Strangers can change our lives in extraordinary ways. When someone reaches out to us in a moment of need or distress, it can turn our whole perspective upside down – or, right side up. Different people handle stress in different ways. Autistic people in particular have a hard time dealing with stress.

When stress piles on, it can be difficult to remember that there are people around us who would take a moment out of their day to help us out. Russell Lehmann discovered one such person while he was trapped in an airport during a stressful travel, and he was so moved that he spoke out about it.

Russell Lehmann is a motivational speaker. He talks about his experience with being autistic, which means he has a spectrum disorder involving symptoms such as difficulty with social situations as well as being overwhelmed by things that other people might not be. It’s a different way of experiencing the world, and Russell was on his way to give a speech about just this.

Unfortunately, he was having a terrible travel experience. He was trying to fly to Cincinnati to give a speech the next day, but was being met at every turn with missed connections and flight delays. It was starting to feel like he was never going to make it out of the airport at all. Russell was having a hard time handling the stress.

Autistic Man Begins To Cry At Airport, Then Airline Worker Shows ‘Utmost Compassion’

Finally, he just couldn’t hold it in. Russell started crying and had a total meltdown sitting there in the airport. Russell had managed to curl himself up behind an unoccupied ticket counter. He was hyperventilating and his muscles were shaking as he rocked himself back and forth, a common self-soothing method for autistic people.

Russell Lehmann: Speaker, Author, Advocate

He never expected anyone to approach him, but that’s just what one American Airlines employee did. The employee, named David, slowly approached Russell and asked him what was wrong. Russell was so distraught that he could hardly speak. Finally, he managed to get the words out: “I don’t know. I can’t think. I have autism.”

David could have simply walked away, but instead, he extended some much-needed compassion. He crouched down next to Russell, speaking to him calmly. He also explained to him that he would still be able to make it into Cincinnati that night. That flight would allow Russell to make it to his speech the next day.

David offered to help Russell reroute his flight. However, Russell was cautious and afraid of causing another meltdown after boarding another plane. After all, it would be a very tight space with a lot of stimuli and no way for Russell to shut it out or walk away if he needed to (which can greatly help someone who is autistic). David allowed him time to calm down and think about what he wanted to do. In fact, he even offered to buy Russell a slice of pizza!

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David gave Russell space to calm himself down and think about his next move. Ten minutes later, he returned again. This time, David brought with him the pilot of the plane that Russell would be boarding if he wanted to reroute his flight. David had taken it upon himself to notify not only the pilot, but the rest of the flight crew about Russell’s situation.

He cleared a whole row of seats, so that Russell would have space to himself during the flight. Seeing such compassion and understanding from everyone involved, Russell decided to board the flight. David walked him down the runway, and even introduced him to each of the flight crew members.

Russell shared his story and the compassion that he was shown by these people online, and it got a massive response, with over 11,000 shares in just under 24 hours. It’s absolutely amazing what people can do for one another when they take the time to reach out and ask.

Russell Lehmann: Speaker, Author, Advocate

Something so simple and within his capabilities allowed David to take Russell’s horrible experience and turn it into something good. It’s a good reminder for all of us to do what we can to make other people’s lives easier. When more people find the compassion in their hearts to extend their energy to help others, it makes the world a better place, little by little.