Day #245 – Why I Write

Why do I write?

I write because I want people to know and learn about the vastness that is the spectrum.
I write because want people to have empathy before judgement.
I write because it is cathartic.

I write because of situations like this…

“A US couple and their teenage daughter with autism were told to get off an airplane after the pilot said the girl was making him “feel uncomfortable” and made an emergency stop.” (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/47230508.cms?intenttarget=no&from=mdr)

My husband sent me the article this morning.  I thought – there MUST be more to this story?  Really?

Then…I read the mother’s post.  I tried to contact her for permission to reprint, but I’m sure she is being flooded with requests today.  This was posted to her Facebook account.  Please read until the end.

I could be more upset with United Airlines, but I can’t imagine it. My family were on our way home from Disney World. I asked the flight attendant if she had any hot food (Juliette will not eat cold food and had refused her dinner prior to the flight). We had a back pack of snacks but she did not want what we had. The attendant sold me chicken sandwich but it was not hot and Juliette would not eat. The flight attendant said that is all we have. I asked if there was some hot food in First Class. It was a very long flight and I wanted her to get something in her system. The flight attendant went to ask and a male flight attendant in First Class. He came back to tell me that they could not serve the hot food from First Class because we were in economy. I offered to buy the rice they had. He said no. For 40 minutes, I kept trying to think of something that they had that she would eat. He told me no every time. I finally, told him that I am platinum on United thinking he might help. He said No. I again asked if he could make an exception for our daughter who faces autism. He said, no he could not give her the rice from first class. I asked if I could get some chips or something salty for her. He said they had no chips. Juliette was beginning to cry. Frustrated I said, after she has a melt down and tries to scratch in frustration, will you help her then? He said he would see what he could do. He came back scowled at me and gave her a hot meal. I thanked him and offered to pay for it. He did not answer and went back to First Class.

Juliette ate and was watching Pocahontas when we heard the flight attendant say, “We will be making an unexpected landing in Salt Lake due to a passenger in the back having issues.” We were in the front of the plane and wondering what was going on. The plane landed and the flight attendant asked if there was a medical doctor on board. A man came forward two rows in front of us. The man there said, “I am fine. I do not need a doctor.”

The door opened and two paramedics came to the man two rows ahead of us. He said again said he was fine. The paramedics left him and came to my row and said, “Everything okay here?” Confused, I said, “yes.” The paramedic asked if Juliette was okay. I said, “she’s fine.” Did she scratch someone? Puzzled I said, “no.” The paramedic rolled his eyes, said they had real work they should be doing and they were going to leave. He warned me that we may be asked to leave the plane. I was completely baffled. “Why?” He said this happens more often than you might imagine. He told me if they asked us to get off the plane we should just quietly get off. The paramedics left the plane.

Then two police officers approached our row. They said they needed us to exit the plane. I said, “Why?” The officer asked if Juliette was scratching someone. I again said, “no.” I told them asked for hot food to prevent a melt down and said we wanted to prevent her getting to the point of being upset or scratching which she sometimes does in frustration. I told the officer the flight attendant gave her hot food and she has been fine the whole trip. The officer said they we were going to still have us exit the plane. I told him this makes no sense. Nothing had happened. Passengers around us were telling the officers that Juliette was fine and there was no problem. The officer told us “The captain is not comfortable flying to Portland with your daughter on the plane. You have to leave the plane.” The captain had never seen Juliette nor had he come out of the front cabin.

All the time they were talking to me, Juliette was happily watching her video. The officer asked us again to quietly exit the plane. I was furious. I stood and shouted so the passengers could hear. “Is there anyone on this plane who feels threatened by our Juliette who faces autism? Has Juliette alarmed or harmed anyone on this plane? Passengers stood up for Juliette and shouted, “She is fine,” “Leave her alone.” “She is not causing a problem lets go to Portland.” “This is ridiculous,” and mouthed to me “I am so sorry.”

The police repeated that we needed to leave the plane. The captain came out and we saw him for the first time. He said, “Let’s not make this situation worse. I said, “You made it worse. You never even saw Juliette and I have no idea what your flight attendant told you but nothing happened.” I was so shaken and tears begin to fall. As mom I could not stand the way Juliette was being treated. I said I am not leaving the plane until I have statements and names showing there was NO issue. The officer said he would take statements. He came off the plane with 10 pages of passenger statements and showed them to me. He said, “You know we have some really violent cases where the plane should land. This is not one of those. You have a lot of people supporting your claim that nothing happened and your daughter should stay on the plane.” He gave me the police report number and told me I can get copies of the report and the statements.

