As Good Morning America played in the background of our morning chaos yesterday, I quickly hit the record button on the TiVo. A parent and her toddler who is autistic were forced off an American Airlines flight. The mother took a train up to New York City to appear on the show.
I’ve watched it all now and let me tell you how much I hate these stories. Unless you’re there it’s always hard to judge in hindsight. However I still felt it was worth putting out there. I feel for this mother!! I have been on a plane with both my daughter who has some truly autistic behaviors (not that the paranoia from Katherine’s psychosis doesn’t make getting thru airport security bad enough). Quite frankly it became so difficult we stopped flying with her and at the time we made that decision she was flying once a month from Georgia to New Jersey to visit with her father. I know that this decision wound up working for us because her father came to recognize the real peril of her behaviors and the potential for real problems. Now he comes here instead.
I’ve also flown without my children but had other peoples children on the plane. Some of these children were without question disruptive, chaotic, trying. It was mayhem. Do I as a fellow passenger wish that the child would have been more quiet, more under control? Sure! Please – I don’t want 4-5 hours of my own child in chaos let alone one I don’t know. Reality though?? Please. The reality is that with airlines today I’d like to act like some of those kids were. The difference is my decades of additional experience and my brain’s ability to exhibit impulse control. Now take away the decades of experience and the fact that even the most “normal” child has impulse control issues because their brain is not fully formed.
What is it these days where adults are so self-absorbed that they can’t handle some chaos or turn it around and revel in a child who is only acting out like we wish we could? Where is a helping hand to assist a mom who has a child who’s boisterous or fidgety because you have all been waiting on that plane or in the terminal for what seems like forever?
I watched the mom – Janice Farrell calm her son on TV. It’s fairly obvious that she has the ability to control the child given the right environment. Certainly the one described by Ms. Farrell (which you can see by clicking here) was anything but the right environment for a child with any special needs, let alone autism. I am guessing that Ms. Farrell could have done as much to calm her son on this flight had she been met by understanding rather than judgement. The airline – American – released a statement saying
“The child had been crying and screaming uncontrollably, to the point where the child’s well being was in question,” American Airlines, the parent company of American Eagle, said in a statement. “Though, ultimately, the parent’s violation of FAA regulations was the cause for removal, both situations contributed to an uncomfortable and potentially unsafe atmosphere for our passengers and crew.”
Ms. Farrell says that she did comply and on that issue all I can say is who knows? I know she says she allowed them to stow the bag. Let me put on the record that I personally don’t believe for a minute that this was the issue. I’m guessing that like many others, that flight attendant wasn’t in the mood to deal with a challenging child. I am guessing that to top the poor attitude that the flight attendant exacerbated an already difficult situation by her lack of understanding how her tugging at the seatbelt and tone of voice were only adding fuel to the fire. I’m guessing that had she been given the opportunity she could have calmed her son just as she did on live tv…..without a bunch of nasty, judgmental people harping on her and her small child. No toddler will do well under those circumstances let alone one that has problems interpreting social signals and sensory input!
The reality is that the airline does need to make sure that it’s safe for everyone to travel however it just seems to me that these things just didn’t happen before 9/11 and now I seem to see them all over the place. Everyone had a little more patience because the whole airport thing was a whole lot less grueling. The reality is at worst I would guess that this child posed a nuisance and a headache factor for some employees and passengers who were either basically intolerant or in a particularly bad mood that day. I get needing to keep people safe from terrorists, not from terrorized 2 year olds. And face it – that child was terrorized. Even if I assume that Ms. Farrell’s view is biased – without question the manner in which we are now required to travel with increased security it torturous for even the most seasoned traveler.
Seems to me that human decency requires some patience with the youngest of us. We need to go back to viewing our world as a larger family of whom we need to be supportive and caring of. Let’s face it….turning the plane around, going back to the gate took as much time as allowing this mother the space to help her child calm down. I don’t know why this woman and her child chose to travel via air. I don’t even care. It seems that disabilities have to be accommodated – and American Airlines blew it on this call not once but twice. Their first opportunity was blown by the flight crew – pilot included. The second was from American corporate who decided than rather to suggest that a policy of Ancora Imparo (thank you Dr. Rick Rader of Exceptional Parent magazine for introducing me to that term) which means ‘I am still learning’ in which maybe they took some accountability for their employees behavior and remembered we all are continually learning and we need to allow new experiences to give us growth rather than duck behind the blame game. What an opportunity they missed by not acknowledging they had something they could learn from this rather than casting blame away from them and their employees.
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