TSA Cares Program

I love how fast flying gets me to my destination so I can start my vacation, but I am not a fan of the airport.  I completely understand the necessity of the screening process but still feel overwhelmed by it, no matter how many times I travel.  Every airport seems to have its own way of doing their screenings too, which causes real confusion! 

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Now imagine you have a medical condition that makes going through the security checkpoint a very difficult process.  My son, Mike, is on the autism spectrum and has type 1 diabetes.  He wears a wireless insulin pump that uses Bluetooth technology and carries back-up syringes.  He is supposed to avoid scanners as they can interfere with the pump's programming and he always gets his bag pulled for the supplies in them.  This causes him severe stress and anxiety as he waits in line because he knows this will happen.  By the time we get to the agent he can't even verbalize his needs and can be inconsolable. 

I had recently heard the TSA Cares program can help travelers with disabilities and medical conditions navigate the system so my family decided to try it on our most recent vacation to Florida.  It really helped our family get through the anxiety of the screening process at the airports with ease.  The Support Specialists were kind yet efficient, and took the time to explain step-by-step what we needed to do.

Three days before our departure I called TSA's toll free helpline at 1-855-787-2227 and spoke to Jeanette.  She was very friendly and patient with my questions.  She took my flight information and put it in the system.  She asked what accommodations we would need and made note of each of them.  She asked clarifying and relevant follow up questions.  Her knowledge of the process and the special needs of my family really helped put my mind at ease.  She sent me an email confirmation outlining how the program would work for my family.  Jeanette further explained that each airport handles the support program differently and that some would contact us in advance and some would not.  It is also only available in US airports.  She also directed me to their website to download and print out a card I could use at any airport for assistance, even if I couldn't call in advance.

                     Mike's TSA Notification Card

                     Mike's TSA Notification Card

Within 24 hours I received a call from PIT (Pittsburgh International) airport support.  They gave me a number to call once I checked in for my flight.  When we arrived and called the number, a TSA Support Specialist met my family at Arch (the giant mechanical statue).  He went through the entire process of how the screening would go.  They would not separate us for the screening.  He confirmed the special services we needed and walked through security with us, talking to us the entire time about next steps.  He even sat with my son Mike after the screening and chatted about our vacation while Mike put his shoes on and got re-organized.

                                                    Mike loves Arch!

                                                    Mike loves Arch!

For our return flight out of MCO (Orlando International) we hadn't heard from anyone prior to our arrival at the airport.  I used the TSA Card Jeanette had recommended and showed it to the first TSA officer I saw.  She had our family stand to the side while she called a Support Specialist, who arrived to meet with us in just a few minutes.  The Support Specialist explained to Mike every step of the process and stayed with us through the line and screening.  When Mike started to get to the private pat-down screening he started to get very agitated with his eyes darting between me and the Support Specialist.  She must have picked up on it and said there was a male officer that would handle it and that we were all allowed to stay together through all of security.

When we reached the gate area I found I had missed a call from MCO's TSA Support team.  They had called 2 hours before my flight to make arrangements.  They must have called while we were going through security.

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The TSA cares program really helped my family make it through security this trip without Mike freaking out or melting down.  It was one of the smoothest TSA screenings we have had with him in all the times we have traveled.  If you have someone with special needs or a medical device, I recommend this services.

You can find more information on the TSA website HERE and get the TSA Notification Card HERE

 

Part 2 Navigating Disney World with Special Needs

I’m back with some more tips and suggestions to make your trip to Disney easier and more enjoyable for your kids with special needs.

Resort Choices

Most kids with special needs, whether they are physical, emotional or intellectual, can’t wait long. If that is the case in your family, I suggest staying at a Monorail resort. The resorts on the Monorail are Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort and Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort. These resorts are a stone’s throw from The Magic Kingdom, and the monorail stops at the Transportation and Ticket center that can easily get you to Epcot. That being said, we have stayed at other resorts and have not had issues with transportation. All Disney buses are equipped with a lift gate for wheel chairs and electronic scooters. While waiting for buses, I often have very small bottles of bubbles to keep the kiddos distracted and busy while waiting. 

Schedule Breaks

It’s important to give kiddos a break from the sensory overload going on during the day. If possible, try to take a break during the day and head back to your hotel and take a swim or a nap. We always find that this really helps the kids reset, and us as well! If you can’t make it back to your resort, find an area in the park that you can stop and take a break. I also find that kids with ADD/ADHD need to burn off some of that extra energy they are carrying round. To help burn some energy, head to some of the play areas in the parks; The Bone Yard at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is our favorite!

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Stay hydrated

Ok this is important for everyone going, however really important for kids with special needs. Did you know that kiddos with Autism, ADD/ADHD can dehydrate faster? Take some bottles of water into the park to make sure you and the kids keep hydrated. Don’t forget you can also go to any quick serve dining location and request water, and it is free!

 

Be Safe

Disney is a big place, and the crowds can be intimidating. I try to dress my kids in matching outfits and tend to stick to brighter colors too. I also take a picture of them every morning when we head out the door to the parks so I have a photo of them in their outfits for the day. You can also buy/make bracelets with beads on them with your cellphone number so that if they get separated from you, they can show the bracelet to a cast member and they can call you. I always point out cast members to my kids so they know they can go to them if they get separated or need help.

 

Dining

Where to dine is a big deal at Disney! Know a bit about the restaurants you may want to go to. Are they too loud, sensory overload, will they take too much time up eating there? My suggestion is to make reservations for off-times to eat. They crowds won’t be as bad and it's not as loud.

 

Plan, Plan, Plan

I find the more organized you are, the better you will do and the better your kids will do too. Get help planning! We would love to help you plan out the details of your trip so that it can be enjoyable for you. I hate it when I hear about someone having a bad time at Disney, and usually it’s because it wasn’t planned out well. While planning out the details of a trip is important for everyone, I think it is of the utmost importance to families with kiddos that have special needs. You want to have every tool available to you to make your trip a success.

 

Have a magical vacation!

Lori!

 

I’m happy to answer any questions you may have!

Find me at:

lori@disiningmemories.com
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