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I am a young adult with autism (Asperger's to be precise). While there are many resources on how to travel with kids with autism, resources on how to do so if you have it yourself are rare to nonexistent.

Anyway, I have a lot of trouble with security checks. The fact that I have to separate from my things (including my plush, which helps me in stressful situations), go through a scanner and pick up my things again before someone runs off with them completely stresses me out. I feel extremely pressured by the people behind me and it ends up being a very uncomfortable experience.

I have a couple countermeasures currently. I organise my bags at home, so I only need to take my laptop out. I make sure there is nothing in my pockets beforehand and I make sure I wear a 2 piece outfit. Nevertheless, it still is a terrible experience. Going through currently takes more energy from me than any other part of a trip. Is there anything I can do to make this a smoother experience?

I hold a Dutch passport. I frequently visit the UK and somewhat rarely (once or twice a year) other countries.

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    What country are you in? If US, I would strongly suggest you look into using/getting a KTN (known traveller's number) which has some perks possibly useful to you. You can find more information about this at the TSA Pre-Check site – CGCampbell Nov 12 '15 at 13:44
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    In the USA, at least, you can request to be screened in private. This would mean there isn't a long line behind you pressuring you to speed up, and you wouldn't be separated from your possessions for as long. I'd imagine something similar is available in many other countries, but I don't know for sure. – Urbana Nov 12 '15 at 13:50
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    If you're just travelling from the Netherlands to the UK, then the easy fix is simply to avoid flying at all! Just book a combined train+ferry+train ticket, often for quite a bit less than a plane ticket, and have a much less stressful trip with no airport security queues required – Gagravarr Nov 12 '15 at 13:59
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    I am Asperger and I have taken the train+ferry+train that Gagravarr mentioned. Taking the ferry as a passenger is very peaceful. The passenger ferry terminal was deserted, as almost all passengers travel by car. Two bored passport controllers were waiting for us. We did not get separated from our luggage at all (unlike at Eurostar, where they do have airline-style checks). The only stressful bit was that the morning train from Harwich to London got extremely full as it approached London, and transiting through London is never fun, but depending on your destination you might not have to. – gerrit Nov 12 '15 at 14:54
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    @gerrit If you're not in a rush, you can break your journey. Get off in Colchester, go have a decent breakfast, then continue your journey into London after the rush hour has died down. Or even just have breakfast in the cafe at the station in Manningtree, which is nice but can get busy – Gagravarr Nov 12 '15 at 15:19
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I understand that logic doesn't always help in times of stress, but the first thing I want to assure you is that people are not going to run off with your things. This is something we all worry about but that essentially never happens. The folks who manage the checkpoint are monitoring and your things are not out there without you for more than a few seconds.

Second, you mention that your plush helps you. Could you procure a small square of plush fabric? You could keep this in your pocket - there's no requirement that your pockets be empty, merely that they be empty of metal. Fabric alone will not set off any detectors and you can put your hands in your pocket and calm yourself if you have to wait a moment before you go through the scanner.

Third, forget the people behind you. The pressure you feel is not really from them. You owe them no obligation. They are waiting, they have their own issues, but they will never say "great trip today, the guy in front of me in the security line was so quick!" What's more, if such a person existed, they would say that about you because you're not pulling things out of 4 different bags and pockets, having to go through the scanner twice because you left your keys in your pockets, and so on. You're already faster than most of the people in the line. You have no obligation to set some sort of land speed record by not hesitating, not waiting with your stuff (I do that), or just walking at the pace you prefer.

Fourth, reward yourself for completing this worst part of the journey. Whether it's an expensive coffee, a magazine, a bar of chocolate -- buy something fun and frivolous right after the security check. Something you wouldn't normally get yourself. The day may come when you're planning a trip and find yourself looking forward to that dark-chocolate-and-orange bar waiting for you on the other side of security.

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    " there's no requirement that your pockets be empty," - at US airports using terrahertz scanners, they are enforcing this as a requirement. Even receipts, hankerchiefs will result in you being sent back again. I don't think Schipol has these, and I've not seen UK security with these scanners being so insistent however. – CMaster Nov 12 '15 at 14:09
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    Pockets are made of fabric. If I had this problem, it would be worth it for me to choose the part of my outfit I will be always wearing (e.g. a "travel" pair of jeans) and have plush lining sewn into the pocket. Alteration tailors usually work with the customer's material anyway, so the OP will be able to visit a fabric store and choose the best texture for himself. In fact, it might be a good strategy to line all pockets on all clothing with plush fabric, to have the opportunity for unobtrusive soothing in unexpected situations, even outside of the airport context. – rumtscho Nov 12 '15 at 15:35
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    "reward yourself for completing this worst part of the journey" absolutely! – adhg Nov 13 '15 at 2:48
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    I do not know OP and I have never been diagnosed but I am dead certain to have some level of ASD. And I travel with a teddy bear (have him since 1988) and at least for me it's not the plush material but the stability and the emotions you feel towards that particular plushie. I can cope with the security pretty OK but it's a very bad experience, I remember vividly quite a few of them, it just etches into you like acid. – chx Nov 13 '15 at 4:06
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    @chx is right. I'm comforted by my plush specifically, not a different one or fabric. I have two, a bird and a teddy. The bird is smaller and usually goes on travels with me. Nonetheless, I tried Kate's advice during the security check in LHS. The tray with my suitcase and my plush on got taken apart. I quickly explained the situation to the officer, who handed me the plush. He was very friendly and talked with me to figure out what caused the trigger. (It was the graphic card I bought in the US a few days before). Thanks a lot! – Belle-Sophie Nov 13 '15 at 10:41
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Whenever you're planning a journey, consider if you really have to fly. I am Asperger myself, and I avoid flights (although not for the exact same reason as you).

