First in a Blog Series: Understanding Autism with Easterseals Ambassador Aaron Likens
I’ve been in this race for understanding for over a decade and I’ve seen so many amazing strides in the past decade. However, just as a driver in a race with a lead, there can be no let-up on the pace. We must keep going and racing because each day a parent out there, somewhere out there, will have an issue in public and may require help, or perhaps confronted by an employee of a store.
A great example of this is several years ago I was on a flight and as we pulled away from the gate a young girl, maybe 4 or so, was not fully in her seat. The flight attendant came rushing and told the mom that all passengers needed to be in their seat with their seat belts fastened. The girl began to scream when the mom told her she had to sit in her own seat. The flight attendant double downed and said, “Ma’am, she must have a seat belt on! She’s too old to be an infant in arms.” The girl clung onto her mom with a firm grasp and the flight attendant raised her voice and said, “FAA regulations stipulate” and then she looked at the girl again and the flight attendant went from an authority figure to a person with a compassionate voice and she leaned towards the mother and simply asked, “Autism?”
The mom, whose face I could not see, didn’t say a word but simply nodded. The flight attendant tilted her head for a moment and then rushed to the back of the plane. When she returned she brought with her several seat belt extenders. Now, I don’t know if this was exactly up to FAA regulations, by connecting the seat belts together the mom was holding her daughter while the daughter was strapped by the belts in the seat beside her.
The previous story… did you hear about this on the news? Was there an award given? No, and maybe even the flight attendant doesn’t remember this story now. However, what would this have looked like had the plane had to turn around and the mother and daughter were removed from the plane? Then it would easily be findable with a quick Google search and both the mother and daughter may have been traumatized for life.
The race for awareness and understanding, its essence, is in the story on that plane. This shouldn’t be something to witness and be astounded by but rather should be expected. I hope we can get to that point in our lifetime, but this is going to be an ongoing race with no set distance of the length of this race.
This, of course, isn’t to say that we should allow a dangerous situation as in now having someone buckled into a seat, but finding a compromise and understanding that, in that moment as the pressure in the cabin changed and all sorts of new noises were bombarding that four year old’s senses, that she quite simply was not going to be able to sit without being held. Well, this race is one of kindness, understanding, compromise, and for any company out there training and education are of the utmost importance because they can scar a family for life and forever henceforth have their misunderstanding easily findable on Google. Sadly, there will be no award for their work.
There won’t be a day under the sun for the unsung heroes that go out of their way to solve a problem that may arise, but those that achieve the highest ranks in this race may or may not know that they are part of a collective movement that I hope will one day lead the world to be as accommodating and safe for every person on the autism spectrum to live, work, and play.
Autism Ambassador Aaron Likens is the author of Finding Kansas and is living his dream as a flagman for the IndyCar Series. Easterseals Arkansas is hosting a webinar series with Aaron on April 1. More details to come.