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Light It Up Blue Failure: Controversial United Airlines Decision to Oust Teen with Autism

Blue taxi lightsBy Kim Stagliano

By now you've probably read about the United Airlines flight in which the pilot expelled a family whose teen daughter with autism was struggling over her meal.  I've been there. You've been there. Perhaps not on a plane,  but as autism parents, we've all been in situations whereby our kids are having a really rough time, exhibiting behaviors and despite our Herculean efforts, we simply can't get them to settle down fast enough to please the strangers around us.

This time the stranger was the pilot.

An Oregon family on their way back from Disney World was unceremoniously taken off an airplane because of their autistic daughter after the pilot refused to fly with her on board.

Dr Donna Beegle said that she is filing a discrimination lawsuit after she and her 15-year-old daughter Juliette were taken off a plane at an emergency stop in Salt Lake City as they flew on a connecting flight from Houston to Portland.

Juliette Forbes refused the food that her family had brought along, and the United Airlines economy passenger was eventually given hot food from first class after her mother argued that it was necessary to prevent a meltdown.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3075027/The-bizarre-terrible-moment-family-taken-airplane-police-pilot-says-didn-t-feel-comfortable-flying-autistic-teenager-wanted-food.html#ixzz3ZrXe4iNN

It's a horrible feeling of inadequacy. Shame. Anger. Exasperation. Worry. Sympathy for our kid. It breaks our hearts.

Didn't the pilot fly over the Blue Eiffel Tower last month?  Didn't he see the Empire State Building all gussied up for April? Why didn't he have an inkling as to what is autism, as we have just finished April's Autism Awareness Month?

The Light it Up Blue campaign combined with the ever increasing push to teach Neurodiversity whereby autism is called "another way of thinking" has sold our kids down the river. The general public does not KNOW that behaviors can be severe.  They do not know that it can be difficult to ratchet down a meltdown. They do not know that parents work tirelessly to help their kids and at every turn something as simple as a sound can turn a day into a nightmare.

There is always fear of the unknown. And if autism's very real  meltdowns are hidden, covered up, glossed over, bathed away in a gentle blue glow and then treated in the media as "smart kids who think differently" how on earth (or in the skies) will our kids get any respect or care?   Yes, our kids are smart. Yes, they do think differently. Yes, they deserve respect and acceptance.  But we also need to educate the general public as to the harsher aspects so that when they happen, people don't look at us like we are the worst parents ever to roam the earth.

How can we ask professionals to show us some humanity, patience, work with us to help our loved ones with autism make it through the day when we first have to teach them the ABCs of autism. Isn't that what Big Blue Autism Speaks was supposed to do?  "Autism Speaks - It's Time to Listen." To what?  The sounds of a plane door opening up so a family can exit in shame?   The world is woefully ill prepared for the coming tsunami of teens aging into adulthood.  It's not just the severely affected, pre-verbal who can have behaviors.   Imagine seeing someone choking and never having heard of The Heimlich maneuver.  Or seeing a seizure and thinking the person was possessed.  We're in those dark ages still with autism, despite millions raised and spent on awareness.

It's depressing. It's frightening. It's got to change.  How do we do that?  Often, when we write about the tough scenes in our lives we're accused of "not accepting or loving our kids."   That happened to me on Twitter last week. Find me a group of parents who works harder on behalf of their kids with less support from the medical and social community than any parent of a child on the spectrum. And not just through the toddler years, the school years - but forever!

I'm sad for this  family.  Juliette could have been my Mia, my Gianna, my Bella. Your child.

Age of Autism Media Editor Anne Dachel said,  "I was in touch with an airline pilot who is also the parent of an autistic child. This person could understand the issue from both perspectives and urged caution about accusations until we have all the facts."

I agree, we need to hear all sides of the story. And facts would nice - including some facts about autism.

House of Cards 200 pixelsKim Stagliano is Managing Editor of Age of Autism. Her new novel,  House of Cards; A All I Can Handle 50 pixel Kat Cavicchio romantic suspense is available from Amazon in all e-formats now. Her memoir, All I Can Handle I'm No Mother Teresa is available in hardcover, paperback and e-book.  Look for 101 Tips For Parents of Girls With Autism, co-written with Tony Lyons, also from Skyhorse. 101 Tips for the Parents of Girls with Autism 9781629145082


in the trash

If I have a comment about this it is really that we don't know what happened. The last time we travelled on plane with our son was when he was four years old: he kept on pressing the emergency button simply because it was there and the airline staff were very understanding about it. Now he is an adult it is quite clear he cannot go on public transport of any sort. I think perhaps this was a gradual withdrawal marked by incidents and became finally impossible when he was about 13. When we had clashes with other members of the public I certainly wasn't sympathetic or respectful to their views. Nevertheless, it became unrealistic to even try it. I guess this will reflect the story of many.


I was wondering if the pilot was on the high end of the spectrum. Think about it--he or she misread the social situation when a teenager had a meltdown, and then threw a fit and made an emergency landing for a nonemergency. That's the kind of thing my highly functional Aspie friends could do if their routine happened to be disrupted. How would this pilot have handled a real emergency? This misadventure is going to cost the airlines money, one way or another. Time to rethink the neurodiversity propaganda. Even at the high end of the spectrum, there could be a very high price for society when enough members can't handle a change in routine in stride.


You expressed this so well. My son has done worse than this girl on an airplane. We were lucky we did not have that pilot. His behavior can get really bad and I don't find it acceptable but there is not much I can do. He likes to travel and I want him to travel. I wish he did not have autism. I wish there was a cure.

So much for light it up blue

In fact light it up red now. Red for anger. Families and children continue to suffer with no concern from media or health authorities AND our rights are being stripped faster than you can say Bill or Australia.
Light it up red.

So much for light it up blue

So much for the light it up blue bullshit! Let's get mad and get taking action!

go Rand

Would Autism Speaks kick in a few dollars for "hot first class meals" when needed ?

What was the cost of an extra landing of a jet in Salt Lake City ?

OMG / Looked like a rough ride for the pilot...


As a former flight attendant during the "good ole days" of flight when there was service in all classes, (late 1960's-1970's) we were trained to 'serve.' Ten years ago on a flight cross country my gf snack was not boarded. It was American and the f/a's just didn't care. I asked for fruit & cheese from first class as a courtesy and it arrived at the very end of the service. On the return, the caterer didn't know what gf was. The f/a's caught that and brought me fruit and cheese from f/c without my asking, as it was their fault. The difference? Those f/a's were former TWA employees, whose routes had been sold to American and they lost all their seniority in that action--my age, in fact. TWA was my employer and we were taught to anticipate ANY event. Big difference in attitude. "Thank you for flying with us" was an act and not just words.

Anne McElroy Dachel

Kim, you explain things perfectly. We as a nation are having to somehow adjust to a disabled population that has never existed in significant numbers in the past. Over the last two decades, we've had to teach doctors, teachers, librarians, EMTs, and firefighters about autistic behavior and how to deal with affected individuals. Officially, no one in government or mainstream medicine has recognized an true increase in the rate. Experts are happy to leave autism as one big mystery. Meanwhile in the real world, stories about abuse, wandering and accidental deaths are commonplace in the news. And as this generation reaches adulthood, we will still have more and more children affected. Eventually we won't remember a world without autism everywhere. Public meltdowns will be commonplace across the population. I can't imagine how society will deal with this. The nightmare continues.

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