Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Skies Are Only Friendly If You Don't Have Autism

Anyone who has flown anywhere with a toddler, autistic or not, will get this. A mom, flying with a child who had autism was kicked off a plane in Raleigh, North Carolina. Why? The child didn't want to wear his seatbelt tightly. He kept it on, but didn't want it as tight as it would go. The flight attendant engaged in a power struggle, and called in the pilot. After that, the child had a meltdown. Rather than understanding how difficult it is to deal with a child (compounded by the fact the child has autism, and the various sensory issues that it involves), the pilot made an announcement that was a judgment on her parenting, turned the plane around and left them standing at the gate. Was this wrong?

Talk to any flight attendant, and you will hear about how their first duty is to ensure the safety and comfort of the passengers. Anyone that poses a hazard needs to be evaluated and left behind. And while I get that view, I don't buy it. How many times have you been seated next to someone who has bad breath? Or is sleeping on your side of the seat? Or, the person is just taking up too much room? How about the kid behind you or in front of you that constantly *knocks *the *seat until you want to get up and throttle them? And all of those people stay on the plane.

A mother with a toddler needs to be treated with understanding. She is having a hard enough time without derision and judgment. A mother who is dealing with autism? Should get a medal...

Should the mother have alerted the airline to the fact that her son had autism? Probably. Did she? We don't know. We also don't know if they had early-boarding. What we do know is that rather than try to help the mother or the little boy calm down, they simply took the hard-nosed approach and kicked them off the plane.

I am sorry that passengers were inconvenienced, and funny how easy it is to judge when one hasn't a clue about the issue. Would we ask someone who is overweight to get off the plane? How about someone in a wheel chair? Autism? IS A DISABILITY, people! It is not a catch-all for crappy parenting, or an excuse to let a child run amok. Believe me, as a parent of a children with autism when I say,

"I don't WANT my child to act in a way that embarrasses the snot out of me and makes me want to climb under a rock."

Kids with autism really don't have a lot of choice in many of their behaviors. And? Neither do their parents.

What would I have done in the mother's situation? I am pretty sure I would have cried, just like she did. Enough of the shaming. When did we declare war on mothers of small children? When did they become second-class citizens? They have just as much right to travel as anyone, and a harder time of it. What the pilot did was chicken shit inexcusable. As a parent, I am tired of being judged because my children have a NEUROLOGICAL DISORDER!

But, you know? At least, even with kids who have autism, I haven't lost my sense of civility. This is, after all, a kind blog. There is another blog out there that said some really rotten things about the child and the mother, and how "she" shouldn't have to be inconvenienced. She compared autism with a child to an adult with bipolar disorder. First of all, bipolar adults have a choice in whether they want to be where they are. She also mentioned that many kids are being diagnosed with autism when really they are just "flaming brats." Excuse me? I didn't comment there, what's the point? (I am not linking to the blog, simply because

  • 1) I don't want to give her the hits
  • 2) Ignorance cannot be rewarded
  • But really? If you haven't lived special needs parenting? If you don't know what it is to live with an out-of-control, neurologically-damaged kid?


    As far as a child who is throwing a fit? Talk about feeling helpless! A two year old is along for the ride, he doesn't get a choice. This giant tin can is going to lift off the ground, it makes noise and makes your ears feel funny. Explain it to a two year old? And an autistic one at that? Have some compassion for those who just don't get it.

    The airline industry is floundering. With airlines discriminating against moms with small children (there was another incident of a mom thrown off a plane with a toddler last year), who wants to fly? This kind of negative press can do nothing but hurt them in the long run. I suggest some sensitivity training for the flight attendants, at the very least. I won't be flying American until they apologize to the mother. Clearly, they cannot admit a mistake. And that to me is what is inexcusable.

    T, who realizes that we have a long way to go on autism awareness

    9 sent chocolate:

    Pamela said...

    I feel for that mom. I really do. As the mother of a special needs child (cerebral palsy) I feel for her and understand her pain.

    You're right---unless you've experienced special needs parenting you truly can't understand.

    MiniVanMama said...

    Amen! As a former therapist for the Autism Society of NC I back you up 110%. I personally have a very rambunctious "normal" 2 year old, and a 1 year old that has been recently diagnosed with special needs. I did read the post you are referring to, and I have to admit I am able to let things go, but girl this post really lit my fire. Like you I refused to comment. What's the point? Some people are just ignorant, and until you have walked in someone's shoes, why judge? On the subject of bipolar disorder, personally I have several relatives that do suffer from this illness, but I have to say this is one of the most over diagnosed illnesses out there. Could have gone down that road with her, but again, chose not to.

    You keep fighting the fight girlfriend. Autism awareness does have a long way to go, but you are personally making strides, and I commend you for it. Continue to use your voice for those that can't, and no doubt you will make a difference in this world!

    BTW, I saw your post on twitter...

    In Friendship,
    Jenn Rogers

    Missy said...

    Travelling with children is hard enough, without having ignorant and rude staff making it worse. What happened to customer service?

    Val said...

    Wonderful post. While I do not personally have a child with autism, I work in public schools, and I see attitude like you are describing run rampant. It is so easy to 'write off' a difficult behavior as the fault of the parent, or somwhow controllable, and it's just plain wrong! I cannot STAND people who judge these situations they know nothing about. Grrrr!
    Thank you for these thought-provoking posts.

    That lady with 6 daughters said...

    And for a frigging seatbelt. UM- if the plane crashes, the seatbelt isn't really going to help much, is it? Isn't it just a crapshoot anyway?

    I've been around a few children with autism (because I recently learned that using the term autistic isn't PC) and you can TELL when they're starting to tune out and melt down. Why would the attendant keep pushing it? Back the hell off.

    I'm willing to bet the mother did what she could to prevent the meltdown because who on earth wants to be in charge of a screaming child on an airplane?

    An adult friend of mine had an attendant get pissy about the seat belt, too even though it was gouging into her abdominal incision. Finally she lifted her shirt & showed her the 9 inches of stitches so she'd quit insisting it be tighter.

    I think the flight attendant had a little power trip.

    lonestar818 said...

    Excellent post! I have three boys with autism and wouldn't dare try to fly with them (yet) but I can sooo feel for this mom. The way she and her son were treated is inexcusable and I just get so tired of the presumptuous judgments of those who have no clue. Our kids have enough to deal with without adding people's ignorant attitudes to the mix too.

    Genevieve Hinson said...

    Great post!

    Ruthie said...

    Great post! I know I wouldn't take my kids on an airplane. Heck...I'm too afraid to fly myself.

    And I read that person's post you were talking about. She did put up an apology, but I can't help it, I'm still hurt.

    Michelle McFarland-McDaniels said...

    Very well said. People who treat people affected by disabilities with contempt because they are affected by disabilities deserve to be taken to task.

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