You go, Glen Coco! (Or in this case, Tampa Int’l Airport)

Photo from the ill-fated Florida trip. Dad with us kiddos at Brighthouse Field in Clearwater, FL. Home of Phillies during spring training!

Part I

First off, this past weekend was Dad’s birthday as well as Father’s Day! Double whammy of celebration!

With everything that’s happened over the past few weeks, we opted for a low-key weekend full of quality family time because that’s what Dad wanted.

Happy Birthday/Father’s Day, Dad! May the second half of 2012 be much less interesting than the first.

Part II

Quick recap of last week’s funeral before I get to today’s post.

– It was an appropriate send off. There was a collection of people from various stages of Grandmom’s life, which I thought was very fitting. We had family friends from Germany and Bulgaria in attendance (the ones from Argentina and Thailand sent their condolences, but unfortunately couldn’t make it. Oh by the way. Grandmom and Grandpop were host parents and opened their home to many, many international students over the years. FYI.)

– As far as we could tell, Dude had no reaction to the open casket viewing. If anything, he got a tad antsy and annoyed that the service started one hour after we arrived at the church. In his experience, when you enter a church, the service gets underway immediately. You don’t mill around for an hour or so before anything happens.

– Even though he was a bit antsy, Dude stood next to me in the receiving line and did a great job shaking peoples’ hands and saying, “Thank you.” (More on that later**.)

– Dude and I were raised Catholic. Catholics don’t harmonize when they sing. Dad’s family is Protestant. Apparently Protestants like to harmonize.. to varying degrees of success. Dude did not appreciate those who were less successful in their endeavors.

Part III

I absolutely have to give a somewhat delayed shout out of recognition and gratitude to Tampa International Airport.

Rewind to the first week of June. Dad ended up leaving Florida a couple days early to return home so that he could help with funeral preparations. Mom, Dude, and I kept our reservations for our original flight home.

Dad is the master traveler in the group, so we were a bit anxious about getting to the airport, returning the rental car, checking our baggage, and getting through security without incident.

Prior to this trip, the entire family hadn’t flown together since 2003. Dude had done very well on that trip, and we were hopeful that he would be a good traveler again, but we weren’t sure what to expect.

Any concerns we had were unfounded. Dude is a fantastic traveler and is very good at going with the flow. (I read a decent amount of autism blogs and know that this is NOT the case for many, many kids on spectrum; so I am incredibly grateful that my brother is the way he is.)

**As it happens, another factor working in our favor is that Dude has been going through a polite streak recently.

Every few minutes, he’ll say, “Thank you,” or “You’re welcome.”

Sometimes it’s appropriate, like in response to you handing him a cup of pretzels. And sometimes, it’s completely random and not functional at all.

Well, when you’re dealing with airport security, COMPLETELY FUNCTIONAL AND APPROPRIATE.

Reason #1 Tampa Int’l Rocks!

After checking our bags, we headed to the shuttle that takes departing passengers to the terminals. There was an older woman stationed in front of the shuttle area, checking boarding passes and IDs.

We decided that mom would go first, Dude second, and then I would follow last for all security checks. (In case you’re wondering, yes. Traveling with a person on spectrum DOES require careful premeditation; like in what order you go through security,who carries what bag, where you pack iPods, DVD players, or snacks, etc.)

Mom handed over her and Dude’s boarding passes and IDs without any explanation except, “This is for me and my son.”

The lady checked over Mom’s documents and handed them back.

When Dude stepped up, she broke into a grin. “Hello sweetie!” she said warmly, knowingly.

“Thank you,” Dude replied, without smiling.

The woman smiled wider. “Why, you’re welcome! You have a good day now!” she said as she handed him his boarding pass.

“Thank you,” Dude repeated as he followed Mom.

“Well isn’t that nice,” I thought to myself as I followed Mom and Dude onto the shuttle.

Reason #2 Tampa Int’l Rocks!

We exited the shuttle and made for security. I was happy to see that the line wasn’t too long. We started snaking through the roping.

A TSA agent was positioned in front of one section of line. She must have picked up on the fact that Mom and I were kind of shepherding a slow-moving Dude through because she unhitched the roping and gestured to Mom, Dude, and I. “Through here,” she waved, indicating a direct path to the carry-on screening belt.

Mom and I exchanged surprised glances. “That’s fine,” Mom began, “We don’t mind wai–,”

The guard waved again. “Come on,” she said with a blank expression.

As Dude passed through, he said, “Thank you.”

Only then did a shadow of a smile flicker across the guard’s face.

Reason #3 Tampa Int’l Rocks!

We hustled to take off shoes, take out electronic devices, liquids, and get our bags on the belt before walking through the metal detector.

“Mom!” I stage-whispered to her as she was heading toward the metal detector with Dude in tow. “Don’t forget tell them he has autism.”

She turned to the TSA agent, “My son has autism, so he may be a little slow moving or not responsive to directi–.”

“Got it!” said the middle-aged man, without a hint of confusion or annoyance.

Mom went through the metal detector and Dude tried to immediately follow her. I grabbed his shoulders to stop him.

“Whoa there, buddy,” the TSA agent said good-naturedly. After a beat he said, “Now you can go.”

“Thank you,” Dude said with an emphatic head nod before he walked through.

The man smiled, slightly surprised. “You’re welcome!” he responded.

I smiled at the agent as I went through, insanely grateful for everyone’s understanding without us having to do a lot of explaining. All told, it took us about 30 minutes from the time we returned the rental car to when we arrived at our gate.

And that is why Tampa International Airport gets an A++ for being fantastic with individuals on spectrum!!! YOU GO, GLEN COCO!


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