The scenario is painfully simple-you are on a plane, buckled with nowhere to go and your child with autism acting up in the seat next to you.
While you are actively trying to focus on his needs, you are interrupted by other passengers voicing their opinions.
What should you do?
I’ve always wished I could sit and engage in that meaningful conversation with some of them to have them better understand my perspective.
However, I soon realized that would take precious time which I do not have when I am facing a crisis. As a result, I just remain calm, composed and act civilly to them all the while continuing to provide comfort to my child.
Over the years, after meeting quite a few ‘characters’, I’ve even come up with a system to categorize them into five groups which I fondly call: ‘The Undesirable Five.’
The one who criticizes
‘Holier than thou’ characters come in a broad range of age, race and cultural backgrounds. What they possess in common are comments like “If I were you, I would never…” and “In my days, kids could not…” some more blatant than others about criticizing my inadequate parenting skills and son’s behaviors. Those, I just ignore since it is evident to me, they have already made up their mind about the situation and attempting to change it would be a futile effort and colossal waste of time on my part.
The one with unsolicited advice
The French have a saying: La même Jeannette autrement coiffée (loosely translates as it’s the same-old Janet but with a different hair style) that applies quite well to members of this category.
People in this category are usually older and love to dispense unsolicited advice with a dab of veiled criticism.
Their message starts with “What I used to do with…” and quickly progresses to “What I would do in a similar situation…”
The irony is most of them are pretty clueless on how to deal effectively with any child let alone one on the spectrum. Depending on the situation, I might initiate a conversation later and explain autism symptoms and meltdowns in a more detailed way.
The one who threatens
This particular category peeves me the most as I feel they are selfishly ignoring everything that is going on with my child and attempting to anger me further and cause a scene.
Their common threats often contain adjectives none, particularly flattering. Even their sentence structure is predictable-starting with “Get your (Explicit) kid to stop…’ and ending with’ or else … ‘.Based on previous experiences, I’ve learned to encourage them to summon crew help. It is a hit and miss preposition-some do while others don’t.
In several cases, I’ve witnessed some complained so profusely to the flight attendant they got moved away and even bumped up to a superior seating class -much to our relief and their own.
The one who intervenes
A potentially worse category than the one mentioned above is composed of people who chose to address your distressed kid directly-completely bypassing your own efforts.
Imagine a situation where your screaming child is faced with a stranger rudely telling him to keep quiet and ‘get over it.’
Though these people might mean well, their intervention inadvertently ends up leading to unnecessary escalations.I usually use the three-step approach when getting these people to stop intervening. First, I ask politely, progress to a firmer tone and as a last resort, I call the flight attendant to help me out.
The one who stares
These people feign disinterest but usually gawk at the situation developing. The good part about it is that they remain silent throughout the process of calming your child down. In my view, they are the best candidates to learn about autism since they are somewhat interested in the topic but are less judgmental than the others.
I believe by witnessing an autistic meltdown, they can gain better insight into how to cope with people on the spectrum. What I would like them to infer about all individuals with autism, including my son, is they are people with real feelings in need of support and understanding, not some nuisances you complain about or fear.
Have you flown with kids on the spectrum lately?
We’d love to hear from you about your experience?
0 thoughts on “Five Fellow Fliers You'll Regret Meeting”
Thank you Margalit!
I appreciate the advice very much–now I know what to do if/when something like this happens to me on a flight. (Call a flight attendant and ask quietly and politely to be re-seated.)
You also helped me understand better–it’s important that “we” the people traveling near and around a child on the spectrum that the child cannot control his/her response to stimuli. In a very dim way, I get that. When my pain gets completely out of control, I can’t walk, stand up, or speak coherently. Folks with epilepsy can’t control their bodies during seizures; people with inflammatory bowel disease can’t control their digestive systems.
