As you know from reading my blog, my daughter has an ASD, also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder. Originally, her diagnosis was Asperger’s Disorder but back in 2013 this diagnosis *poof* disappeared from the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) which is THE BOOK of disorder identification (Sole-Smith, 2014). This manual had many changes listed in that newest edition (Sole-Smith, 2014). Either way, she still displays difficulties in understanding how to respond in some social interactions and has sensory issues, regardless of what you call it.
Recently, we went on a trip home to visit family. I was very hesitant because of my last flying experience with her. In 2016, we flew from Georgia to Anchorage. This travel day ended up being about 14 hours. As you can imagine, this is a tough travel day for anyone. However, with my daughter’s sensory issues, it was horrendous. She wiggled, squirmed, made howling noises, and was pulling my arms in agony. I think I ended up with a few scratches and small bruises at the end of it all. (She wasn’t intentionally trying to do this, but flying is hard for her.) The reason for her agony was the pressure in her ears and the confinement to our seats for such a long period. I know what you may be thinking. She was a young teenager! How can this be? Children with an ASD can sometimes act younger than their actual chronological age. This causes problems with the general population because a younger child acting like this doesn’t get near the nasty stares and comments as a child who appears much older. It is simply a much harsher world, most of the time, when an older person has a non-visible disability. People do not understand .
Fast forward to our recent flying experience… I must admit that I was a little nervous. However, our miniature schnauzer, McKinley, flew with us as an Emotional Support Dog. (We bought her after our last flying encounter.) There has been so much controversy about this lately that I felt I must talk about this on a personal level instead of simply offering profuse apologies. I think a better angle is to offer our story. I know some of the controversy exists about animals being on planes for people without disabilities AND the potential of these animals causing allergic reactions to other passengers. However, the scrutiny seems to be growing against anyone associated with an animal while traveling.
We were met with angry glances, rude comments, and whispers. In fact, this very rude gentleman man in first class said something after my daughter and I walked on the plane early. (This is another way Alaska Airlines helped calm her fears, by letting her board early.) This man was already boarded when we walked to the back of the plane in coach. My son overheard him saying, “I can’t believe they were able to board early. This emotional support animal stuff is bull—-.” His comment was out of line. My initial thoughts were to find this man and tell him the difference it has made for my daughter. However, my son said, “mom, it isn’t worth it.”
Therefore, let me share with you how big a difference this little, sweet animal (who is also hypoallergenic naturally) has been for my daughter. My daughter loves her emotional support/service animal. McKinley’s presence is very calming. My daughter is so concerned for McKinley’s well-being, that she doesn’t act inappropriately on the plane, even though she is stressed. McKinley literally sat in my lap (with my daughter petting her) or she sat on her lap. For our trip, all of McKinley’s needs were in order: shot records, rabies shots, a doctor’s short letter on prescription pad specifying her emotional support, and carrier with food, toys, snacks, etc. We didn’t go unprepared.
My plea for airlines is to realize how much emotional support animals can help people. Please do not stop allowing this because of a few disgruntled people. There are several dogs that are hypoallergenic, like our little one. These animals do not cause allergy issues for others on board. In fact, Dyck (2013) has a list of hypoallergenic dogs which includes: The Schnauzer, Shih Tzu, some of the Terriers, the Irish Water Spaniel, to name a few. Also, my gratitude to Alaska Airlines is endless. Not only did we arrive in Georgia without incident (by my daughter or by her service animal), but our trip in Georgia with McKinley, was pleasant too.
Lastly, if you are unaware of how someone is impacted by an ASD, please feel free to check out my references section for more information. Also, if you are in opposition to have animals on board to help people like my daughter, and you have no condition like hers that plagues you every day, shame on you. For someone in that last category, if you don’t think you know much about prejudice and discrimination, you know much more than you can imagine with that attitude. (Please check out a random Introduction to Sociology course from the library and read it.)
Dyck, A. (2013, October 22). Dogs that don’t shed: 23 hypoallergenic dog breeds. Homes Alive Pets. Retrieved from https://www.homesalive.ca/blog/dogs-that-dont-shed-23-hypoallergenic-dog-breeds/
Sole-Smith, V. (2014). What happened to Asperger’s? Parents. Retrieved from https://www.parents.com/health/autism/what-happened-to-aspergers/