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?