Blog entry #5
We entered the Greater Pittsburgh International Airport leaving the comfort of our Christmas visit with my extended family behind us. Harry and I always prioritized visiting family as we are close to our families but separated by geography. His family was mostly in the Boston area and my family uses my hometown of Pittsburgh as our nucleus.
While Harry unloaded the bags from the trunk of the rental car I clung firmly onto ten year old Matt’s hand knowing that he couldn’t stay with us himself and couldn’t look both ways for traffic as we left the parking garage and crossed the multiple lanes of airport traffic buzzing with cars to enter the terminal.
Parts of the journey were easy. Matt liked the transit train ride once we got past security, but every step getting there was laced with risks. Going through security was very challenging as everything about it played to Matt’s weaknesses.
I tried to imagine what he was thinking as we worked our way through Harry processing all our tickets and me just keeping Matthew and his younger brother, seven year old Patrick, in the area until ,upon the signal, I would herd them up to the ticket counter to be identified to finish that step. Matt couldn’t wait or stand in line. He was a perpetual motion man sent in new directions by things known and unknown in his environment.
It took us years until Leroy the barber pointed out that Matt was sensitive to Leroy coughing. Suddenly a stream of puzzling behaviors became clear. Matt as a baby in a highchair at McDonald’s bursting into tears totally out of the blue. I would not have noticed someone coughing. All his life coughing and cars starting have hurt him more than thorns in his hands. Crowds like these in the airport were like a minefield of potential explosions, that I could not protect Matt from.
We entered the cavernous atrium containing the totally full security lines. The zigging and zagging cordoned off lines were packed. I took a deep resigned breath and tried to relax as we approached the lines. Waiting, and standing in line, even if it was moving quickly, were both huge challenges for Matt. “Stay BEHIND Daddy,” I said calmly countless times as I pulled him back in line. We always tried to sandwich him with Harry ahead and me beside or behind Matt. I was left with only talking to Patrick to keep him with us. Lines like these were an eternity of worrying that Matt would drive some other person to their wits end, getting us all in enough trouble that we wouldn’t be allowed to board our flight home. My carry-on was full of Mini-Oreos, Swedish fish, and Milano cookies, the most effective bribes I could hope for but standing in the line was not an easy place to employ them. The line was a circumstance that no matter what bribe I had it was unreliable at keeping Matt’s focus and keeping him on track.
We had a drill for every station and we had finally gotten our carry-ons on the conveyer belt and Harry went through first to tell the TSA agent on the other side that Matt was autistic and had severe communication issues. I must have turned my head to check Patrick when Matt wiggled free and ran through the security portal before he was summoned.
I had never before noticed that a couple of stories above us were catwalks on either side and I saw a figure go running down that catwalk at the same time another security person came running from the right side of all these portals.
Harry shouted, “No!” at Matt, which made Matt turn around and run back to me.
My heart sank. This was not good. If they separated Matt from us it would be a total disaster. He couldn’t reliably answer a question. He might answer, “yes” to everything because “yes” makes people happy. If they tried to search him I had no way of knowing what would happen, but following instructions would not work. If any one coughed he would flee in a random direction.
Harry froze. I froze, now holding Matt by the hand. How could I have let him give me the slip? I know better than to let him hoodwink me. It happened so fast I really had no idea how it happened. One second I had him and the next second I didn’t.
As the TSA runner approached the agent in our lane I held my breath until I heard our guy assert, “Cut me a break. He’s autisitic.”
Thank God. Someone who can see it. Someone who understood autism just when we needed it most.
Our TSA agent wanded Harry.
The agent then motioned Matt through and, like always, I brought him up close to the portal, pressed both of his hands to his sides and pushed him through.
Bingo! Harry caught him on the other side. Matt was searched with Harry’s help.
Patrick and I soon joined them and were off to the train ride.
Just another scrape with near disaster.