Plane Passengers Are Uneasy During Autistic Boy’s Meltdown, Then Stranger Takes Matters Into Her Own Hands

Confined spaces in airports can make the most peaceful people agitated and when it comes to a delayed  flight, it could worsen. Children don’t have the patience of adults and need their energy expended. When they can’t do that, they get agitated; and children with autism spectrum disorder, more so.

A couple was returning from Israel on an 8-hour long flight. The flight was anyway delayed by 3 hours and their young son, suffering from autism, started to get extremely agitated. While reasons of what agitates them are not fully known, these are some points noticed in their behavior.

They usually want to be the first to board. There are certain preferences of seats which they need to be given otherwise they’d get worked up. They dislike being asked to make eye contact. It makes them uncomfortable. They require consistency at all times. So sudden change in air pressure, delay in flights, or any other change from the routine explained to them could get them very agitated and often aggressive.

Their connecting flight was delayed by 3 hours, so by the time they boarded the 8 hour long flight, this boy must have already been worked up. Within an hour of the flight, he started having a proper meltdown. Everyone on the flight was tired and weren’t too happy with the situation, but thankfully, no one said anything.

Despite trying everything, the parents couldn’t get their son to calm down. Fifteen minutes down, a miracle happened.

Rabbi Groner and Rochel were also traveling on this flight; luckily for the parents. Rochel, who was an expert at handling such situations decided to take matters in her own hands. She walked up to the child and offered her hand to him with an assuring smile on her face. The boy, wasn’t expecting this but took her hand anyway without complaining. She then led the boy to the back of the plane and sat on the floor with him. While walking down, the boy had already started to calm down.

It was surprising that an autistic boy, who hates change, would walk, away from his parents, with a complete stranger. There must be something about Rochel’s demeanor that assured the boy.

Most people, in this situation wouldn’t have gone up to help. They might want to, but can’t really get themselves to do it. Rochel is a brave woman because she tried to help a stranger and comforted him. Rochel has a lot of experience dealing with people suffering from autism.

Rochel is part of an organization called ZABS place. This thrift store in Charlotte, North Carolina provides training and work opportunity to young adults with special needs. This store allows them to find their potential, talent and skills. 80% of young people with needs are unemployed and the purpose of starting this store is to provide them with just that. It also is a method to help them find and gain confidence in themselves through interaction with their peers. Rochel and the Rabbi, who are behind this organization, believe that people don’t really give people with special needs an opportunity for a second impression; they pass their judgment too soon.

Through their work they have seen the immense potential these young adults have to offer and it is sad that most people can’t see this potential. This couple has been working tirelessly to help people with needs for a long time, and that is why it was natural for Rochel to reach out to this young boy. Maybe it was her empathy and kindness that he saw in her eyes that made him take her hand immediately. He must have known that she can take full care of him.

Rochel and the boy walked hand in hand to the bulkhead where they both sat down on the floor. She put a neck pillow on him, offered him some water and spoke to him softly. She rocked him, played with him, and immediately he calmed down. She sat with him for two hours! The parents surely couldn’t believe their eyes at seeing their boy settle down so fast with a complete stranger.

The passengers were tremendously relieved but they were also in awe of this woman. She took charge and controlled the situation so beautifully that during the rest of the flight the boy was calm. The parents, without a doubt, were extremely grateful to Rochel. After all, how many people do we know who would go out of the way like this? Sit, not in the comfort of a seat, but on the floor, for two hours, just to calm down a stranger’s child?

Rochel, in the process not only touched the hearts of the boy and the parents, but of all the people who were on the flight, witnessing this tremendous act of kindness. Rabbi Groner said on his Facebook post, “We’re taught that if we just offer our hand in love and acceptance, miracles will follow”.  And that is exactly what had happened; for this was nothing short of a miracle. These acts restore our faith in the goodness of the world.

Please share this sweet story to encourage others to be kind.