I think all parents dread the looks and sighs of aggravation and impatience from others when their child talks too loud, runs too fast, or has a melt-down in public.
This fear can be always present, however, for a parent with a child who has special needs.
So it was when a mom and her 3-year-old daughter, who is diagnosed with autism, took their seats on an airplane flight recently. This mom expected the worst when a business man, dressed in a suit, carrying his briefcase and computer, took the seat next to her daughter and her.
But the worse did not happen – the best did – the best flight experience her daughter has ever had.
The little girl’s comments, questions, requests, playfulness, even calling the man “Daddy” did not begin to ruffle this gentle man’s feathers. Instead, he responded playfully, paid attention, answered questions, engaged with her, played “turtles” with her, connected with her, and kept up this exchange throughout the flight.
It was only when the approach for landing began to go on too long for this little girl that she began screaming and didn’t stop until she got off the plane. Yet, her “daddy” angel looked on with patience and kindness throughout.
This man really was an “angel” – above and beyond.
Yet, as parents, friends and co-workers, we all need to take these kinds of opportunities to offer even a moment of support and empathy – “I’ve been there – it’s hard” – an offer to help with another child who might be present, a touch on the shoulder, an on-going out-reach of friendship and inclusion toward the parent and the child so they do not feel isolated.
We need to check our “judging responses” for even a quick negative exchange or look with another can be seen and felt by the parent whose child is acting out.
This particular mom wrote a public letter of thanks to the man on the plane, whose name she did not know – “Dear Daddy in Seat 16 C”.
It was the best flight her daughter had ever had, she said. She appreciated this gentle man’s openness, patience, sense of humor and non-judgmental nature on this flight.
She appreciated that he “liked” her child.
She appreciated her child.
And for that she will be forever grateful.