Fear of Autism at 3400 Feet
I am a mother of two children with autism. I was saddened to read about Juliette Beegle , a 15-year-old daughter, who has autism and her family being kicked off a United Airlines flight. As per her mother’s facebook post,
this was done despite the fact that none of the passengers around her felt threatened by her presence.
I have seen one report of one passenger who states that Juliette was “howling” and she then goes on to imagine a number of scenarios that Juliette could possibly have done later. What saddens me even more about this story are the comments that people have posted. Donna Beegle (Juliette’s mother) has been called entitled, unprepared, irresponsible, greedy and generally been judged harshly by complete strangers.
This summer we will be travelling from Canada through Europe to Southern Africa, a journey that will take three flights and almost thirty hours to complete. I am terrified that my family might be abandoned at a random airport because someone feels “uncomfortable” flying in our presence.
Like many parents of children with special needs, I have left no stone unturned in my preparation for our upcoming trip. Last Spring and again this Spring, our family participated in the airport-familiarization program offered for children with autism, known in Montreal as Enfants en Première or Wings for autism at other airports. In the program, children and their families get to experience checking into a flight, clearing security and boarding a plane. I packed our carry-on baggage 12 weeks before our departure date in order to make sure I didn’t forget anything my children might need in-flight. I have bought acupressure bracelets to reduce nausea, called the airline to advise them that my children have autism, amongst several other things.
Despite all of my preparation, it is still possible that something might come up during one of our flights that I did not anticipate. I fully understand that my children are no one’s responsibility but mine both on land and in-flight, as always. I have no feeling of entitlement just because my children have autism. Should we need help during our flights, I would hope that the crew and our fellow passengers would show some compassion and a little accommodation, not because we feel entitled to it because of autism, but because it is a very human thing to do. I am not willing to keep my children away from the public; they are not prisoners who should be locked up. They are just children who like many, eat, play, go to school and travel. They just happen to have been born with autism, they did not choose it. Once in a while they can use a little human compassion, just like all of us.
I look forward to travelling in an environment where the flight staff has some compassion, maybe even a little knowledge about autism and where children with special needs will never have to face such humiliating treatment while travelling.