Since 2011, TSA and Wings for Autism® have partnered to provide families with children on the autism spectrum with a realistic security checkpoint practice run, complete with getting a boarding pass, going through security, boarding a plane, taxing, deplaning and leaving the airport.
To date, more than 2,100 people on the autism spectrum and other intellectual and developmental disabilities have participated in the program, as well as nearly 2,500 family members.
This partnership opens communications between TSA, families and travelers on the autism spectrum and intellectual disabilities so that TSA officers might learn how to best work with them.
Supervisory Transportation Security Officer Armand Collins, who assisted with the Wings for Autism event at South Bend International Airport last spring, fondly remembers one participant’s reaction.
“[The participant] came off of the plane through the jet bridge and into the terminal area; he announced loudly and happily, ‘Mom and Dad! We can go on vacation now! We can go to Atlanta and visit family!’” said Collins. “His parents were obviously ecstatic from his positive reaction and proceeded to stop and personally give thanks for the experience. I still get chills in reliving the contact with this family.”
In 2015, there were 20 Wings for Autism® events at airports across the country. Seventeen airports participated, as some airports had more than one event during the year. By the end of 2016, Wings for Autism® will have completed 25 events.
“We’re extraordinarily pleased with our relationship with TSA on both the federal and local level. Their genuine interest and commitment in better serving people on the autism spectrum and intellectual and developmental disabilities has given over 2,100 families the chance to practice in the aviation environment,” said Senior Executive Officer, National Initiatives for The Arc, Karen Wolf-Branigin. TSA is a major player in supporting families who have never flown before, or had difficult past experiences, fly in the future.”
The Arc’s Wings for Autism® was created to provide an airport “rehearsal” for individuals with autism spectrum disorders, their families and aviation professionals to allow participates to become comfortable with all aspects of flying.
The next Wings for Autism® event will take place at George Bush Intercontinental Airport on Oct. 18 starting at 8:30 a.m. To participate in a Wings for Autism® event at your airport, contact The Arc at 800-433-5255.
Passengers who require extra help getting through security are able to request a TSA passenger support specialist for assistance by calling TSA Cares at 855-787-2227 or emailing the TSA Contact Center.