Flight Attendants Help Calm 4-Year-Old Boy with Autism in Viral Photos: They're 'Family Now'

Braysen Keen, 4, sat and played with flight attendants during an hours-long flight from San Diego to Houston earlier this month

Lori Gabriel son

A Texas mother is thanking a group of flight attendants for helping to calm a 4-year-old boy who has autism during a rough flight from San Diego to Houston.

Lori Gabriel was flying home to Cypress, Texas, after a family vacation with her 9-year-old daughter, her boyfriend Brendan Keen, 32, and Brendan’s 4-year-old son, Braysen Keen. She says Braysen usually loves to fly, but the Aug. 6 United Airlines trip was a different story.

“He just wasn’t in a good mood. Right before takeoff, he just slipped out of his seat belt. We were all trying to get him back in his chair but it was impossible,” Gabriel, 33, tells PEOPLE. “I’m restraining him with my arms and my legs and he’s just fighting us. I thought we were going to get kicked off of the plane.”

Instead, Gabriel says, a group of flight attendants walked over to the family and asked how they could help. They let Braysen sit on Gabriel’s lap for take-off and, when the plane was in the sky, Braysen was able to climb off of Gabriel’s lap.

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Braysen Keen, 4, sits near flight attendants during a flight from San Diego to Houston. Courtesy Lori Gabriel

“Laying on the floor of the plane was calming for him. The flight attendants kept asking if they could help us — they were so overwhelmingly nice. I never expected them to work around my son but they said if he’s happy, they’re happy,” Gabriel continues. “Braysen inches to the front of first class and the flight attendant’s like, ‘Oh he’s fine!’ The flight attendant was sitting in his chair and Braysen was sitting right in front of him. Braysen was just happy as can be. The flight attendant was interacting with him and being so nice and helpful.”

Photos from the flight showed Braysen laying in the aisle, wrapped in a blanket and sitting at the feet of the flight attendant. Gabriel says passengers even played with the boy and allowed him to sit at their feet too.

“He wanted to be with everybody else on the plane. He wanted to go make friends. The whole three and a half hours, he was making his rounds between me and first class,” Gabriel recalls. “The flight attendants didn’t just take care of us — they took care of everybody on the plane. I’m sure it was challenging for them, but they wanted to work around my son because they wanted to see him happy. It was amazing. I still cry.”

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Note from flight attendants to Lori Gabriel. Courtesy Lori Gabriel

She says the flight went smoothly, with Braysen walking up and down the aisle and sitting with the flight attendants and other passengers.

At the end of the journey, the flight attendants gave Gabriel a handwritten note: “I commend you for your strength. Do not ever let anyone make you feel as though you are an inconvenience or a burden. He is a blessing. God bless your patience, your love, your support, and your strength. Continue to be super woman. And know you and your family are loved and supported.”

Gabriel shared the note and photos in a Facebook post that has since been shared nearly 1,000 times. She says she never expected the social media message to get so much attention, but she’s glad to let the world know about the flight attendants’ good deed.

“I never would expect anybody to go out of their way for me or my family. It meant more to me than they could ever imagine,” Gabriel says. “That’s why I made the post, because I wanted to thank them. I’ve friended all of the flight attendants on Facebook and have been able to speak with them. We love them and they love my family. It’s like they’re extended family now.”

The note said it best,” United Airlines officials tell PEOPLE in a statement. “On behalf of the United family, we want Lori and her family to know they are loved and supported. We are proud of our crew and all our employees for the kindness and care they show our customers every day and this is a beautiful example of the impact that can have.

Officials also sent Gabriel a message, saying they are happy the crew made the family’s flight “an enjoyable experience.”

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