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Autism, Airplanes, and Alec Baldwin?

Aug. 14, 2012 | Harry Kimball

We couldn't help thinking of Alec Baldwin when we heard that a young woman named Carly Fleischmann got cross recently when American Airlines attendants insisted that she stow the iPad she uses to communicate for takeoff and landing.

Carly, a 17-year-old who has autism, insisted that she had been able to use the iPad on many other flights, and held her ground until the captain got involved, and allowed her to keep it open, though the fight attendant continued to insist that she not use it.  

Unlike Baldwin, she didn't get into a shouting match or get thrown off the plane. But like him she had the nerve to express skepticism about the reasons for the rule.  And like him she shared her travel and technology woes on the Web.

Now, I am as far from an expert on avionics and signal interference as you can get, and though I think many of us are skeptical about cell phone and electronics rules on airplanes I don't presume to tell airlines or the FAA their business. But I think Carly's stand illustrates how people with different methods of communication—she is nonverbalare asking to be treated with respect. "It's time for you to move with the times," she writes on her Facebook page, "and understand that an iPad is not just for fun it's for people who really need it too."

Happily, the FAA is considering a course that would change the rules and let people like Carly hang on to their devices during takeoff and landing. As she puts it, "can you imagine being on the airplane and being asked not to talk for over 25 minutes?"

Coincidentally, the game Baldwin was playing was called "Words With Friends." It seems appropriate.

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