Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Autistic Man Kicked Off Southwest Airlines Flight, Wandered US for 12 Hours

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.



Anonymous said...

Real autism awareness - I couldn't agree more, but how do we achieve that?
Best wishes

Bonnie said...

This stuff makes me so angry. I hate reading about it, but for the sake of our kids we have to keep talking...

Unknown said...


We do it by being candid about the challenges faced by many autistic persons, including my son.


Thanks for speaking up.
Unfortunately there is a tendency today on the internet to "speak no evil" of autism for fear some people will be offended. And the realities and challenges of autism disorders become obscured.

Maya M said...

I disagree with you here. This is not about the "reality and challenges of autism disorders". It is about the reality and challenges of the society dominated by the so-called normal people.
I wouldn't say that autism is wonderful but what "evil" of autism does this story "speak"? It speaks much about miserable little "normal" souls who feel right to kick off a plane anybody who disturbs their convenience.

Josh Pritchard said...

Fist, I have to laugh -- you cannot say 'so-called normal' -- the definition of normal is: "conforming to the standard or the common type"
So yes -- our society will always be dominated by 'normal' -- not the 'so-called normal'. People that do not conform to the COMMON TYPE will not be normal -- they're outliers of the norm by definition. This is not a value statement, but one of fact and definitions.
Now -- on to the actual comment that I'd like to make:
I think that people should be aware that when one claims the 'evil of autism' they are not saying a person with autism is evil, they're talking about all the difficulty these people have.
For those self-diagnosed 'autistics' that are claiming that being 'autistic' is wonderful, stories like this one provide irrefutable proof. Living with autism is hard. period. And 'miserable normal souls' are not to blame -- there is such a taboo about talking about the reality of the disorder (propogated by the neurodiversity folks) that many people have no understanding of autism. So in a world supercharged with fear of attack on airplanes, if someone does not know WHY the person next to them is talking about the innerworkings of the plane, then they must not be blamed for being worried. The solution is not to try to paint them as selfish miserable people, but to truly inform them.
I think this post makes the great point (and it may be unintentional -- so please don't drag the author into your flame war towards me) that the entire neurodiversity movement is a large obstacle towards knowledge of the autism spectrum and of humane treatment of those with autism. It is a bit ironic, eh?

Maya M said...

I considered leaving the previous comment without comment, because it speaks for itself, but after Mr. Pritchard expects and seems to want a flame war, so be it.
Does he or the ordinary NORMAL person really think that would-be terrorists will try and attract fellow passengers' attention, e.g. by talking about the innerworking of the plane? I find it unlikely. The autistic man's fellow passengers didn't mistake him for a terrorist. They thought he was either intoxicated or had some mental condition. And they found it inconvenient to share a plane with such a person. That's all. NORMAL people are ready to do strange things just to maintain their convenience.
Once I went to an airport to see off a lady with psychosis who had stopped taking her medications. She wasn't violent, but had visibly abnormal behaviour. I am happy that her fellow passengers (possibly not quite normal?) tolerated her and didn't get her kicked off, so she could swiftly return to her family and see her doctors.
I don't think the miserable normal souls who kicked off the autistic passengers had a problem with autism awareness. Well, they didn't know that he was autistic and that autism can manifest itself by inadequate talking. But EVERYBODY knows that many mental conditions can manifest themselves this way. What should we do? Raise awareness about every single condition so that to prevent people having it from discrimination and abuse? And how could this be achieved practically? By including DSM-IV in the high school curriculum?
Normal people have a grim tendency to discriminate, isolate and abuse anybody considered inferior by them. The nursing college in my city trains blind young people for chiropractors. However, I have information that after they graduate, employers don't hire them because most clients don't want to be treated by a blind chiropractor.
Some quotes from other NORMAL people, authenticity guaranteed by me:
In an interview commission, the chairman to the other members: "The female candidate showed better results, so what? Do you want us to appoint another female employee, to give births and take maternity leaves?" (The male candidate got the job.)
In a bus: "I see that she is pregnant, yet what is her problem to travel standing? Why should people offer their seats to her?"
In an apartment building: "Your tenants just above me have a baby who cries all the time. I insist that you do something about this problem or I'll turn to the police!"
At a kindergarten: "Why doesn't your son speak at 2.5 and why is he still in diapers? Is he normal? You must bring a document from a psychologist certifying that he is normal before we can admit him." (After the document is produced): "You had to bring this paper earlier. All our positions are occupied now."
What's my point? There are many conditions that make people having them to have difficulties. Some of these conditions are normal (I mean, not pathological) and even "wonderful", e.g. being a woman, pregnant, a mother or a baby. Others are pathological, such as being psychotic, blind or, let's be as you want, autistic. What is common between the two groups of conditions is that they disturb the convenience of the NORMAL people and trigger their hostile reaction. I think that all nice people, no matter whether they are pro-neurodiversity or pro-cure, must be firmly against discrimination and abuse of autistics. I don't see what neurodiversity has to do with this case. Any evidence that any passenger or crew member had ever heard the word "neurodiversity" or the sentence "autism is wonderful" or had been prevented from knowing about autism by us the evil neurodiversity crowd?
Sorry for the long comment, Mr. Doherty. It is not against you. In fact, I know (from your earlier post about the neighbours protesting against the screaming autistic child) that you at least partly share this viewpoint.

David F. Petrano Esq. said...

My wife(Mary)is autistic.

Her mother never allowed her to watch TV. Instead, she was forced to stay in her room and read constantly.

When I met her at age 46 (2002), Mary never heard of "I Love Lucy," Milton Berle or Julie Andrews. Mary’s mother did not even allow her to watch “The Beatles’ on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Her astounding lack of knowledge regarding popular culture is something I have yet to fully grip. On the other hand, she has a 100% photographic memory and an IQ well beyond genius.

When not reading, Mary’s mother allowed her to engage in Equestrian activities. She's performed at Madison Sq. Garden, winning "Horse of the Year" in 1975. Well in her 50s, Mary still rides daily at a highly advanced level.

Presently, the internet is Mary’s only form of interacting with other people and sharing her frustration that she has been denied bar admission simply because she is autistic.

She possesses a joint Juris Doctor / Master of Business Administration Degree from University of San Francisco School of Law. She did in fact pass the California Bar Examination on her 4th try when speech-to-text accommodations were finally provided so she could complete the essay portion of the exam.

Mary has spent the last 16 years pursuing legal action against respective state bar associations for refusing to allow her to live her dream of being an attorney simply because she is autistic; nevertheless, Mary's moral character is beyond impeccable. She is a person who has never committed a crime. Mary won't graze a loose string bean at a grocery store because she knows such would be taking something that did not belong to her.

Without exception, courts mock Mary's autism through use of defamatory language, disability bashing and conclusions she is not of sound mind or otherwise a vexatious litigant within the context of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

In sum, no matter how hard an autistic tries to make a go of things, our "normal" courts are the first in line to destroy their dreams.