Autism is not an excuse…

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I’ve tried for about a week to do a video about an incident that happened at the park, and have not been successful. As a parent with a diagnosis of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) myself, it’s sometimes hard for me to put into words how I’m truly feeling when I’m in front of a camera. I get tongue tied, or go off on tangents, and the video I recorded was going to be longer than anyone would want to watch. It was long, and emotional… and I was a mess.

That’s why I’ve been quiet. I really needed to take a moment to take a deep breath, to focus on my kids, and focus on moving past the hurt, the anger, all the emotions that I was feeling because of this incident.

This incident rocked our world, and from my perspective – destroyed our family’s credibility and Apollo’s reputation in our local community (at age 4). But as always, I’m hoping that sharing the difficult moments will help someone else…

So what happened?

Apollo, Athena and I along with a friend (with two kids) attended a local park; a park that we have frequented 100+ times; a park that has become part of our schedule, our routine, and the park that Apollo refers to as “the biggest playground”.

My friend and I were standing outside of the play equipment watching the kids play, like we have done countless times.  Nothing  was out of the ordinary on this day.

Apollo was in one of the equipment tunnels, by himself, playing – all of a sudden, I heard Apollo abruptly say “No thank you”.

No thank you is a phrase we have taught him to use when someone is doing something he doesn’t like, and/or when he is starting to lose control over his body – said as a warning for others to give him space. When Apollo was completely non-verbal he would hit, push, etc. when he couldn’t put what he wanted to say into words. Now that he has familiar words and phrases, we have worked hard with him to use his words, rather than his hands when someone does something that he doesn’t like. 

Soon after I heard Apollo say “No thank you”, I saw an unknown lady approach Apollo, visibly angry. I witnessed her begin to berate and belittle Apollo. In a snap of a finger, I ran as fast as I could up the play equipment to Apollo, who at this point was stimming severely; he was flapping his hands and kicking his feet while lying in the tunnel by himself, clearly out of control of his body, and resembled someone having a seizure – it was serious!

As I approached Apollo to try and help him calm his body down and get to the bottom of what happened, the lady continued to berate and belittle him in front of me.  I told her to stop, that I was his mother. She didn’t stop.  I was witnessing my son become more and more dysregulated because of her actions/words.

Apollo’s sensory processing disorder challenges makes him hypersensitive to sounds. Berating him triggers the fight or flight in him – and it is physically painful for him to endure (his body language has told me as much).

Out of desperation and fear of the situation escalating, I told her he was autistic and to let me handle him.

I did NOT tell her he was autistic as an excuse for any actions or behaviors that MIGHT have happened, but said it because I was hoping that it would signal her to pause, take a breath, control her anger and actions so that I could calm Apollo down.  At this point I just wanted to know what happened. 

The word “autistic” appeared to be a trigger word for the lady.  In an instant, her anger turned from Apollo, to me. I felt verbally attacked (for Apollo and I) in that moment. I will not go into the nitty gritty of all that was said and done, because all that is going to do is stir up more emotions. One thing she did say, that will forever be engraved in my mind is:

“Autism is not an excuse to abuse and be aggressive toward others”

This lady went on to accuse Apollo of repeatedly beating on a 4+ year old girl (that she was a sitter for) over and over. She accused Apollo of pushing this girl down the slide, and accused me of using autism as an excuse to allow him to abuse and be aggressive toward others.

WHOA!

As the sitter continued to berate us, I found myself taking a deep breath and looked over at the girl, to assess the extent to which she was hurt. Of course, I never want another human being to be hurt because of my child(ren).

I was shocked to see that the girl appeared completely unharmed, no marks, no bruises, no blood, no tears, she did not cry, she did not complain (from what I saw), she seemed completely unfazed by an incident that may or may not have even happened.  With as intense as the situation had escalated to, I totally expected there to be at least some evidence of such accusations… some tears… something. I’m SO happy the girl was not hurt, but you know what I mean….

