National Autism Awareness Month

Why This Mom Of A Son With Autism Wrote A 'Thank You' Letter To The TSA

"I will brag about you to anyone who will listen."

April is National Autism Awareness Month. To celebrate and bring awareness throughout the month, we will be highlighting positive stories we love about people with autism, as well as the stories of their friends and families.

Traveling can be stressful for anyone, but it can be particularly hard on people with autism. Autism, a developmental disorder characterized by difficulties with social interaction, challenges with communication, and a tendency to engage in restrictive, repetitive behaviors. About one in 68 children in the United States are affected, according to the CDC

Children on the spectrum often require structure and predictability. So, navigating an airport full of unfamiliar sights and over-stimulating sounds can sometimes be distressing for them. It can lead to tantrums, meltdown, and anxiety. Unfortunately, this causes many parents to feel overwhelmed traveling with a child who has special needs. 

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Last week, Angie Solis was one of these parents. She was flying with her 13-year-old son Zion, who has autism, for the first time since he was 18 months old. In a "thank you" post on Facebook, she shared how the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at the airport helped to make their experience as comfortable as possible. 

"Dear TSA, You are my sunshine. I will brag about you to anyone who will listen," she wrote. "I called you on Thursday morning in a worried frenzy. I was overly anxious and driving myself nuts about flying with my son for the first time. He's 13 ... and has autism.  I was worried about airport security and how his anxiety would create a giant meltdown. But you made it flawless." 

When Solis, Zion, and her 15-year-old daughter Zoe walked through the airport at 5 a.m., they were surrounded by hundreds of people waiting to go through security. The sight struck fear in Solis. 

"My heartbeat quickened. I started to breathe faster. I looked over at my son and smiled, trying not to show my fear. He pointed at the long line and said, 'no thank you,'" Solis wrote.  

That's when Alesea, a TSA passenger support specialist, appeared to help them through security. 

"She spoke directly to my son. She treated him like a person with feelings and a voice and worth. With her super powers she lifted a divider, motioned us through, and escorted us to the front of the line. We went through a gentle security check where no one put their hands on us or even said much. We didn't even have to remove our shoes," Solis wrote. "Alesea escorted us to our gate, saving us from panic ... because our flight was not listed on the reader board." 

The entire experience took the Solis family only 14 minutes. 

"Thank you TSA, from the bottom of my heart for making this experience stress-free. And for caring enough to understand that some people just process differently and need extra TLC," the mom wrote. "P.S. If you are traveling with a person with special needs, call TSA Cares. Dial 855-787-2227 three days before your departure. They will arrange a stress-free security check for you."

Solis' Facebook post has been shared more than 16,000 times. It shows her gratitude toward to the TSA and is helpful to other families like hers. But it also serves as a reminder to everyone to be more understanding toward those traveling with someone who has special needs. Instead of staring, judging, or making rude comments, show kindness. 

(H/T: Babble)

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