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Answers (4)

Autistic passenger

Autistic passenger

  1. Anonymous

    Dear Lucky:

    I recently flew from LAX to HNL with my spouse and school age daughter. We were seated in the bulkhead row of an A321 so in the main cabin extra section for AA.

    We were in 8A 8B and 8C. After we boarded, a woman and her daughter (about 10 years old) boarded with the daughter’s iPad blaring at full volume. We could hear it from when they stepped in the plane door 5 rows up. They stepped passed and the woman said, “She’s autistic.” I assume that meant she couldn’t do without listening to Sesame Street at full volume.

    They sat behind us in 9B and 9C. There was already an unrelated female passenger in 9A. While getting ready for takeoff, one of the flight attendants, Stan, came by and told the woman that her daughter cannot listen out loud and headphones would have to be worn. The woman told Stan that her daughter was autistic, and Stan said that she still would have to listen with headphones or watch without sound.

    The woman proceeded to ignore Stan, and he never came by again as he was taking care of first class. Throughout the entire flight, the iPad was blaring. The two female flight attendants assigned to coach never said a thing but the sound was very loud.

    At one point, the 9A passenger asked the flight attendants to switch seats, and she moved back somewhere.

    From what we could tell, the woman’s daughter was probably autistic. She also kept kicking our seat backs and the mother did not tell her stop.

    My question is how much leeway do we give for an autistic passenger? It seems to me when her behavior impacts the comfort of others, then it becomes an issue that the flight attendants need to address? Any advice if a similar situation occurs again?

  2. Anonymous

    Hey Kevin — sounds like an unpleasant flight, and I’m sorry you had to deal with that. I have been on so many flights with seniors who wouldn’t/couldn’t turn down the volume on their electronics, or who were playing their IFE so loudly that I could hear it through their headphones and mine, or businessmen who insist on “networking” at a near-shout the entire flight. Those kinds of things can really disrupt a flight, and I wish that people would be more courteous of their fellow passengers, and that FAs were empowered to do something about it.

    As the aunt of a little boy with autism, and who spends a lot of time around special needs and differently-abled children because of it though…

    I know it seems like poor parenting, and that mom’s inaction likely has very little to do with the child’s disability. But autism sucks for everyone involved, and it’s impossible to know the background, or what else was happening that day.

    The full-volume thing seems odd to me, because many kids on the spectrum wear headphones in public [I]in general[/I] because the stimulation and noise can be too much for them to process. But every kid is different.

    Granted, most of the kids I interact with are younger than 10, and modalities and recommendations for kids with autism have changed, and this mom might not have had the benefit of those therapies when her daughter was younger. This might also be reflected in mom saying her daughter “is autistic” — most of the parents I meet would say that their child “has autism,” which is a more modern approach (ie, not defining a human by their disability). There are also lots of programs now to let kids go and practice a day at the airport, or how to board a plane, and so forth, but those don’t help once you’re already on the plane, unfortunately.

    At any rate, it doesn’t sound like this mom had a great toolkit to really manage the situation — maybe because she hasn’t had the resources to build one, or it may even have just been one of those days. My nephew is high-functioning, incredibly bright, and as stubborn as you’d expect one of my relatives to be 😉 He is a great flyer, and there’s been a lot of practicing of appropriate behaviors in public, and if you told him he could put his headphones on [I]or[/I] turn off the iPad, he would happily put his headphones on. If he kicked a seat, someone would correct him, and he’d (probably) stop, but might have to be reminded several times.

    But he also lost it and wanted us to call 911 when we were watching him a few weeks ago and wouldn’t let him finish [I]the entire Lego Star Wars video game[/I] (which is maybe 1000 hours of game time), and didn’t understand why we were being so unreasonable and unsympathetic. A meltdown like that on an airplane would be MUCH WORSE for everyone involved than a noisy iPad.

    So while I don’t think there’s any excuse for rudeness, and feel like disability or no, parents should still be teaching their kids proper expectations of public behavior, like most things in life, I would say if you can, it’s best to practice more kindness and grace towards others than strictly necessary.

  3. Owen

    Yikes that must have been an unpleasant flight! I understand that must have been very irritating for the rest of the passengers, but with all the negative press that airlines have gotten recently, many airline staff and workers are afraid of causing confrontation with passengers. Especially when it comes to a sensitive issue such as a child with disabilities. Many children with autism have triggers, so we want to be as accommodating as possible, especially since having a child having a breakdown midflight may be worse than just having them blare big bird. So for this situation, I would have to say more blame should have been on the mother, rather than the crew. The mom should have made sure that her child wasn’t kicking the seat, and try to get them to wear headphones.

  4. Anonymous

    Update, as I sent this to Heather, and this is her response (and why I <3 her):

    [I]"Rude is rude, no matter your ability.

    This mom should be ashamed. Parents of children with special needs are typically overly cautious in public (especially small, confined spaces.)

    Manners are important for everyone, and using her daughter's disability as an excuse to be inconsiderate damages the reputation of the majority of other parents who are trying to raise differently-abled individuals properly.

    I am certain that this girl can not wear typical (in the ear) headphones so it is possible that she forgot to pack her over the ear headphones and a replacement was not readily available, but if that is the case, the mother could have kindly explained that and perhaps passengers would have had more patience. If I had been on that flight, I would have known to offer my soft, over the ear headphones to her.

    I did want to touch on the seat kicking. This is a huge problem and is something that is very difficult to stop. I try to select seating in theaters, sporting events, etc. where there is no on in front of us so that my son does not bother the person in front of him by kicking the seat, but sometimes it's unavoidable.

    This is where I would recommend practicing kindness. It is difficult for a child with autism to sit still without moving their body. When strapped into a seat belt, their options are limited. I typically have to spend the majority of a flight with my leg turned awkwardly to the side so that my son kicks my leg vs. the back of the seat. On a long flight I will place my hand bag on the floor in front of him with a book or other items in it to soften the impact so the passenger in front of us is not disturbed. Often times I just have to switch seats around and hope that the other passenger will not be bothered as much by an occasional kick to the seat.

    There have been times that I have been forced to explain the situation to the patron seated in front of us and hope for kindness and understanding. Most times they are unsure of what to say so they just act awkward, which makes me feel embarrassed.

    In conclusion, I would say that a certain amount of leeway is necessary for infants, toddlers, and differently-abled individuals as they are not able to control themselves like a typically functioning individual.

    However it goes both ways. Parents responsible for these children understand the challenges better than anyone and should be prepared to do their best to avoid disturbing others."[/I]

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