Just read a touching story that made me wonder what I would do in such a situation. It was a letter written by the mother of a 3-year-old autistic girl to the stranger who sat next to them on a plane. It was a blog by Shanell Mouland in the Parent section of Huff Post.
“I sat Kate in the middle knowing full well there would be a stranger sitting next to her for the duration of this flight. I had to make a quick decision, and based on her obsession with opening and closing the window shade, I figured she might be less of a distraction if she sat in the middle.”
She recalls holding her breath while the entire Temple basketball team streamed past. She watched hopefully as several grandmotherly types came on, but all moved passed. At length a man with a briefcase and all the accouterments of corporate power took the empty seat – just the opposite of anything she’d hoped for.
“The moment you sat down, Kate started to rub your arm. Your jacket was soft and she liked the feel of it. You could have shifted uncomfortably in your seat. You could have ignored her. You could have given me that look. You did none of that. You engaged Kate in conversation. The interaction went on and on and you never once seemed annoyed.”
She recorded bits of the conversation. I could only shake my head and marvel. Yes, I’ve had some encounters. I babysat an autistic 4-year-old boy once when I was in college. Total nightmare. My mother fostered a mid-aged autistic girl for several years and they remained in touch. I was obliged to contact her decades later in keeping with my mom’s will. She definitely hadn’t improved.
Let’s face it: I even have problems with normal kids. Of course I love my children and grandchildren, but I’m simply not a person who relates well with the young. Fortunately my wonderful daughter (the oldest) revealed her superior mothering instincts and administrative skills as a toddler. She took it from there.
So I don’t know what I would’ve done in that kind man’s place. I hope I would at least be civil. I would understand and sympathize – even admire the poor mother. After all, I do come from a long line of ministers, social workers and educators. But I could never have talked and played with that child the way that man did.
Thanks goodness for the saints among us.