By 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.
Kim Stagliano is Managing Editor of Age of Autism. Her new novel, House of Cards; A 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.