PART OF THE SERIES: AUTISM PARENTING
The Back Story:
Our friend Debbie’s son had been suffering from severe intestinal issues and the local doctors couldn’t figure out the source of the problem, let alone help alleviate her son’s constant pain. They kept telling her, “It’s just autism – there’s nothing you can do.” She heard about Dr. Arthur Krigsman from a DAN! conference and how he uses a pill cam and other tests to diagnose gastrointestinal issues associated with autism. She figured it would be worth the stress of taking an airplane to see this guy and finally get some answers.
Debbie, Bob, and their son, Finn, flew to New York to have Finn tested. He had to experience several invasive procedures over the course of two days. He was such a trooper. Debbie was amazed by how well Finn did. It was like he knew these people were going to help him feel better.
It was time for the journey home. Debbie had made arrangements to delay her flight if Finn seemed cranky or in distress. But Finn was in a great mood and they decided to stay on schedule.
They got on the airplane and this is where the story begins…
The Flight to Hell:
About half way through the flight, Finn started fidgeting and got fussy. Debbie, a veteran autism mom prepared for Armageddon, pulled out her supplies – think Toys R’ Us in a bag. She tried everything to soothe Finn. But things were going downhill fast. She started getting looks of “do something” from the flight attendants. She thought maybe a trip to the bathroom would help. But it only made things worse.
Upon returning to their seats, she turned to Bob and said, “A melt down is coming – there’s nothing I can do, we’re going to have to ride this one out.” She was out of tricks. Bob looked anxious, began sweating profusely, and squirmed in his seat right along with Finn.
Finn absolutely lost it. He blew, just like a geyser. He was screaming and crying. He was inconsolable. After about five minutes of the tantrum, Debbie heard someone yell, “GEEZ” from the back of the plane.
Debbie could contain herself no longer. The stress of the previous few days and life in general overwhelmed her in that moment. Before she knew what she was doing, she hopped up on to her seat, turned toward the back of the plane, and now she was the one yelling. She screamed, “MY SON HAS AUTISM! HE CAN’T HELP IT!”
The plane fell completely silent.
Debbie turned to look at Bob and he was white as a ghost. She thought she was going to have to call EMS for him because he was so mortified by the chain of events that had occurred.
The tantrum went on for another ten minutes and finally, Finn was able to calm himself down.
During the tantrum, Debbie felt like it was her against the world. But then, people began reaching out to her. There was a French couple in the row in front of her that offered to help in any way they could. A woman next to her shared that her best friend has a child with autism and she understood what Debbie was going through.
Then, as people were exiting the plane, Debbie noticed something profound. Many young adults (in their twenties) sought her out. They complimented her, told her she was an amazing mom, and that they hoped everything would be okay for her family.
In stark contrast, people who were older (who likely had children or even grandchildren of their own) wouldn’t even look her in the eye. Not one kind word was uttered by them.
She asked herself why were the young people so empathetic when they didn’t even yet know what it’s like to be a parent?
She figured it’s because the younger generation has been around autism their whole life. They are so much more aware. They probably all know someone who has autism. Autism has touched their lives in some way.
It gave her hope. Perhaps as her children get older, they will be surrounded by more tolerant and understanding people.
Not only did the older generation not understand, they didn’t care to understand. Debbie was baffled. How could parents be so cold? It was easier to judge her as a “bad parent” who had no control over her child than to remember times when their own children were “less than perfect.”
These people had no idea what Debbie, Bob, and Finn had been through during the days preceding the flight. They had no idea that her son lives in constant pain, without any way to verbalize what he’s feeling (except through crying or noises). They had no idea the lengths Debbie had taken to prepare for the flight so that her son wouldn’t disrupt anyone.
These people didn’t realize that melt downs are a regular event in the life of Debbie and other autism parents.The only difference, on this day, was that Debbie had no escape when the melt down began.
Usually, autism parents quickly exit the scene so that people don’t have to be bothered or upset by our children’s behavior. Often tantrums prevent us from getting our grocery shopping done, running into the postoffice to quickly drop something off, or popping into Target or Walmart.
But what was Debbie supposed to do when she was trapped 50,000 feet up in the air? Did the people on the plane want her to take Finn, open the emergency exit door, and jump?
Sadly, for people who have no understanding of autism, the answer is probably yes.
For more information on our autism awareness series: AUTISM PARENTING, go to: https://ventography.wordpress.com/category/autism-parenting-2/