We The People

Kind Stranger Befriends Autistic Girl on Plane

from ABC News –

The mother of an autistic toddler, whose open letter to a kind stranger she sat next to on a plane made headlines, has reconnected with the man who made her daughter smile during a two-and-a-half-hour flight.

On Jan. 6, after spending a week at Disney World, Shanell Mouland and her family were on a flight from Orlando, Fla., to Philadelphia, to catch a connection to their hometown of New Brunswick, Canada. Mouland’s husband and their 5-year-old daughter, Grace, sat in one row, while Mouland and 3-year-old Kate, who has autism, sat behind them. Mouland was a bit nervous — depending on Kate’s mood, the young girl’s behavior can range from affectionate to hysterical, so a patient and understanding seatmate would be crucial.

In an open letter titled, “Dear Daddy in Seat 16C,” posted on Thursday on her blog “Go Team Kate,” Mouland writes, “I watched the entire Temple basketball team board the plane, and wondered if one of these giants might sit by Kate. They all moved toward the back. She would have liked that … I watched many Grandmotherly women board and hoped for one to take the seat but they walked on by. For a fleeting moment I thought we might have a free seat beside us, and then you walked up and sat down with your briefcase and your important documents and I had a vision of Kate pouring her water all over your multi-million-dollar contracts, or house deeds, or whatever it was you held. The moment you sat down, Kate started to rub your arm. Your jacket was soft and she liked the feel of it. You smiled at her and she said: ‘Hi, Daddy, that’s my mom.’ Then she had you.”

“Any time we go out in public, we have to plan for anything because Kate has sensory issues and when she’s overwhelmed, her behavior may be unpredictable,” Mouland tells Yahoo Shine in an exclusive interview. “Most people warm up to Kate, but interacting with her can be off-putting for those that don’t understand autism.”

Luckily, Kate’s seatmate was Eric Kunkel — a businessman and married father of one from Villas, N.J. — who for the duration of the flight, entertained Kate by allowing her to fiddle with his iPad and playing a video game with her. The pair talked about dogs (Kate will be getting a service dog soon) and Kate’s experience meeting Winnie the Pooh and the Disney princesses at the theme park.

“I travel a lot for work, and Kate was, by far, the most well-behaved kid I’ve sat next to,” Kunkel tells Yahoo Shine in an exclusive interview. “Shanelle is also an incredible parent — she didn’t apologize for Kate and she shouldn’t have — but she was very attentive to her.”

Kunkel even tried to distract Kate with her toys when, at the end of the flight, she began screaming to remove her seatbelt. He also allowed the Mouland family to exit the plane ahead of him. “Thank you for letting us go ahead of you,” wrote Mouland. “She was feeling overwhelmed and escaping the plane and a big, long hug was all she needed. So, thank you. Thank you for not making me repeat those awful apologetic sentences that I so often say in public. Thank you for entertaining Kate so much that she had her most successful plane ride, yet. And, thank you for putting your papers away and playing turtles with our girl.”

A few days after the flight, Kunkel’s stepson and his girlfriend spotted Mouland’s blog post while perusing a site for autism and forwarded it to Kunkel, who couldn’t believe the coincidence. He then contacted Mouland on Facebook to thank her.

Mouland is grateful for the experience and says she created her blog to teach others about autism, but she was the one who learned a lesson. “I assumed that a man in a business suit wouldn’t be patient with Kate,” she says,” and I’m so fortunate to have been proved wrong.”



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Archie Wallace
9 years ago

As the father of a now 43 year old autistic I can assure Don there are people who have the patience to be kind to an autistic or impaired child without adding more angst to the child or their already nervous parents. We went through a lot raising our son when not much was known about autism and the solution was to shove some chemical cocktail to comtrol behavior at them. Children don’t have to endure the harassment and abuse Bill suffered by educators and other kids anymore because many fought back and caused serious study resulting in change. We met people over the years who felt he belonged in an institution and others like Mr. Kunkle whose patience we can never express enough gratiture for. God Bless Him and the Mouland family who will have many nervous moments ahead, but I believe will find the rewards well worth it intthe end.