Did he push & kick her?

I do not know. Apollo can be quick, but I was standing right there and never saw any evidence of such accusations.  Unfortunately, Apollo’s not verbal enough to tell me what he did or didn’t do. After the situation calmed down, I asked him what had happened and all he was concerned about was the fact that his Mommy was crying.

I will note that through all the berating and belittling, I did in fact start bawling my eyes out and the sitter appeared to be proud or amused by her actions, because she laughed at me, in front of the little girl.

The drama doesn’t end there…

This issue was taken to a community forum on Facebook with 5,000+ members.  As a result of this whole discussion, many people got involved, passed judgment, offered their two-cents, and in the end such accusations ruined Apollo’s reputation. Our family was encouraged to move out of the community. I was portrayed as a negligent and incompetent parent for allowing my child with “violent and aggressive tendencies” to play at a public park. I was encouraged to rethink bringing him out in public again and also told that situations like this are exactly why parents of children like mine, don’t go out in the community and essentially isolate themselves and their kids.

Justin and I are now aware that if Apollo (a 4 year old boy) so much as looks at a child wrong and the child complains to their parent, that we can expect a lawsuit… it’s their word against a not entirely verbal autistic boy.

When an autism “expert” chimes in

A paraprofessional, who we have never met, got on the public forum and chimed in.  She  came across like she had extensive experience with children with disabilities and claimed to be employed by a prestigious school district in Colorado.  I’m 100% ok with varying and differing opinions, constructive feedback, etc.  What I found to be highly inappropriate was when she publicly referred to my 4 year old severe autistic child as a liability – having never met him before.  I also find it unsettling that any paraprofessional would portray themselves as an expert, knowing that there are DOCTORS that are perplexed with how broad and complex the Autism Spectrum is.  I do not know how much education or training she has had, but I do know that nothing a paraprofessional receives would come close to that of a doctor.

Publicly representing your employer can be damaging

Having a Masters degree in Public Administration, and having worked in healthcare and the public sector, I cannot imagine that the school district she represents is pleased with her actions on a public forum being tied to their school district. Just my opinion.

Statistics show that 1-59 people fall somewhere on the Autism Spectrum; showing how broad and complex  the Autism Spectrum is. Nobody with autism is the same, and to compare the children she worked with, in a controlled school environment 1:1, is not at all the same thing as caring for a child in public or at home.

The paraprofessional is lucky to never have worked with an aggressive, severe autistic child, like Apollo. Speaking from experience, parenting an aggressive autistic child comes with a range of challenges, and when combined with other disorders (severe ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, Apraxia) said challenges can vary day to day.  Publicly shaming the parent, when they are trying their absolute best for their child is not constructive feedback, it’s damaging; whether she intended her comments to be damaging to my son, to our family or not, they were.

When the Mother chimes in

The mother of the girl went on the public forum and put her two cents in, also – completely based on what the sitter said happened. I found it astonishing that she confidently used falsified, highly damaging “quotes”, highly damaging accusations against Apollo and I entirely based on hear-say, and then claimed that her daughter is completely fine.

From what I’ve been told, after she said her two cents, the mother discovered it was Apollo (and put a name to a face), and quickly backpedaled, offered to give Apollo a second chance to play with her daughter – I declined.  I never want either of my children around that girl, again. It’s not worth further damage and hardship. I will not risk it.CD690303-4A31-426C-89D9-D86A13455216

At what point does no REALLY mean no?

What bothers me a lot about this situation is that Apollo used his words. He said “No thank you”.  Apollo tried to the best of his ability to communicate with the girl, and she disregarded his words and his request.

In our world, when he or anyone says “No thank you”, NO MEANS NO 100% OF THE TIME – very black and white, with no exceptions.  Unfortunately, we have worked so hard to get to this point in Apollo’s life (where he uses his words and not his hands to express his wants/needs), that he does not know how to handle a situation when he uses his words, and someone disregards his words/requests.

