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Wednesday, November 10, 2021

TSA and Autism

 In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the day-to-day challenges facing autistic people and their families.  One challenge is that autism is an "invisible disability," which does not have obvious physical markers.  

Joseph Shapiro and Allison Mollenkamp at NPR:
The TSA does measure the growing popularity of its TSA Cares program. People can call in advance and be met by a trained airport agent who will escort people with disabilities through security. There were 14,674 requests for assistance in the program's first year — fiscal year 2015 — and 27,711 requests in 2019.

The TSA says the largest number of requests came for people with autism — who can find the noise and chaos of an airport difficult to handle.

Sarah Maxfield says that for her autistic son, going through airport security is "like a gauntlet of everything horrible for him." TSA agents, strangers to him, yell orders, rush him, take his things from him to be screened and separate him from his family. TSA agents, she says, "are not exactly calm, kind, gentle or patient."

There was one exception: an agent who took the time to learn the child's "superhero name" — the name he prefers to be called — "and it made a huge difference."

Sandra Zeigler, an autistic adult, explained that her audio-processing delays can make her slower to respond to spoken instructions from TSA agents. At airports, she's repeatedly "yelled at" and "scolded in embarrassing manners" by agents and sometimes as a result, she believes, is pulled out for additional bag screening.

Now, she wears T-shirts to signal to agents that she's autistic. "Autistic and Proud" says one. Another says "Autistic and Vaccinated" in bold letters and then, underneath, "No Relation."

"The sad thing is that we have to 'out' ourselves to get that sort of understanding in stressful and overwhelming situations," Zeigler says.