BY Ed Zetlin & Mark Friese TION LENS LEGISLA The Legal Side of Traveling with a Special Needs Child M any of you may have read about the 15-year-old autistic child from Portland, Oregon who was traveling with her parents on a major airline and was asked to depart the plane due to behavioral issues. As a parent of a nineteen-year-old son who is autistic, the scene was frightening and sad. We all know how the emotional “tipping point” of our kids can be tricky to manage and predict. This may be particularly true when you are in an unfamiliar environment. As the summer is approaching, I thought it might be helpful to review your rights as a passenger with a disability or someone traveling with a family member with a disability. The Department of Transportation has some guidelines summarized under Title 14 CRF Part 382. They basically state that an airline may not refuse transportation on the basis of a disability, nor may they require advanced notice that a person with a disability is traveling. In addition, airlines may not limit the number of persons with a disability on any flight. Can you imagine a plane full of young people with autism for the first time? As my son would say, “that would be awesome.” Mandatory training is required for both airline and contract personnel who deal with the traveling public. Airlines are required to make available specially-trained“complaints resolution officials” to respond to complaints from passengers; these officials must respond to written complaints. I also thought it might be helpful to list some traveling-with-autism tips. • Take small steps. Taking short trips to pre- dictable, familiar locations can help alleviate 38 ZOOM Autism through Many Lenses anxieties. • Plan ahead. Pictures, written descriptions and videos of what lies ahead on the trip may relieve anxiety. Let any necessary staff know that you have a person with special needs with you in advance. • Ensure that the location is safe. Contact a concierge service or guest services represen tative that might be able to grant you ad vanced passes or special entry times to avoid crowds. • Think about sensory issues. Travel with headphones, a favorite toy for comfort in bed, and tactile-friendly clothes. • Plan your meals. Research whether or not the location you are visiting has food that is friendly for your child. Consider renting a refrigerator for the room to house gluten-free treats. • Pack the essentials. Don’t forget soothing items, books, iPad, etc. (Don’t forget the chargers!) Safe travels! Edward Zetlin has a solo practice in the areas of elder & disability law, guardianship/conservatorship, public benefits, estate planning and estate administration. He serves on the Northern Virginia Autism Association Board and is an Adjunct Professor of Law at the Washington College of Law of American University. Mark Friese is the founder of Special Needs Financial Advisors, based in Washington, D.C. With over 100 years of combined experience, they help to navigate the many aspects of planning with special needs family members.