Autistic Boy Befriends Seatmate on Plane, Post Goes Viral

Mom Alexa Bjornson was undoubtedly anxious about putting her 7-year-old son, Landon, who has high-functioning autism, on a plane alone for the very first time to go visit his dad. Landon boarded a flight Southwest Airlines flight from Las Vegas, Nevada to Portland, Oregon, armed with $10 cash enclosed in a note from his mom to his future seatmate, asking for a bit of help and patience from whoever ended up next to Landon on the plane.

Landon’s mom was worried that he’d be frightened and uncomfortable without someone there to support him, but also that any autism-related behaviors might alienate his neighbors on the flight.

“I thought, how do I make it so whoever’s sitting next to him won’t look at him as a burden but more of like, I can help this kiddo get through the day,” she told KATU via video conference.

As it turned out, the stranger who sat next to her son on the flight, Ben Pedraza, exceeded even her best hopes. It seems that the two became fast travel buddies and Pedraza conveyed to Bjornson in the text update that she hadn’t needed to send the $10, but that he had decided to donate it to autism-society.org, in honor of Landon. Pedraza added, “He’s a great kid and you’re a lucky mom.”

Pedraza later told KATU in a video conference that Landon ensured the flight was full of nonstop activity, but that sometimes kids can only take so much of a certain kind of humor. “We were cracking jokes, and after a while, he asked me to quit making dad jokes,” he said.

Bjornson shared the reassuring text, including a photo of the pair on the plane, in a Facebook post that has since gone viral, earning over 18,000 comments and 14,000 shares thus far. This little story about an act of kindness, understanding and generosity of spirit has seemingly touched many hearts. In response to the public reaction, Pedraza commented that he hopes this serves to focus attention on autism awareness.

In her post, Bjornson wrote: “I am so grateful to this individual, and that there are still kind people in the world who make a difference like I try myself to do as well. Thank you so much Ben!!!!”

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