Mum's open letter to businessman who entertained autistic daughter on flight goes viral

Shanell Mouland with her daughter. Photo: Go Team Kate.
Shanell Mouland with her daughter. Photo: Go Team Kate. 

“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.”

Shanell Mouland's open letter "Dear 'Daddy' in Seat 16C," about a man who entertained her three-year-old daughter on a US Airways flight, has gone viral - and has reached the businessman himself.

Mouland wrote that she was nervous about the two hour flight from Philadelphia to Maine with her daughter Kate, who has autism.

Kate plays with her toys. Photo: Go Team Kate.
Kate plays with her toys. Photo: Go Team Kate. 

"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 becomes unpredictable," Mouland told Yahoo Shine.

When Eric Kunkel sat next to her with his briefcase in hand, Mouland feared what was to come.

“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,” she wrote in her letter.

“The moment you sat down, Kate started to rub your arm. Your jacket was soft and she liked the feel of it.”

To Mouland’s surprise, the man smiled at Kate and engaged her in conversation. He didn't flinch as she called him 'daddy' throughout the flight. (Kate's actual dad was seated in a different row with his other daughter.) The man showed Kate his iPad and played with her toy turtles. It was Kate’s most successful flight yet, and prompted Mouland to write the thank you letter on her blog, ‘Go Team Kate’.

Mouland didn’t know the man’s name. But after the post was shared on multiple media outlets, it eventually reached the eyes of Kunkel’s girlfriend, who happened to be reading about autism. She passed it on to him and, amazed by the coincidence, he then contacted Mouland on Facebook to say thank you.

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Kunkell was modest about his interactions with Kate.

"I travel a lot for work and Kate was, by far, the most well behaved kid I've sat next to," Kunkel told Yahoo Shine. "Shanell is also an incredible parent. She didn't apologize for Kate, and she shouldn't have, but she was very attentive to her."

As for Mouland, she says she is grateful for the experience and learned a valuable lesson about judging people on appearances.

"I assumed that a man in a business suit wouldn't be patient with Kate, and I'm so fortunate to have been proved wrong," she said.

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