So think about a time where you told someone NO, and they did it anyway? How did that make you feel in that moment? I can tell you that when NO is stated and disregarded, Apollo instantly gets anxious and the fight-or-flight is triggered in him. 

I feel like if Apollo was neurotypical and the little girl was atypical, that society would be outraged and demand justice. But when a severe autistic boy uses his words, says “No thank you”, and a neurotypical girl disregards it, how is it that Apollo is now being publicly labeled a liability to the community?

To me, this is NOT okay!

So is the girl completely innocent?

No, but her actions reflect what she has been taught.

Granted, most neuro-typical kids would likely adapt and overcome in a situation like this without issue, but Apollo is not neuro-typical, and one cannot assume that everyone that they come in contact with is neuro-typical, anymore with 1-59 individuals falling somewhere on the Autism Spectrum.  

The days have come and gone where parents of a-typical children are told to isolate themselves and their children – or so I thought.  More and more, society is preaching inclusivity across the spectrum of disabilities. So, the sooner one educates themselves and any children on the importance of respecting the boundaries of others 100% of the time, the better.

In this case, I feel:

  • The girl might have had limited if any experience with a severe autistic child, like Apollo.
  • In the girl’s household, no might not mean no 100% of the time, like ours.
  • There might be a lack of consistency, like we have.
  • She might be used to getting her way without consequence, unlike our house.

To be frank, I do not know her story, I do not know her parent’s parenting style – and I don’t care. I know nothing except for what I witnessed.  And this girl stood by and watched her sitter’s words and behavior toward myself and Apollo – hitting below the belt.  In that moment, I felt that her sitter (who refused to give me her name), was anti-special needs, anti-autism, and most definitely anti-Apollo.

I need not mention that children are impressionable and are sponges, and that they pick up on that type of behavior.  In my opinion, that’s a factor that can easily lead to bullying later on. At the end of the day, I cannot imagine treating another human being the way she treated my 4 year old son (whether the person is a-typical or neurotypical); there is no excuse for it. In that girl’s eyes, what happened is likely being reinforced as acceptable behavior. 

“Well, they are just kids”

I feel like society as a whole has gotten comfortable, perhaps a little lazy, and uses the phrase “well, they are just kids” too often to their advantage.  In my opinion, that phrase is not a one-size fits all, and does NOT work with an a-typical child like mine who sees everything as black and white, and who thrives on consistency and predictability.

Moving forward with our eyes wide open

At the end of the day, I learned a lot. I cried a lot. I’ve prayed a lot. And I lift this situation up to God.

Apollo’s not a monster, and regardless what did or didn’t happen, no human being deserves to be treated the way that he was that day at the park.

I already publicly apologized to the girls’ Mother if Apollo hurt her child; that apology was absolutely sincere. I also meant when I told her that I would do my best to ensure Apollo doesn’t bother her or her kids again.

I am not looking for any more issues regarding this situation, and hope someday we can all coexist in our small community – but I’m not going to hold my breath.

I really don’t want to rehash this again, but enough of my readers/supporters should be made aware of the incident, because if it can happen to Apollo, it can happen to any child.

This has been an invaluable lesson for me, and I feel like it will help me prepare for future incidents. This won’t be the last incident we ever have in public, but I hope that with each experience we can learn something and grow together.

With that said abuse is NEVER okay and aggression is NEVER okay.  Those that have seen me handle Apollo’s challenging moments/meltdowns in public. I’m firm, direct, consistent, and do my best to make any wrong, right; including apologizing.

Thankfully my friend was there, and was able to take our kids away from the confrontation, and for that I’m grateful!

Prior to the incident, Apollo asked to go to “the biggest playground”, daily. Since the incident, Apollo hasn’t asked to return to that park, once. When we drive by it he gets visibly anxious and says “want no big park” repeatedly. He appears to have been equally traumatized by the incident as I was…

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