Archives for August 2014

Flying with your ASD child. Part 3 – In the Terminal.

A selection of Airport signs. EPS10 vector formatGoing through security screening.

Contact the Transport Security Administration (TSA) 72 hours prior to travel. You need TSA Cares and that phone number is 855-787-2227. You should request that they provide you with a Passenger Support Specialist (PSS). Your PSS should contact you on your cell phone sometime between 72 hours and 24 hours prior to your flight. If you have not heard from TSA 24 hours prior to flying, contact them again.

When your PSS does call you, they will make arrangements about when and where to meet them at the airport. If all attempts at prior contact with the PSS fail, tell the first TSA staff member that you encounter at the airport that you have requested a Passenger Support Specialist. They will contact your PSS or find somebody else to assist you.

Please remember that everybody has to be screened. You do, however, have some choices on screening method. If your child cannot stand in the full-body scanner on their own for a few seconds, ask to go through the old metal-detector arches. If your child might be disturbed by the alarm from the metal-detector, perhaps the body scanner will be the better option. Tell your PSS if a manual pat-down is something that will be tolerated or is something that will cause distress.

Empty water bottles and any water-filled toys before going through security and refill them afterwards. For medications in liquid form that exceed the 3 oz limit, try to bring them in unopened containers and have a doctor’s note saying that it is medically necessary. You may even be able to bring Play-Doh® or Thera-Putty® if you have a doctor’s note explaining the therapeutic use.

Please remember not to wear anything that might trip the metal detector. Ladies, do NOT wear an underwire bra. Although TSA gives you the assurance that you and your child will not be separated, setting off the alarm may cause confusion for everybody.

If traveling with two adults, send one through first, then the children and the other adult.

If you are flying domestically, TSA should contact you while you are away in order to set up arrangements with a PSS for your return journey. If you have not heard from them 24 hours before your flight, contact them again. If you are flying internationally, you cannot make these types of arrangement overseas.

In the terminal/boarding.

Contact your airline, ahead of time, and request priority/early boarding. Airlines differ a little on their procedures for this so it will help to check before you get there.

Find your gate and speak to the gate agent as soon as possible. Tell the gate agent that you have arranged early boarding and ask when that will start. Sometimes this can be well in advance of the posted boarding time.

If, after checking with the gate agent, you have time to fill, you will be able to visit any food service outlets or shops that you wish. If you just want a quiet place to play, look for empty gates close to yours.

If the seating arrangements for your family include an aisle seat, it is probably best if your child has one of the other seats and not the aisle seat. Lots of strangers brushing past them may cause a problem.

As soon as you board, try to speak to the flight staff and tell them that your child has autism. They will probably need your input on your child’s needs and what help may be needed during the flight, if your child is having difficulties. It is a lot easier to explain this before, rather than after, it happens.

Flying with your ASD child. Part 2 – Packing. Getting to the Airport.


Check your airline’s baggage policies. Make sure that you understand both weight and size restrictions. Also, view our previous post: 10 Tips on Airline Baggage Fees.

Checked bags are obvious. For items that you carry on, you need to distinguish between larger items, which generally go in the overhead bins, and “personal items”, which generally can be stowed under the seat in front of you.

During taxiing, take-off and landing, you will not be permitted to stand up to access the overhead bins. (This also coincides with the time that you will not be allowed to use electronic devices.) Be sure to have things that you need to access during this period in the bag that you stow under the seat.

Items that you may need include:

  • iPad or similar
  • iPod or similar for music, if not using the above
  • Other electronic games that your child likes
  • Headphones for all of the above. Probably the noise cancelling sort.
  • Non-electronic games and activities – for those periods when electronic devices are not allowed. This can be anything that you know you child will like and that is portable enough.
  • Extra sweater and/or blanket if your child is sensitive to cold. Don’t count on getting a blanket from the airline. They frequently don’t have enough for everybody.
  • Cold pack, if sensitive to heat.
  • Tissues or handkerchief with acceptable perfume/odor, if your child is sensitive to strange smells. Strongly flavored snacks may also work for this.
  • Wipes, if your child likes to touch everything in order to investigate.
  • Gum, hard candy, straws and/or juice boxes, EarPlanesTM (See “During the Flight” for details).
  • Medications.  Always in carry-on, never in checked bags. Have an extra supply in case something is dropped.
  • Snacks. Have a good supply of your child’s favorite snacks. Something familiar and well –liked will be superior to strange and untried. This is especially important if your child has special dietary needs (e.g. gluten-free). You need these for when you are in the terminal and for when you are on the plane.
  • If your child needs an EpiPen® for allergic reactions, it should be in an unopened package and you will need a doctor’s note stating that it is medically necessary.


Make sure you’ve packed the things that you’ll need quick access to, at any time, into your “personal item”. The others can go into the carry-on, in the overhead bin.

Going to the airport/checking in.


Where possible, arrange transportation that takes you straight to the terminal. If you drive yourself to the airport, you may introduce an unnecessary transition from the parking lot to the terminal, if that requires a shuttle bus.

If a friend or relative will take you and pick you up, that is obviously cheaper than car service. If not, look at the cost of parking, when driving yourself, versus the cost of car service. Airport parking can, sometimes, be very expensive and, if this is the case, car service may be cost effective as well as more convenient.

Most airlines offer online check-in 24 hours in advance. Where this applies, it will help you to do so. It will eliminate one extra line at the airport.

If, for any reason, you believe that online check-in will not work for you, try this. Where available, and where the flight is in a 2-cabin aircraft, call the airline to seek permission for you to use the business class check-in rather than coach class even when you are ticketed in coach.

Check in as early as you can. In any event, do not be late for check-in. Most flights are full, or close to full, and the airline may reallocate your seats, if you are late.

Flying with your ASD child. Part 1 – Preparation.

HeadphonesIn our last post, we dealt with planning a flight when you have a family member on the autism spectrum. This is the first in a series which will deal with preparing for and taking the flight.

If a mock flight/practice boarding program is available at your airport, do take the opportunity and try this. It will help you when it comes to the “real thing”.

The original such program was Wings or Autism. The Arc of USA is rolling it out nationally. Look for it at your local airport or via your local Arc affiliate. If you can’t find one, contact us. We’ll see if we can locate one for you.

If such a program is not available at your airport, try to arrange your own “dry run” to the airport. This will give you some familiarity with the route there and with the terminal, at least on the ground-side of security.

If visual stories help your child with other activities, prepare a visual story for your trip. You can contact the airport authority and/or your airline’s community relations department and request photographs. Your child’s special education teacher, therapist or other professional support may be able to assist you when putting this together.

Practice all of the possible techniques for dealing with pressure change that are not already familiar to your child. You won’t know, until you are in the air, which ones are going to work so you need your child to be familiar with all of them. (See “During the Flight” section for more details).

If your child is very sensitive to noise, you probably already have noise-cancelling headphones. If your child has less sensitivity but has occasional trouble with noise, try some so that you can be sure they will be tolerated.

Where possible, visit you airport’s website and download a map of the layout. This should enable you to look in advance for things like food and beverage outlets, shops and possible play areas. Look also for details of your destination airport. For arrival, it will help you to know about ground transportation and for your return journey; you’ll want all of the same information as you did for the flight there.