Soaring 40,000 feet above the familiarity of home can be a frightening feat for any child, but if you have autism, the experience is all the more nerve-wracking.
Braysen Gabriel is a 4-year-old autistic boy who typically enjoys flying, but his flight from San Diego to Houston earlier this month was an exception. According to his mother, Lori Gabriel of Cypress, Texas, Braysen had a meltdown on the United Airlines flight just prior to takeoff.
“Trying to get him to stay seated was impossible. He wanted to sit on the floor in the hall and in first class,” Lori explained on Facebook.
“It was impossible to restrain him,” the Texas mother told CNN. “He was fighting both me and his father. It took the both of us to try to get him back to his chair and get his seat belt back on. He started kicking, screaming and hitting. That’s when a flight attendant came over and told us the flight couldn’t take off until he’s seated.”
Lori explained to the stewardess that the boy has autism and that they’d need a minute to get the situation under control.
The flight attendant then walked away, before returning shortly with two of her colleagues asking how they could help.
“Then they sprang into action,” said Lori.
They allowed Braysen to sit on her lap during takeoff while his day held him. Still in meltdown mode, the 4-year-old screamed to be let down, so after the seatbelt sign went off, the flight attendants allowed him to sit on the floor.
“When he’s overstimulated, the vibration makes him feel better,” Lori shared.
The worked up child even accidentally kicked an off-duty crew member who was seated close-by at one point. Rather than getting flustered, the woman kindly commented that it was okay if he kicks her feet. Braysen then made his way up to first class where he started kicking another man’s feet, who responded just as empathetically as the first stranger.
“Braysen seemed happy there, so we didn’t want to move him,” said Lori. “So I told the man ‘I’m sorry,’ but he said he didn’t mind, he introduced himself to Braysen and gave him high fives. He said, ‘He can kick my chair, I don’t care.'”
“Everybody in first class was kind to him, asking his name, showing him pictures on their phones, letting him sit whenever he wanted,” added the relieved mother. “The flight attendants kept asking if we needed anything, making sure everybody was taken care of.”
But the selfless acts of compassion didn’t end there.
Right before exiting the plane, the off-duty stewardess proceeded to give Lori a big hug along with a handwritten note of encouragement:
“I commend you for your strength,” it read. “Do not ever let anyone make you feel as though you are an inconvenience or a burden. He is a blessing. God bless your patience, your love, your support and your strength. Continue to be a super woman. And know you and your family are loved and supported.”
Heart-warmed by the endearing message, Lori posted a picture of the note on Facebook, along with words of high praise for the United Airlines staff who made her and Braysen’s flight more bearable.
So my little flyer (he’s autistic but normally loves to fly) didn’t have such a good flight home. …
In response, the airline tweeted, “It sure sounds like Braysen and your family had a great flight. We are happy that our crew was able to make it an enjoyable experience. We are overjoyed to see that we have such loving and supportive passengers on board as well! We look forward to seeing Braysen again soon!”
“I’m just overwhelmed from all this kindness, it makes me want to cry,” said Lori. “For the first time, people have been very understanding and helpful about Braysen’s autism. It’s very promising, we don’t have to care about what other people think because there are people who are caring, who understand. It gives me a lot of hope for the future.”