often works.

Also, before the Autistic child would even go through the security gate, inform the TSA personnel that he/she is autistic and what he likes and dislikes in terms of  touching them. I always have to tell them if they have to pat him down that he is extremely ticklish, and he starts laughing uncontrollably.

Now, I will share may most recent experience with you. We usually do not have any issues with Amin. I tell him what to do and he does it. He has traveled enough to know what to do without telling him. He actually likes going through the security process since he always gets something from the TSA personnel like candy or stickers.

Well, on the way home, we were putting all of our stuff into bins, and one of the TSA personal had to re-screen someone’s  belongings, and in the process forcefully pushed Amin away after telling him “move outta the way”. He immediately started to cry, and the TSA personnel didn’t even turned around to see what he had done.

After the screening pat down, we collected all of our belongings and Amin calmed down a bit while my blood was still boiling, and we  made a trip to the TSA office, which was located right by the screening area. The officer who was very rude with my son was told that he made him very upset, and he needs to be more careful, especially because he is autistic. He said “I apologize” but we told him he needs to apologize to Amin directly. He actually came out of the office and apologized to my sobbing little boy. His supervisor overheard us and he brought out some chocolate. By that time Amin had a smile ear to ear, and immediately called him a “candy man”. Although he quieted down, it did impact his travel back home.

The lesson from this is that I am so relaxed with him at the check point, that I usually let him do what he has to do, but I learned that any little obstacles can put him off balance. From now on I will be keeping him very close to me and won’t let him go too far away so I can prevent unforeseen events with him (just for the information he was only 2-3 feet away from me when this occurred).

Now if the traveling is great on the way to your destination, it doesn’t really mean the way home will be the same. In fact, flying home can sometimes be harder since they had been away for sometime, and they have had a lot of sensory input, and thus can be very overwhelmed by this time.

I always keep his very favorite reinforcers for the flight back home. I make sure that he has pretty much everything that would make him happy. Well fed, already used the bathroom; basically making sure he has no inconvenience whatsoever. It might seem a bit extreme, but it usually helps him to be calm and collected.

On the plane he usually sits at the window, so he can look and see what is happening out there.

I never ever give him reinforcers unless it is absolutely necessary. I always wait until  those items are needed. We play with the window shade, moving it up and down, as well as the arm rest. He can be occupied with those for a while. Then we sing songs and hug a lot and rock a lot, that takes some time as well. When we are about to take off, we count out loud (not too loud to disturb people) , and throw our arms up when we  starting to get airborne. He loves that so much. My daughter came up with a brilliant idea. Amin loves balloons, but we cannot play and pop balloons on the airplane. So we pretend with our hands that we are blowing up balloons and than clap as we pop it.  He played that for 15 minutes, it was great. I enjoyed that too.

Also, we sing a song “put your hands, put your hands on …” (any body parts). That was a big hit too, as well as the pat-a-cake, and when we say “pat it”, we pat different parts of our body; great time with that activity as well. He  loved coloring and looking at the magazines, looking at the ABC’s and finding numbers and shapes. We actually had a great time!

These are just a few tips  that I do with my son during air travel, and I am hoping it will help you. So please get out there, make a reservation and take your family to experience some great adventures. HAVE FUN!

I am including a few links that you may be interested in,

And for concerns or questions you can also contact the TSA Call Center. E-mail –

For concerns about potential civil rights violations, you can contact TSA’s Office of Civil Rights. Toll-free: 1-877-336-4872; TTY – 800-877-8339; E-mail –

For information about overall air travel accessibility: DOT Air Carrier Access Hot-line Toll-free: 1-800-
778-4838; Internet –



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