Thanksgiving is tomorrow and we are staying put here in north central New Jersey. It would be lovely to spend the holiday with my family in California, but the last thing we are able to do on this, the busiest travel day of the year in the US, is to attempt a transcontinental airplane flight with our 13 1/2 year old son Charlie.
Charlie is on the moderate to severe end of the autism spectrum. When younger, he did quite well on these coast-to-coast flights, even during busy Christmas holiday traveling times. (Yes, that is him peaking out an airplane window, Barney in his lap.) A lot of individuals on the spectrum find air travel very difficult, and not only for the reasons that many people do. Like many autistic persons, Charlie is very sensitive to sensory stimuli. The constant buzz and hum of the airplane, the recycled air, the close quarters full of noises and smells, all must make air travel something like torture for someone on the spectrum. Charlie is minimally verbal and, when in distress, often has a great, great deal of difficulty expressing his needs. Currently, the best way to help him lower his anxiety is for him to do a lot of aerobic exercise—-something that would not be possible on an airplane.
Keeping in mind reports from past years of autistic children being taken off airplanes due to their ‘behavior’—I was pleased to read that some airlines (including Southwest) are opening their airplanes to ‘practice flights,’ in which ‘children with autism and their families [are able] to become familiar with air travel – carrying bags, getting boarding passes, going through security, waiting at the gate and sitting on the plane.’
Nonetheless, things have also changed now that Charlie is older and adult-size: He used to like sitting in the window seat with his feet curled under him but those days are quite gone. Further, all the security measures on airplanes and in airports have made the whole flying experience much too complicated, not to mention stressful. It would a different story for my son, now a 5′ 8″ autistic teenager, to have a massive anxiety-as-a result-of-sensory-overload attack, than when he was a little guy who my husband could carry to safety.
And I don’t know how Charlie might respond to getting patted down by TSA agents. The video of the little boy who was strip searched by TSA agents at Salt Lake City airport in Utah has been making the rounds of the internet. And, if a recent report from Glenn Beck is believed, this child may be autistic:
Glenn Beck had Luke Tait, the college student who took the infamous video of the TSA agent doing a pat down of the shirtless little boy, on his show this morning to discuss the incident at the airport. During the interview, Beck said that he learned from a ‘refounder’ (Congressional insider) that the little boy didn’t actually set off the metal detectors as the TSA reported, but rather the boy had on a baggy shirt that caught the attention of the TSA and thats why they wanted to do a pat down. Beck said he also learned a detail that hasn’t been reported yet, that the little boy has autism.
In which case, one really has to wonder, are those TSA agents thinking about what they are doing at all?
Photo by the author.