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Planning to travel on a plane with a child who is disabled? The TSA now has supports to make it a more positive experience...

Travel can be a harrowing experience for anyone but for those who have children with disabilities, traveling can be so stressful and fraught with obstacles, it sometimes feels like it is just not worth it.
Three years ago, when my family decided to take a month off and visit my husband's family in Ireland, we had no idea what we were in for.  It had been a very hard year for my autistic son and the whole family was pretty much exhausted. Despite being very excited to fly and to see his family, my sons nervousness was palpable. The whole check-in process is long and involves every kind of sensory input that can trigger him into a screaming, ranting meltdown and we had not even cleared security. The story was the same on the other end, except that time, he was jet lagged, and the trip was over.  Not much positive about that if your five. The 7 hour flight we endured was one of the most stressful events I hope to ever survive and there was still the long wait in line to re-enter on the U.S. side and claim baggage.  Never ending misery.
Fast forward to this past summer. The TSA has introduced a program called TSA Cares and its mission is to help facilitate people traveling with family members who have disabilities. We called about a week ahead and gave them our flight information and described the issues and obstacles we anticipated as a result of our son's autism. We were assigned a TSA employee to meet us at the gate. They granted us express passage through every single checkpoint from ticketing and checkin right up to priority seating, eliminating much of the noise, crowds and queuing that can make travel unbearable for a person on the spectrum. They helped with carry on baggage and even left us off to shop and then returned before clearing the final gate. We were boarded early and given extra time to settle before the crush of travelers filled the aisles and made movement challenging. The same arrangements were made on the return trip although TSA had to direct us to the Irish authorities, as they do not have the ability to alter security measures outside the US.
I can not say enough about how helpful, respectful and kind the staff working in this department were. Next time you fly with your family, I urge you to call ahead.  It can not solve every problem but the sincere attempt to accommodate your family member may be enough to set everyone at ease.
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