image of woman who got kicked off a plane with her son on the autism spectrum

Dear Mom Who Was Kicked Off the United Airlines Flight


Dear Momma,

I am so, so sorry.

I understand, 100 percent, how this happened. I fly frequently with my son, and frequently, I have to manage meltdowns — in the airport, waiting for the plane to take off, mid-flight, and while we wait for the crowd to deplane.

I know it was already stressful.

I know the flight attendant, not understanding how critical that hot meal was, must have made you feel a panic only a momma of child on the brink of a meltdown can understand.

I can only imagine the shame and indignation, mixed with fear and a whole lotta anger that came along with the emergency landing and a police escort from the plane — even though your daughter was already calm, and you thought you were on track to Just. Get. Home.

Woman being interviewed on the news.
Photo source: KOIN

I have often wondered how long it will be before we are escorted from a flight. We fly frequently due to our custody agreement, and it is always stressful.

My son, as he gets older, could potentially do some harm, I think. The truth is, it would likely be to himself or me, but the potential is still there.

I am not even sure what I would expect the airline to do in a situation where my son becomes out of control.

I am writing this to you, however, not because of what happened.

I am writing this because I am reading the responses to the articles circulating about you, and my heart is breaking.

On one side, you have moms just like me, saying this is “terrible,” “awful” and “that poor woman.”

On the other side, though, there is a much larger, much louder group, saying “You should’ve.”

You should’ve known better.”

“You should’ve made arrangements ahead of time with the airline for a hot meal.”

“You should’ve brought food on the flight and kept it warm.”

“You should’ve taken a train.”

“You should’ve planned ahead.”

“You should’ve…”

I think this is exactly what you were thinking, prior to asking the attendant for help. We always blame ourselves. In the 24/7 reality that is autism, we are accustomed to the demands of always being one step ahead, always anticipating, always planning, always trying to avoid what is just sometimes inevitable.

I want to say this as LOUD AS I POSSIBLY CAN…

You were on your way back from a family vacation. You deserve a medal for even trying to attempt that. I hope it was amazing!

You were encountering a significant, three-hour time change. We can barely handle Daylight Savings around here. If your daughter is anything like my son, the time changes mean all bets are off as far as anticipating eating habits and behavior.

Maybe you ate right before the flight and thought you could make it to your destination without another meal.

Maybe you were up half the night — because autism doesn’t sleep well in unfamiliar surroundings — and just didn’t think it through.

Maybe you were just plain done — like every mom I have every known, autism or not — who is headed home with her children after a family vacation.

No matter what, please know this: no meltdown is ever, ever your fault, and this one is no exception.

We do the best we can, and sometimes, it is just not enough to avoid the meltdown.

No matter what, you are not alone. There are mommas all over reading your story and cringing because we know it could just as easily be us.

Thank you for speaking up.

Thank you for not being silenced by the shame, and the feelings of failure.

Thank you for sharing a difficult, but important reality for so many of us.

I am so glad you did.

And I will be championing you all the way.

Love, Shawna (on behalf of my son and me!)

Woman smiling, touching her son's hair.

Related Story: Police Escort Teen With Autism and Her Family Off a Plane

This post originally appeared on Not the Former Things.

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