9 years ago

how sad to be Don, and not be able to believe that there are kind people in this world.

He deserves our sympathy as he must live a miserable existence.

9 years ago

This is just another make-believe story. It is a lie. It never did happen. I am sick and tired of people making up stories like this. Stop it!

9 years ago
Reply to  Don

Don, that is what negative people always think. I believe it because there are people who care about others but never get the publicity. We only hear about the bad things that happen so the government can regulate us some more. I know what it is like to work with autistic children and I have great respect for the patience of this man. God bless.

9 years ago
Reply to  Don

Grow up, you think ABC just made this whole thing up and hired actors to play on their show? I saw the segment when it aired. And if you don’t know enough about autism then shut your mouth until you do. And how dare you get on here and mouth off to what’s a very real and difficult situation to many family’s. Didn’t you momma ever teach you if you got nothing nice to say than just don’t say anything at all.

9 years ago
Reply to  Don

Both the mother and the gentleman on the plane were on FOX news….and they weren’t blow up dolls….they were real people….now I don’t want to confuse you with pertinent details but….you were WRONG

9 years ago
Reply to  Chuck

Why are people so ready to be negative. The glass in their life is always half empty. Even if maybe it isn’t true. Don’t you wish it was?

9 years ago
Reply to  Don

At the risk of being tricked by Don who may be doing this to see how much attention he can get (assuming Don is a he), the obvious question for him is this: What proof or evidence do you have Don for making your dogmatic assertion that “this is just another make-believe story?” How do we know that you’re not making up your assertion for the sake of a cheap thrill to see how many responses like this one you can generate? Answer: We don’t. Try getting a life Don other than reading and commenting on these forums. Your input like that from any of us will not be missed.

Perry Willson
9 years ago
Reply to  Don

I’m appalled that you have all jumped all over Don, the entire point of the article was that we need to have patience with those that have mental defects that make their lives extremely difficult! You could all learn to be kinder and say things like “it’s Ok Don you will be fine” and “Don, you clearly have a really difficult life, have you considered seeking professional help? There is hope for you.”

Adam F. Kohler
9 years ago
Reply to  Don

Get a life. You obviously see everything in a negative light.

Gloria Sterling
9 years ago

It reminds me of how Jesus treated the children; never turned them away and told us that the Kingdom is made up of such as they. Mr. Kunkle, I don’t believe you are far from the Kingdom of God; God bless you, richly.

Charlene Elwood
9 years ago

What a wonderful story of a pure loving kindness in a world that, sometimes, looks very much the opposite..
Beautiful in every way.
This truly blessed my day. Thanks for sharing.
May God shine even brighter on you all.

John Carroll
9 years ago

God works in wondrous ways. Mr. Kunkle was the angel God sent for Kate and her mother that day.

Marge Brittain
9 years ago
Reply to  John Carroll

No ne could have said it better.

Marilyn Payne
9 years ago

And God sent an angel!
My oldest grandson has autism and I have had to learn about autism from him & my precious daughter. She has been wonderful with him, fighting for him against Medicaid for the medical care and teaching that he so disperately needs to function. Thank you again Mr. Kundle.

Margaret King
9 years ago

Thank you, Mr Kunkle for being their for Kate. You treated her like the little girl she is never giving a thought to her problem. You handled everything with finesse and such sweetness. I have a cousin that is autistic and has cerebal palsy. I want people to know he made it through high school and graduated from college. He is a whiz at history and you cannot beat him at Trivia. So, Mom, keep up the good work with Kate, a very beautiful little girl. And Mr. Kunkle thank you for treating that baby with so much kindness and love. God bless all of you.

Charlene Elwood
9 years ago
Reply to  Margaret King

Well said.

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