1. Shanell Mouland and her husband Al have a 3-year-old daughter named Kate who has autism. They blog about their experiences raising her over at goteamkate.com and recently they published an open letter that went massively viral.
2. The Moulands had just wrapped up a family vacation to Disney World, a place Shanell described as overwhelming for anyone, but especially so for a child with autism. On the flight back, there was an open seat next to Kate.
3. “I sat and watched people come on the plane and made quick judgments about who might sit beside her,” Shanell told BuzzFeed. “Then I saw a businessman and I thought, No, that’s not who I want to sit down.”
4. Shanell details her relief and surprise about what happened next in her very cute “Dear ‘Daddy’ in Seat 16C Flight 1850 From Philly”:
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.
You could have shifted uncomfortably in your seat. You could have ignored her. You could have given me that ‘smile’ that I despise because it means; ‘manage your child please.’ You did none of that. You engaged Kate in conversation and you asked her questions about her turtles. She could never really answer your questions but she was so enamored by you that she keep eye contact and joint attention on the items you were asking her about. I watched and smiled. I made a few polite offers to distract her, but you would have none of it.
Kate: (Upon noticing you had an IPad) Is dis Daddy’s puduter?
5. “I write about a lot of experiences we have with the public and how people react to Kate,” Shanell said about her. “But I really just wanted to thank him in depth so I wrote it out never thinking he’d see it.”
6. But the businessman did see it and actually contacted Shanell. She said he was very modest and didn’t want any recognition, but just thanked her for the very kind letter.
7. Shanell said that the outpouring of responses from parents of children who don’t have autism are the most special, because those are the ones she wants to reach most.
8. As for anyone else who might end up meeting Kate, Shanell’s biggest hope for her letter is to know that Kate may have autism, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t a way to engage with her.
9. Shanell told BuzzFeed:
If you engage us, just like you would any other parent. If Kate’s talking to you because she thinks you’re cool or she likes your sneakers, she touches them, she likes them, thinks they’re cool. I mean, she’s a funny nice kid. She’ll give you a hug and just say ‘Hey, how you doing Kate?’ She doesn’t really know what you’re saying, she’ll get confused and maybe talk about Ninja Turtles because that’s her thing, but just go with it. I wish people would just be more free with it.