Jennifer Williamson is “livid” after her son Aaron was put through an extensive pat-down on March 26 at Dallas Ford Worth Airport. She posted a video on Facebook that has since gone viral, showing Aaron being put through a thorough Transportation Security Administration pat-down that lasted nearly two minutes. The pat-down took so long that Williamson’s family missed their flight.
Williamson wrote her son suffers from sensory processing disorder and had asked the TSA agents to screen her teenage son using a different technique, so he didn’t have to go through a noisy machine. Instead, the male TSA agent gave her son a pat-down. Her son was traumatized, according to her Facebook post. The video has now been viewed over 5.9 million times.
Here’s what you need to know about Williamson and her son.
1. Williamson Said They Were ‘Treated Like Dogs’ by TSA
In her original Facebook post, Williamson wrote that she and her 13-year-old son had “been through hell this morning” on Sunday, March 26. She said the extra-long screening made them miss their flight out of DFW and Aaron was “detained” for “well over an hour.”
“We were treated like dogs because I requested they attempt to screen him in other ways per TSA rules,” Williamson wrote. “He has SPD and I didn’t want my child given a pat down like this. Let me make something else crystal clear. He set off NO alarms. He physically did not alarm at all during screening, he passed through the detector just fine.”
Several hours after the screening, Aaron was still asking his mother if he did anything wrong.
“I am livid,” she wrote. “Please, share… make this viral like the other children’s videos with TSA… I wish I had taped the entire interchange because it was horrifying. We had two DFW police officers that were called and flanking him on each side. Somehow these power tripping TSA agents who are traumatizing children and doing whatever they feel like without any cause, need to be reined in.”
In an interview with CBS News, Williamson said that this all started when the TSA agents noticed that he had a laptop in his backpack. He was then told that he would have to be patted down and Williamson asked them to do so in a different way because his disorder makes him sensitive to the touch.
2. TSA Says Aaron’s Laptop Set Off an Alarm, but Williamson Disputes This
The TSA sent a statement to NBC News, insisting that Aaron’s laptop did set off an alarm. However, Williamson said this was not true.
“TSA allows for a pat-down of a teenage passenger, and in this case, all approved procedures were followed to resolve an alarm of the passenger’s laptop,” the TSA said in a statement.
The TSA also told CBS News that Aaron was fully cooperative during the pat-down and personally approved of the procedure. The agency also said that the process took “approximately 45 minutes, which included the time it took to discuss screening procedures with the mother and to screen three carry-on items that required further inspection.”
As for the police officers present, the TSA told the Dallas Morning News that they were there to “mitigate the mother’s concerns.”
Even though the TSA says Aaron approved of the pat-down, his mother said that he was still traumatized.
“His first question to me was, ‘I don’t understand why they did this. I don’t know what I did wrong,’ and to me that was a sign of trauma for him to think that he had done anything wrong,” Williamson told CBS News.
3. The TSA Announced a New, More Invasive Pat-down Procedure Earlier This Month
Back on March 3, Bloomberg reported that TSA agents now only have one type of physical pat-down, instead of five options. The TSA told Bloomberg that the single pat-down option is more “comprehensive” and “more rigorous.”
“I would say people who in the past would have gotten a pat-down that wasn’t involved will notice that the [new] pat-down is more involved,” TSA spokesman Bruce Anderson told Bloomberg. He added that the searches “will be more thorough and may involve an officer making more intimate contact than before.”
The new procedures have been in effect since March 2. Anderson told Bloomberg that the new procedure shouldn’t cause delays, although it will certainly slow things down for the person being patted down.
The change came after a 2015 study of its procedures after the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General criticized the agency for frequently letting guns and other weapons go undetected.
4. Aaron Suffers From Sensory Processing Disorder, Described as a ‘Neurological Traffic Jam’
Aaron suffers from Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), which means that the sensory signals his senses send do not get detected or do not get organized into the proper response, STAR Institute explains. Neuroscientist A. Jean Ayres, PhD., describes the disorder as a “neurological ‘traffic jam’ that prevents certain parts of the brain from receiving the information needed to interpret sensory information correctly.”
According to STAR Institute, a study of children born between 1995 and 1997 in New Haven, Connecticut found that 16 percent of 7 to 11-year-olds had symptoms of the disorder. Another study, published in 2004, found that 5 percent of younger children had SPD symptoms.
The institute also notes that the disorder often happens alone, although it is possible for a child to have SPD, ADHD and other mental disorders. To see the characteristics of the disorder, click here.
5. People With Disabilities Can Carry a TSA Disabilities Notification Card
Air travelers with disabilities can carry a TSA Disabilities Notification Card, which they can hand to a TSA agent to request an alternate form of screening.
The TSA also notes that those with disabilities do not have to remove their shoes, but the shows do have to undergo a “visual/physical inspection as well as explosives trace detection testing of the footwear.”
Williamson’s video shows that Aaron did remove his shoes for the screening.
“I believe he was patted down excessively. They went over his sensitive areas, a little more than necessary, especially given that he wasn’t wearing bulky clothing or anything like that,” Williamson said.