To the TSA Agent Who Took My Son With Autism and Me Aside

Dear TSA Agent,

I am sure you screen hundreds of people every day, and you probably don’t remember me or my family — but I remember you. I remember people who make me cry.

boys hugging at Disney World.
Kelly’s sons at Disney World.

It was my family’s first vacation together and my children’s first time on a plane. At the time, they were 7 and 9 years old, and we were very excitedly heading to Disney World.  My youngest has autism and is nonverbal, so I prepped for this trip for months. I read blogs and websites about preparing a child with autism for travel, preparing for the crowds at Disney and for the first time on an airplane. I called the airline and talked to an agent. She was patient enough, asking if I would prefer to be seated first or last. I requested as close to takeoff as possible so it would mean less time on the plane. She put a note on our itinerary so the expectation would be set with the associates at the airport.

The day before, I was able to check everyone in but myself. My ticket required that I stop by the ticket counter to check in. When I arrived, the agent explained that because of my special request, my ticket had been flagged. I don’t fly very often, but I’m pretty sure it’s not good to have your airline ticket flagged. The pit in my stomach worsened.

We walked to security, where you sat, a smile spread across your face. You greeted us warmly and asked for our tickets. I had everything: birth certificates, a marriage certificate and a doctor’s note explaining Patrick’s diagnosis. You simply asked for our tickets and our driver’s licenses. You studied them and stopped on mine, then looked at both children. “Which one has autism?” you asked. A sense of dread came over me. I quietly pointed to the redhead clinging to my leg.

You smiled and bent down, trying to catch Patrick’s eye. “Is he verbal?” I squeaked out a “no.” You said “hi” to him and smiled again, and I felt his grasp loosen a bit. Then you turned your attention to Patrick’s older brother. You smiled at him and introduced yourself to him. He smiled back and told you his name was Brady. Then he barraged you with the excitement he was bursting with over his first time flying. You listened as he prattled on, your grey head nodding in acknowledgement. Then you turned your attention to us, and I steeled myself for your judgment, your questions.

“I just want to say God bless you,” you started. I was dumbfounded, unable to determine where the conversation was headed. “I have a grandson that is autistic.” You continued, telling us how you had taken your grandchildren to Disney World the year before. You talked fondly about your grandson with autism: “He was the best behaved, most appreciative and the most excited. I’m sure Patrick will have a wonderful time.”

My husband joked about Brady’s affinity for talking, and you both laughed. I found it hard to do anything but try to work around the lump in my throat. You patted Patrick on his head. “You know, he doesn’t have to be able to talk to tell you what good parents you are.” I smiled my appreciation, and you thanked us and wished us safe travels. The next person in line moved up to your counter and you greeted them just as warmly.

That interaction might not have lasted in your memory, but it certainly did in mine. Your words helped calm my apprehension and reminded me that my husband and I have a different experience than most, and there are people who recognize and appreciate that. I stopped to wipe my tears away and collected myself, ready to move forward.

boys sitting in chairs

A version of this post first appeared on Quad City Moms Blog.

The Mighty is asking the following: Share a travel moment related to disability, disease or mental illness that made you laugh, cry, roll your eyes or was otherwise unforgettable? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Autism Spectrum Disorder

Apple Store Employee's Moment of Compassion for Boy With Autism Goes Viral

One Apple employee’s kind deed has earned him praise all over the internet. LynnMarie Rink and her son James were at the Apple Store in Green Hills, Tennessee, on Thursday, Jan. 21, buying a new iPad. James, 9, has autism and Down syndrome, and the iPad helps him communicate. All of a sudden, something caught [...]

The Word That’s Important to Focus on as a Special Needs Parent

When you have a child with special needs, you might hear these words: limitations, impairments, disabilities, delays or challenges. And in the beginning you might think, What does this mean for my child? What does the future hold? While it may be easier to to frame your child’s potential within these limitations provided by doctors [...]

When Friends With Disabilities Make Disparaging Remarks About Others With Disabilities

Throughout my educational career as a person with autism, I have been in several different programs with people of varying levels of ability. Having this experience, and a mother who worked in the disability field who explained how things worked, taught me to embrace my differences while simultaneously encouraging others to do the same. Unfortunately, [...]

A Mom’s Response to That New Yorker Article About Autism

The following passage is from an article recently published by The New Yorker: “For parents of autistic kids, awareness is desperately important. It’s a searing experience to have a child who doesn’t talk, who doesn’t want to be touched, who self-harms, who demands a regularity and an order that parents can’t supply, whose eyes are [...]