If your knowledge of autism realities is limited to a few movies, CNN interviews and Neurodiversity "Autism Is Wonderful" Blog Sites, you might be forgiven for not knowing the harsher realities faced by many autistic persons - from being kicked out of a housing complex because your autistic child screams too much, to autistic persons being beaten by exorcists, to an autistic child being kicked out of a YMCA child care program. If all you knew of autistic intelligence and understanding of the real world was
garnered from reading press releases of the latest Mottron-Gernsbacher-Dawson study proclaiming the strength of autistic intelligence and awareness then you might be surprised by the story of Nick Andrews.
Mr. Andrews is a 22 year old autistic man who had to be helped through the airport by his family and who was shortly thereafter kicked off a Portland to Chicago direct flight by Southwest airlines after explaining the mechanics of jet airplanes to fellow passengers while waiting for takeoff. The airline employees were apparently unaware he is autistic. It is not clear that Nick Andrews did anything except annoy passengers with his conversation but he was asked to leave by airline employees. The airline then placed him on a number of other non direct flights that took him 12 hours to reach his destination. His family did not know where in the US he was, or whether he was safe, for several hours.
As an autism advocate I have worked with a family trying to get safe arrangements worked out for their autistic son to travel to school. Changing buses, let alone airplanes and airlines, can be a challenging and anxious ordeal.
Autism presents many serious challenges for those affected. It is not all stuff that Dr Gupta and Sigourney Weaver are going to want to spend much time discussing. Airline employees and other persons who deal publicly with autistic children, youths and adults would be aided immeasurably by a real understanding of some of the deficits and challenges presented by many people with autism disorders. Awareness, REAL autism awareness, would help a lot.