Between The Netherlands and the United Kingdom, there is absolutely no need to fly. There are three ferry links from The Netherlands to England: one to the south, one to the centre, and one to the north. Taking the ferry as a passenger only is a very peaceful experience, as the terminals were built in an era of far more passenger travellers, and most travellers nowadays drive onto the ferry by car. The times I've taken overnight ferries in Europe, passenger terminals were deserted to the level that I thought I must be at the wrong place. While on the ferry, you can be in your private cabin (including daytime crossings), which is like a little hotel room, very private, with a TV and (quite slow) wifi.

If I stay on the same continent, I travel by train whenever possible, even if it means 3 days on the train (from northern Sweden to southern Spain, or from Toronto, ON to Jasper, AB in Canada). It's quite possible, if you have the money you can book fully private compartments on many sleeper trains. There's a wealth of information from The Man in Seat61.

Note that there are some trains with airline-style luggage checks. On the Eurostar, your luggage has to be scanned. On many Spanish trains too, although you might be able to hold on to your plush. People with more (recent) experience on Spanish trains may be able to comment on that.

Now, suppose that you're travelling to a place where travelling without flying is almost impossible (Australia, South America, sub-Saharan Africa) or extremely time-consuming and costly from Europe (east-Asia, North America). In this case, I have little to add to Kate's answer. It may get easier if you do it more frequently.

Edit: StrongBads answer reminded me of the Autipas. It's a special card you can show to airport personnel (it was reportedly inspired by an incident with an aspie flightspotter on Schiphol Airport). Personally I wouldn't like such a card, but perhaps you would.

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    -1. this doesn't answer the question. not sure why all the upvotes. – Apologize and reinstate Monica Nov 13 '15 at 0:00
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    @sgroves, answers that attempt to solve the underlying problem, even if not directly answering the question as posed, are welcome across Stack Exchange sites. For some questions, such an answer is the only good answer. See discussion of xy problems: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/66377/what-is-the-xy-problem Not saying this question is an xy problem (as sometimes flying is preferable or necessary) but still suggesting alternatives to flying seems like helpful information solving the underlying problem. – user35890 Nov 13 '15 at 7:33
  • @sgroves The final paragraph, edited in shortly before your comment, does propose a route to an answer. I didn't expand on it because I personally do not like it. – gerrit Nov 13 '15 at 10:17
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    It is a good answer in my case. I probably should consider taking the boat more often. It's a pleasant experience. The downside though: my trip to the UK by ship would take me 2 + 1 + 10 + 5 = 18 hours using the boat to Harwich and 2 + 1 + 1 = 4 hours taking the flight. I'm also not sure on the card. Is it an official thing? – Belle-Sophie Nov 13 '15 at 10:21
  • @J.Constantine Yes, boat (or train) is slower than flight although it's somewhat mitigated if you travel by night. I don't think the Autipas is official, it's produced by the Nederlandse Vereniging voor Autisme. You might find opinions on experiences with it on Dutch asperger forums (I've lived outside The Netherlands since 2007, but I wouldn't get one even if I didn't, because I fear it would just draw attention and enhanced stigmatisation; others disagree). – gerrit Nov 13 '15 at 10:45
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In the US, the TSA has a notification card and

You or your traveling companion may consult the TSA officer about the best way to relieve any concerns during the screening process.

The UK security process is not as clear, but https://www.gov.uk/airport-rights outlines the rights of disabled people at the airport. This website suggests

Contact customer services at the airport if you need help to move through the airport from check-in, through security to the departure gate. You shouldn't be charged for this assistance.

I think the take home message is that you should let security know what is up and ask for reasonable accommodations.

  • That reminds me of the Autipas. – gerrit Nov 12 '15 at 22:25
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I can't speak about other countries, but in the USA, contact TSA at the airport ahead of time and describe your issues. Most likely they will arrange for a TSA agent to escort you through security. You'll still have to do everything you would normally have to do (show ID, take off shoes, scan luggage, etc.), but the escort will bypass the lines and get you through as fast as possible. In your case, they may set you up at an unused scanner, with no one waiting behind you, so there is no pressure.

