How a Simple Kindness Made an Autistic Girl’s Day

Flying with small children is not always easy. Babies cry, toddlers cause a ruckus. Parents are either doing their best while trying to hold it together, or don’t correct bad behaviors at all. There are those passengers who snicker and scowl, and others who offer a knowing smile of understanding.

Many parents become nervous as they take their seats and check out their row mates. It can be an especially anxious undertaking for families with special needs children, as you never know how a stranger will react. When kindness trumps impatience, it can make all the difference.

In winter 2014, Canada native Shanell Mouland and her family were on a flight home from Florida that had to make a stop in Philadelphia. Shanell and her 3-year-old autistic child Kate had been seated apart from the rest of the family. As the flight filled up, a man took his seat next to Kate and Shanell became worried when she spotted his briefcase and papers.

Concerned that her daughter would disturb the businessman, Shanell assumed that the trip would be troublesome. But it turned out to be the opposite. As soon as he sat down, Kate took a liking to him, and called him “Daddy” the whole trip. The man ended up being extra kind to little Kate, putting his work away and engaging her in conversation.

Playing Ninja Turtles with her and entertaining her, the man made a new friend in Kate during the entire flight. They never caught his name though. Mom Shanell later penned a blog post thanking the kind stranger, whom she later found out is a father named Eric Kunkel from New Jersey. Here’s an excerpt from the post entitled “Dear ‘Daddy’ in Seat 16C Flight 1850”:

“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. . .I watched and smiled. I made a few polite offers to distract her, but you would have none of it.”

Shanell’s post went globally viral and word got back to Eric within a day. The two had a reunion on Fox News’ Fox & Friends show where Eric shared that the attention was overwhelming, but he’s so happy that he got to meet the family. He also stated that he’s bonded to the Mouland family for life now. Their story has inspired others about two things: the kindness of strangers and autism awareness.

In a few hours, this man’s kindness made a little girl’s day a brighter and earned him a friend for life. Shanell expressed how Kate’s autism can sometimes be uncomfortable for strangers, but after her story spread, she said people have reached out to say they will travel with a new awareness for others.

You never know how your actions might impact someone, and this story illustrates that compassion and kindness definitely outweigh the bad in this world! What do you think of this touching story? Have you ever been impacted by the kindness of a stranger? Share with us in the comments!