Autistic Girl Makes friends with Businessman on Flight, Parent Advocate Learns Valuable Lesson

Kate Mouland and Mother, Shanelle

After spending a week at Disney World,  Shanelle Mouland, was on a flight from Orlando toPhiladelphia to catch a connection to her hometown of New Brunswick,Canada. Her 5-year-old daughter, Grace, and her husband sat in one row and she and their youngest, a 3-year old named Kate, sat in the row behind them.  The Mouland’s knew it was important that Kate’s seatmate was empathetic, patient and understanding. Kate, who’s behavior can range from loving to frantic, is dependent on her mood because she has autism. 

Mouland, recently wrote on her blog “Go Team Kate”, an open letter titled, “Dear Daddy in Seat 16C,” Mouland writes, “I watched the entireTemplebasketball team board the plane, and wondered if one of these giants might sit by Kate. They all moved toward the back. She would have liked that … I watched many Grandmotherly women board and hoped for one to take the seat but they walked on by. For a fleeting moment I thought we might have a free seat beside us, and then you walked up and sat down with your briefcase and your important documents and I had a vision of Kate pouring her water all over your multi-million dollar contracts, or house deeds, or whatever it was you held. The moment you sat down, Kate started to rub your arm. Your jacket was soft and she liked the feel of it. You smiled at her and she said: ‘Hi, Daddy, that’s my mom.’ Then she had you.”

Mouland explained to Yahoo Shine “Any time we go out in public, we have to plan for anything because Kate has sensory issues and when she’s overwhelmed, her behavior becomes unpredictable.” “Most people warm up to Kate, but interacting with her can be off-putting for those that don’t understand autism.”

Fortunately, Eric Kunkel,  a businessman from Villas, New Jersey and father of one, was Kate’s seatmate. For the duration of the flight, he entertained Kate by playing a video game with her and letting her play with his iPad. Kate, who will be getting dog service soon talked with Kunkel about dogs and told of her adventures at Disney World, going to the theme park, meeting the Disney princesses and Winnie the Pooh. At the end of the flight she began screaming to remove her seatbelt.  Kunkel to help diffuse the situation, even tried to distract Kate with her toys, but then allowed the Mouland family to exit the plane ahead of him.

“Thank you for letting us go ahead of you.” “She was feeling overwhelmed and escaping the plane and a big, long hug was all she needed. So, thank you. Thank you for not making me repeat those awful apologetic sentences that I so often say in public. Thank you for entertaining Kate so much that she had her most successful plane ride, yet. And, thank you for putting your papers away and playing turtles with our girl.” wrote Mouland

Kunkel told Yahoo Shine “I travel a lot for work and Kate was, by far, the most well behaved kid I’ve sat next to”. “Shanelle is also an incredible parent – she didn’t apologize for Kate and she shouldn’t have – but she was very attentive to her.”

Kunkel’s son and girlfriend spotted Mouland’s blog post a few days after the flight, while perusing a site for autism and forwarded it to Kunkel.  He couldn’t believe the coincidence. Through Facebook, he then contacted Mouland and thanked her.

Grateful for the experience, Mouland says she created her blog to teach others about autism. Little did she know was the one who learned a lesson. She said “I assumed that a man in a business suit wouldn’t be patient with Kate, and I’m so fortunate to have been proved wrong.”

For more information about parent advocates, please visit http://blog.hear-our-voices.org/category/parents/

Photo courtesy of Shanelle Mouland