Special Needs, Sunflowers, and TSA


My family recently traveled cross-country and back again, 6,000 miles in 9 days, with our 5 year old and 8 year old. And while we relied heavily on the 3 T’s of traveling with children (Toys, Tablets, and Treats), it was a 4th T that really stood out in making our trip possible: TSA.

Flight Attendant On Plane

TSA Cares

If you’ve never heard of it, TSA Cares is a program providing assistance for travelers who require special support or accommodations due to “disabilities, medical conditions and other special circumstances.” And it’s a game changer!

This program takes “annoyances” for neurotypical travelers and recognizes that they are in fact traumatic for those with neurodivergence. TSA agents seek to mitigate these stressors and to make travel that much more accessible for those with, often invisible, disabilities.

A Personal Take

My daughter is autistic with a nervous system disability that causes her to easily be triggered into fight-or-flight. Let me share what the TSA Cares program did for her.

  • A TSA worker introduced themselves and asked about the needs of our family (thank you Dustin and Joshua!).
  • She was given a Sunflower lanyard, a symbol to TSA workers that she has an invisible disability and needs extra assistance.
  • She didn’t have to wait in a crowded line full of sounds, smells, and an inability to move around.
  • No one touched her or made her remove articles of clothing or shoes.
  • She was able to pre-board and get settled in with headphones, avoiding the pushing and bumping of people finding their seats all around her. 

Then she was able to use her energy to cope with the 10+ hours of travel itself. And I can honestly say, I don’t know if she would have had “the spoons” to make that trip if she hadn’t been given such a compassionate buffer on the front end. 

Child looking out plane window

Do you or someone you know have a loved one with an invisible disability? Let this be another tool in your toolbox! I’m so thankful that my daughter had the chance to visit grandparents, play with cousins, and experience new places. Every child deserves those opportunities, and TSA Cares helps make it a little more possible!

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Cheryl Quimba
Cheryl is a nearly 20 year Oregonian who grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia. She learned to turn down the sarcasm dial, hike in the rain, and keep an IV drip of coffee at all times, making the PNW deeply home. She obtained her Bachelor's degree in Pastoral Counseling and, in her pre-kid years, worked in substance abuse prevention, special needs tutoring, and as administrative support for the psychiatric care of at risk children. She and her husband, BJ, are two-time adoptive parents to Nora (8) and Evan (5). Together, they love discovering nature, mountains of library books, and endless hours of legos, art, and YouTube. A potent cocktail of pandemic school closure and a growing understanding of neurodivergent needs led Cheryl to educate their kids at home. She spends much of her time geeking out over resources for Child-Led Learning (Unschool, Self-Directed, Natural Learning -whatever your flavor!). Through NEST she has obtained certification in supporting individuals with the Pathological Demand Avoidance profile of the Autism Spectrum. She enjoys encouraging families in their journey as they seek to understand and love their children well. You can find her at WhatHelps.me, where she educates and supports in areas of OCD, PDA, Unschooling, and Open Adoption.