I think it would help a lot if “the rest of us” kept this fact firmly in mind, and worked to find ways to meet our own needs while remaining compassionate and remembering that we don’t know what’s going on with everybody else in the world. I fail at this plenty–but this conversation will probably help me succeed more. 🙂
I’ve got what’s likely to come across as a rude question, but I’m not trying to be rude. You’re awesome about answering questions, and I think I could learn a lot about handling these situations for my future travels.
What should I do if a child’s meltdown is actively causing me pain or exacerbating a medical problem I’m having?
For me, a child kicking, hitting, or banging on the back of my seat on a plane (or train or bus) can be more than just irritating. It can hurt me. A lot. Unfortunately, the more I hurt, the shorter my temper gets and the poorer my judgement and impulse control become. Which means that I often become one of your Five Problem People, which isn’t who I want to be. 🙁
But it can get worse than this–if somebody traveling after a major surgery was subjected to a child (especially a bigger or older child–or an adult ) kicking or banging their seat, or flailng arms and legs out and hitting the person next to them could be physically dangerous as well as excruciatingly painful.
What should I do?
Should I contact a flight attendant, explain the situation, and ask to be reseated?
It sounds like engaging you directly, even politely, would not be the right call when you’re dealing with a meltdown.
Do I come and apologize to you later for asking to be reseated? Is it beyond the pale of rudeness to approach you later, when your child is calm, to talk to you about the situation?
I genuinely don’t want to be a jerk, and I know that your child’s needs should and do come before the needs of a stranger on a plane. But I have to make sure my own needs are met too. How and when do I meet you in the middle?
I have gotten kicked by adults. The seats are closer than ever before, as they want more people on these tin boxes so they can make more money…
Best case scenario… Business or first class.
No, I am not being rude. I am stating it like it is. The planes are overcrowded.
Thank you John for reminding everyone that our kids are best served, even if paying extra is a requirement, in the plane’s bulk seating. Over the ten years we have traveled extensively, I’ve had my seat kicked more often by adults than kids (this, unfortunately, is most likely due to airlines reducing leg space and padding in seats). I need to emphasize that my post pertains to children on the spectrum that have occasional meltdowns, not to “bratty” behavior that should always be condemned.
As the father of an autistic child I very much appreciate that other people might have special needs of their own – and who likes getting their seat kicked? We do our best to book the seat right in front of the bulkhead, so there is no one to kick, even though the airlines now charge more for those seats. I would suggest that if having your seat kicked is going to cause you actual pain or damage, that you book the last seat on the plane so you can be certain that there is no one to kick you, and failing that, offer to switch seats with the family behind you that has the kicking child.
Thank you Liz for bringing a very important topic to the forefront.
What people need to understand about autistic meltdowns is that they really should be regarded similar to other medical conditions like epileptic seizures or people with cerebral palsy suffering from involuntary movements.Just like no one would get up and tell someone in a middle of a seizure to snap out of it or say to someone with involuntary twitches to cut it out I-no one should do that to those suffering a meltdown!
.The perception , that many have is that the autistic person can actually CONTROL his or her meltdown which in itself is not accurateUnfortunately once it starts the best option is to comfort that person and wait it out, since their mind at that specific moment is incapable of self regulating.With that said meltdowns can manifest quite differently in different people so not every autistic person will necessarily kick the seat in front of them but many like mine own son could sob uncontrollably over what can seem to the rest of us as trivial at best. On this web site I do advise families with kids on the spectrum to request bulk seating(or at least aisle) on planes so they don’t disturb any one in front of them but in today’s monetized air travel world that is not always a possibility.
To get back to your own statement -I agree those meltdowns(like some other medical conditions) have the potential at times of adversely affecting other travelers- and those affected have every right to ask the flight attendance for help . Whether the flight attendant decides to offer them a different seat is entirely up to the crew but it clearly a viable possibility for some.And no,you don’t need to come back and apologize since you have every right to get your own needs met on the flight just like everyone else.