Connecticut TSA helps children with autism practice going through screening

Friday, June 9, 2023
From left, Bradley International Airport (BDL) Assistant Federal Security Director for Screening Richard Schmid; Officers Sam Velasquez and Sue Luce; Lead Officer Bella Alexander; Officers Jeff Waterbury, Michael Gonzalez, Bob Zapor, Frank Discenza and Will Rios-Luciano; Assistant Federal Security Director for Law Enforcement Steve Blindbury; Supervisory Officer Lenore Rhymer, Federal Security Director William Csontos, and Supervisory Officer Leteria Johnson. (Photo courtesy of TSA Connecticut)

Imagine you’re at the airport feeling anxious as you go through screening and get ready to board your flight. It’s loud, you’re rushed, and you’re thinking about a bunch of things at once. You’re not quite sure what to do or where to go because of unfamiliar surroundings. It can happen to just about anyone, right?

Now multiply that stress level by 10 or 20, and you have what children with autism and other developmental disabilities may experience when they find themselves in unpredictable, stressful situations like flying for the first time.

Lead Officer Belinda Hayden helps a girl with autism practice going through security. (Photo courtesy of TSA Connecticut)
Lead Officer Belinda Hayden helps a girl with autism practice going through security. (Photo courtesy of TSA Connecticut)

So when TSA at Bradley International Airport (BDL) in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, partnered with the Connecticut Airport Authority and Autism Speaks in an outreach event, it was more than welcome for the children and their parents.

The experience was designed to make flying more relaxing for children with autism, who are often overwhelmed and overloaded by the sights and sounds around them at the airport. The Officers gave participants a much-needed chance to practice checking in, screening through security, and boarding a plane so they would know what to expect when they take a real flight.

With the help of several BDL Passenger Support Specialists and 12 officers, the children and their families experienced a real-life screening process before gathering at their assigned gate. Excitement built as the children waited for their names to be called to board the aircraft, locate their seats and fasten their seat belts.

The children and their families sat back and listened to the onboard announcements while enjoying a snack and drink before getting off the plane. After exiting the plane, each family received a gift bag that included a TSA Contact Center information card for future travel.

While the plane did not taxi or take off, the children and their families are now much better prepared for the airport experience.

“It was an honor and joy to assist all of the families who participated in this wonderful event,” said Assistant Federal Security Director for Screening Richard Schmid. “The entire TSA team was fully engaged and worked tirelessly to ensure the screening segment of the event was a success. As the children and families were leaving the airport a few hours later, we could see the smiles on their faces and the newfound sense that an actual flight was in their future!”

Supporting BDL Officers included Michael Gonzalez, Frank Discenza, Bella Alexander, Susan Luce, Jeff Waterbury, Leteria Johnson, Dana Murgita, Lenore Rhymer, Bob Zapor, Will Rios-Luciano, Ernest Baffoe, and Belinda Hayden.

By Mike Frandsen, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs