Touched…I was touched…I am touched.
I’m currently on a flight to Japan. Each year special educators, speech therapists, occupational therapists, psychologists, and parents gather somewhere in the region for the Special Education Network In Asia (SENIA) conference. I’ve been attending the conference since 2008 and even had the opportunity to organize one of them in the past. It’s a fantastic conference, and one I always look forward to attending.
I’ve been making a lot of flights this year…too many, in fact, for either my liking or my family’s. In August I flew home to take Madi to university. Just a few weeks ago I flew to Brussels, Belgium to help write a best practices manual on opening an intensive needs, inclusive program in an international school setting. And now here I am…flying…again.
I found it very hard to leave Braden and Mike today. I just wanted to stay home with my boys.
But I had a little surprise waiting for me when I boarded my Air Nippon Airways (ANA) flight to Haneda. I
was seated in the exit row! What?! Seriously? This never happens for me. All that room to spread out…my own special TV. How did I possibly get this lucky?
As I was sitting down, the man in seat A was staring at me. He wasn’t just staring, he was ogling, one might say, with his mouth wide open. I thought, “Well, this seems quite rude. Perhaps he’s bummed thinking he would get the row to himself, and here I am ruining it for him.” Eventually, he stopped staring. Another man came and sat in seat B. More stares.
Then the flight attendant came to explain that we are seated in an exit row and therefore we need to be fit enough to open the doors, etc. Seat B and I nodded our heads. But the man in seat A didn’t acknowledge the woman. She left, and soon a male flight attendant came. He was trying to talk the man into moving seats. The man kept shaking his head and started to get agitated. At this point, he started shaking his hands in the air and did more head shaking.
The flight attendant showed the man the guidelines of sitting in the exit row. He read through them and nodded his head. Very kindly, they asked if he would like to move again and explained to him that he would have a whole row to himself. He nodded his head and started to get up to move. Just then, the announcement came overhead. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to depart, please take your seats.” The man immediately sat back down in seat A and absolutely refused to move. He pointed overhead as if to say, “She just said sit down.”
Aha…now I understand. He’s autistic. He is also nonverbal.
The flight attendants then came up to Seat B and spoke in Japanese. Seat B smiled and got up and moved seats. In English, the flight attendant told me, “Madam, the man in this row is…well…something is kind of not right.” (I think she couldn’t say what was happening as she didn’t know the correct words in English.) “We are wondering if you feel uncomfortable. Do you need to move?”
“I believe this man is autistic,” I replied. “I’m absolutely fine with sitting here, as long is he is comfortable with me being here.” I then thanked her for being so kind to him and for treating him so respectfully.
2 1/2 hours later and it’s lunch time. I’m so impressed with the airline as they gave the man a picture menu of the food options. He pointed to his choice, and he got his meal.
Once the meal was over, and all was cleaned up, I felt a light touch on my arm. I looked to my left, and the man was once again staring at me…this time with a smile. He opened his hand and looked at my hand. I slowly put my hand in his. He grabbed it, and we both looked into each others’ eyes.
I don’t know what he was trying to say, but he definitely was speaking to me, for now I sit…feeling touched…feeling blessed…feeling so happy that I took this trip.