My son has autism, and waiting in line and getting through security was a huge challenge for us, for TSA, and everyone else in line. After one scary incident, TSA told us we could get an escort in the future. Now getting through security is simple and trouble-free, for everyone.

I would imagine that at most airports in Europe, you could do the same thing. Find out who handles security and call them ahead of time. Ahead of time means at least one day before. Don't wait until you get to the airport.

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They will also ask you to take your hands out of your pockets when going through the scanner, so maybe the inside of your pocket is not the best place to keep a plushy? Maybe you can make something that becomes an "accessory" that you can wear on the outside, for example a string/cloth hanging from a beltloop?

From my many flight experiences, I've developed an automatic change of attitude when I get close to a security check. (They whole concept and experience is horrible, but as a passenger you can't change much about it) I make it into an excerise of relaxation and slowing down. Totally ignore all the people around you (both passengers and personell) and how they send out stress. You are in your own bubble of relaxation, and their moods won't influence you. Instead you can try to send out vibes of relaxation and smile at people.

Also I prepare while waiting in line by taking off all my metal items and putting them in the pockets of my jacket which I take off anyway. This removes all the hassle at the front part. At the end of the check I can put on my jacket, grab my bag and walk away in a smooth move if I want to. Both most often I put on my things extra slowly in order to claim my space and stay relaxed. If there isn't enough space for the other people coming behind me that is not my problem, but rather a bad design of the space, and then it's the personells problem.

  • Good answer. Come prepared and don't feel hurried by the rest. They do their thing, you do yours. – Mast Nov 13 '15 at 17:29
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    I actually put the things in my hand luggage, so that I don't fear them getting loose from the pockets. – yo' Nov 16 '15 at 10:28
  • I have zippers in my pockets. But if you don't have that, then yes a closed bag is a better idea. – Niels Nov 17 '15 at 10:32
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There are three things I'm going to suggest:

  1. Ask for assistance at check-in. They are able to assist people with various disabilities, they may be willing to assist you. It is worth trying. People in both the Netherlands and the UK seem very nice and understanding, you get a chance.

  2. Try to get yourself eligible for the fast track. The security at fast tracks usually deals with less people, less problematic people (the once with silver/golden cards travel a lot, and usually with little luggage; they behave well), and in general, they are more friendly.

  3. This may work for you but may not. You can take both your plush friends. (I know this is difficult and takes a lot of space; have you tried having a 3rd, very small plush friend as your travel companion?) Put one on the belt and keep the other one with you. When the 1st one makes it to the other side, put the 2nd one on the belt, pass the scanner and grab the 1st one. This way, you are in close contact with at least one of them most of the time, it's basically only 5 seconds to walk through the frame.

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You could always check your luggage in to the hold, and collect it at the other end. If you limit what you carry to just the items you actually need during the flight (passport, boarding pass, plush seem like the minimum), then you will minimize the stress of going through security.

Consider taking disposable forms of entertainment / time killers on the actual plane e.g. a magazine instead of a laptop.

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    I dont think checking in a laptop is a good idea - or actually not even allowed, as it usually contains a Li-Ion-battery... – Gerhard Nov 13 '15 at 9:11
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    Thank you for your answer. This may help others with similar problems, but not me, as @Gerhard pointed out. Besides, putting my laptop in the hold would make me even more uncomfortable. – Belle-Sophie Nov 13 '15 at 10:29
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    @Gerhard Agreed. Checking in valuable items is a terrible idea. Quite apart from the issue of Li-ion batteries being forbidden, thefts from the security check are very rare but, on average, about 35 baggage handlers are fired every year in the US for stealing from passengers' luggage (source: WJS). I don't see why the US would be atypical in this regard. – David Richerby Nov 14 '15 at 16:17
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    @DavidRicherby To suggest that it is a terrible idea is a very extreme statement. As you've said, it is very rare (it has never happened to me, or anyone I know), and is an insurable risk. I'm not saying there isn't some merit to your statement (although I've actually had someone walk off a plane with my luggage by mistake once, so it isn't without it's own risks). But a healthy dose of perspective is worth holding on to. There is probably a bigger risk of having your valuables stolen on your holiday, than on the plane, but it isn't a terrible idea to go on holiday. – JBentley Nov 19 '15 at 15:28
  • @JBentley I agree that "is a terrible idea" is an exaggeration but it was too late to edit the comment. :-( It's not a good idea. – David Richerby Nov 19 '15 at 17:15
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What I usually do is trying to get my ticket upgraded so that I'll have access to the Fast Track and Lounge.

This makes the journey a lot easier.

  • How do you do that? By paying extra? And would it be enough for people with severe autism? – Willeke Aug 20 at 8:09

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