For parents and/or caregivers of children with autism this is far too frequent a story. I remember a few years ago when I was talking to a potential funder about the types of students we serve at Lakeside, he told me that we should “ship them all to Siberia.” I was taken back but realized that he had no idea what was really going on with our students.
When neighbors aren’t neighborly
In this article for Phillymag.com by Victor Fiorillo, you will see the sad letter of a neighbor about how he/she perceives both a parent and a child with autism, and how the neighbor informs the parent of his/her viewpoint.
Although the story points out such dissonance by a neighbor, it also provides a great picture of what is happening in the family of this autistic child.
Bonnie Moran has been through it. The 32-year-old Mayfair mom suffers from spina bifida, and two of her three sons are autistic. Still, she says that most of the time, she’s able to hold her head high and enjoy life. But last week was a bit rougher than normal.
Moran says that when she went downstairs to get the mail the other day, among the bills and junk was a handwritten note about her three-year-old son Ryan, who has been diagnosed with autism, pica and ADHD, among other things.
Here is how the letter reads (we didn’t copy edit it):
To the parent of the small child at this house,
The weather is getting nicer and like normal people I open my windows for fresh air. NOT to hear some BRAT screaming his head off as he flaps his hands like a bird. I don’t care if its the way you raised him or if he is retarded. But the screaming and carring on needs to stop. No one wants to hear him act like a wild animal it’s utterly nerve wracking, not to mention its scaring my Normal children. By you just standing there talking to him don’t do anything. Besides you look like a moron as he walks all over you. Give him some old fashioned discipline a few times and he will behave. If that child needs fresh air … take him to the park not in out back or out front where other people are coming home from work, have a day off, or just relaxing. No one needs to hear that high pitched voice for hours. Do something about that Child!
One of your neighbors
“I was so angry,” says Moran, a graduate of Northeast High School. “I was all red. And then I just sat down and cried for hours. How can somebody be that mean?”
In the days that preceded her receipt of the anonymous letter, the weather had been warm, so Ryan had been playing outside. His father had him in the backyard playing soccer one day, and Ryan was on the sliding board out front the next.
“He was so excited,” says the mom. “And when he gets excited, he flaps his hands together real fast and squeals. It can be pretty high-pitched some times. You know how it is. Kids can be noisy.”
Moran is used to dealing with dirty looks and comments. Ryan gets frustrated very easily, in part because he has a difficult time communicating what he wants, what he needs, or how he is feeling, and he acts out. He was completely non-verbal until just before he turned three. Moran says he was once so upset on a crowded SEPTA bus — some children with the diagnosis cannot tolerate crowds — that the driver insisted she take him off the bus.
“The stares really eat me up,” she says. “He can see you. He can hear your comments. He’s not deaf. He knows what you’re saying. He knows you are pointing at him. That’s not cool. He’s not stupid. He’s a little human.”
The looks and snide remarks are one thing. But the letter shocked her.
“My family has been in this home since it was built in the ’30s,” Moran explains. “We were the first ones on the block. We know everybody. When there’s a problem, we go to each other and work it out. So this, I just don’t understand it.”
But she was equally shocked by the response she received after posting a photo of the letter on the community Facebook group Mayfair Uncensored.
“I’ve got so many playdates lined up for him now,” she says, choking up a bit. “I was approached by parents in the area who have children with disabilities, and they all understand. I used to feel so alone before this. It’s great to know you’re not the only one out there. Turns out that people on my block are going through similar things.”
As for the writer of the anonymous letter, Moran is not ready to forgive and forget just yet.
“If I knew who it was, I’d find a few choice words,” she says. “I don’t know.
Try to educate yourself before you judge somebody. You never know what somebody is going through. He’s not a brat. … He’s just like anyone else, but he has issues. I’d invite them to come and meet him and spend time with him and see what a caring, loving, beautiful child he can be.”
That’s right Bonnie.
We share so many experiences and relationships with students who many say will never be able to succeed. However in a safe, brain-based and relational environment they can have significant success, do well in school, make friends and graduate.
In spite of many in their lives, neighborhoods and communities, they too have significant potential to grow and succeed by hard work of caring staff, a loving family and community support. Let’s never judge our kids if they act differently. In fact, they often can teach us so much if we would get to know them just a bit better.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network