After Boy’s Controversial TSA Pat-Down, a look at Sensory Processing Disorder

An outraged mother gained widespread attention with a video she posted to Facebook showing her 13-year-old son getting a thorough pat-down by a Transportation Security Administration officer at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. Jennifer Williamson accused the TSA of treating her family “like dogs,” and noted that her son has sensory processing disorder (SPD).

The video shows a TSA officer methodically patting down her son from head to toe for about two minutes.

“We were treated with utter disrespect as if we were criminals,” Williamson said in an interview with “CBS This Morning.”

She called the pat-down her son was given “excessive.” “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.
Her son’s condition made the ordeal even more upsetting. “My son has sensory processing disorder so the touch can be very difficult for him to handle,” Williamson said.

SPD is a neurological condition in which the brain has trouble receiving information from the senses. Symptoms can range in severity from mild to incapacitating, and they differ from person to person, but often involve hypersensitivity to sound, sight, and touch.

Elysa Marco, M.D., a pediatric cognitive and behavioral neurologist and director of the Sensory, Neurodevelopment & Autism Program (SNAP) at the University of California San Francisco, said some of her patients liken the feeling of a light touch to that of “profoundly itchy sweater times 100.”

“Everybody’s going to feel uncomfortable when you scrape your nails down a chalkboard or when you wear that itchy wool sweater,” Marco told CBS News. “Everyone can understand that, but it’s important to realize that some people have a better ability to modulate their response to stimuli and for our patients, the threshold is very low.”

Conversely, some people with SPD may under-respond to sensations and show little to no reactions even to the extreme pain, heat, or cold.

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