It took some time for the crew to find our luggage. They rebooked us for a Delta flight leaving at the time when my kids should have been home in bed and getting ready for school the next day. We flew the rest of the way home as we have flown around the country with no problem. Juliette has flown since she was six months. She has been to five countries, 24 states and we have never experienced anything like this. Most often the flight attendants go out of their way to make Juliette comfortable and happy.

This was a sheer case of ignorance. Prejudice, ignorance and mistreatment are all too common toward people facing poverty. The parallels between special needs and poverty are striking in that both are causes for judgement, misunderstanding and mistreatment

I am stunned they landed a plane and held everyone up. Juliette was in a window seat and her dad was next to hear and I was next to him. She was not a threat. I have contacted an attorney and will be filing a discrimination lawsuit to ensure the Captain and flight attendants get training. This is not about money. If there were money I would give it to the flight crew to use for training.

Honestly, I am still reeling from this story.  Mostly, because this could have easily been Tucker.  Sure, he is verbal (I understand Juliette is not fully verbal), but hunger is one of his major triggers.  A child  who is hungry, in a different environment, and experiencing a possible sensory overload?  It’s a recipe for disaster with a VERY easy fix.

Do you have doubts?  Here is a video of the family leaving the plane – I certainly can see ALL the reasons to worry (that comment is dripping in sarcasm).  I apologize as the person filming does ‘drop the F bomb.’

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12 thoughts on “Day #245 – Why I Write

  1. This breaks my heart. I have been in situations similar to this and emotion and anger over comes me. I just don’t get it. Ultimately the mother knows best and why do so many try to make a situation much worse than it needs to be. There should be no questions asked. It is the look others give that makes me crazy. Come on people, do you think it’s fun to have a child on the spectrum with a different food selection than the normal? No, it is not, I on a daily basis am completely full of, what will he eat today? It’s a daily worry. Shame on the people involved and the airline. This is why I have pulled myself away from the world to avoid such madness. It is sad that I have to do this. It is so very true, a Hungary individual on the spectrum causes high anxiety and most do not understand what 5 minutes means. They want it now.”Sigh” Like this mother said, she is not out for money but force them to educate people on how to avoid this kind of situation. My goodness, over small amount of hot food……..just baffling!!

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    • Absolutely Gail. In hindsight – there were probably ways to avoid such a confrontation…a calmer voice and presence. HOWEVER…we’ve both been in the moment that you know a meltdown is possible. We do/say just about anything to avoid the meltdown…because they can be awful. Ugh..

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    • For sure! I also am at a loss at how providing a meal and/or a bit of empathy was overruled by (what had to be) an expensive special landing/detour. Right? THat just doesn’t make ANY sense… Oy is a perfect response…

      Liked by 1 person

      • I doubt that a child with diabetes would have been treated so unconscionably if in need of a snack suitable to their health needs. The pilot and crew should be ashamed. Had I been on the plane I would have gotten off with them…my hackles are up. (breathing)

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      • I love this…the more you think about the more angry you become. I’ve tried to think through about every scenario and played ‘Devil’s Advocate’ I just can’t come up with anything – except for some reason the ‘scratching’ comment was taken to mean she would hurt someone on the plane. Keep breathing, friend…keep breathing.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. The imminent danger she presented clearly encouraged all of the other passengers to complain and feel unsafe. Honestly, any pilot and crew who felt a 12 year old girl in coach doesn’t deserve the diamond crusted chicken and rice they heat up for first class, and who then detours a plane full of people because of the inconvenience of serving her isn’t competent to entrusted with flying a plane. The more I think about it the more I twitch.

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    • I”m giggling…but know I”m only giggling because I found out about this story nearly 12 hours ago. I’ve had all day to have these EXACT thoughts and feelings. There is so much going on in this story – it’s not just about autism, but about socioeconomic differences and a general lack of humanity. Feel free to keep replying so that others may read how absolutely ludicrous the entire situation is.

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  3. It really is everything that is wrong with the world today.
    Once in a while you read a story about the rich man who gives a poor man the shoes from his feet. Once in a while you find a little hope that people still have goodness in them. Then someone feels that their rice is more valuable than a child, and you have to wonder what the heck is wrong with people. Personally, I would never deny ANY hungry child food if it were in my power to give. Even if it were my own supper. And to perpetuate the kinds of ignorance and fear that surround a group of people, who by the way will make up a significant percentage of the world’s population in the very near future, is entirely unforgivable.
    I hope against hope that the people on that plane take the experience to heart and educate themselves and so become ambassadors for neurodiversity. I have faith. It is the size of a mustard seed, yet I say to the mountain, “move.”

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  4. Pingback: Day #246, Coming Soon…To a Family Near You | 366 Days of Autism

  5. Pingback: Day #327 – Indexing | 366 Days of Autism

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