There was a recent controversy in my hometown (Cebu, Philippines). A mother of an autistic child wrote a review on Trip Advisor for one of Cebu’s well-known resorts. In it she wrote how a resort employee asked her to tell her son to be quiet while swimming in the pool. She said her son was “squealing with delight” which was the boy’s way of expressing his happiness. But because of the hotel employee’s prodding and her inability to quiet her son, the mom just decided to take her son back to their room.
As if the pool incident wasn’t enough for the mom to bear, a hotel’s executive callously responded to her Trip Advisor comment. The first time I read it, I was utterly speechless and disgusted. After reading it a few more times – there really isn’t any other way for me to describe it. It is purely arrogant and ignorant.
Ignorance likes this is exactly why it can feel very isolating and limiting to be a family with autism. As a family, we do not only have to be careful in selecting places to go to because it may over-stimulate Aiden. We also have to pick places to go where Hubby and I do not feel awkward or belittled or be made to feel like the biggest nuisance. It is when we are comfortable that we are able to allow Aiden to be comfortable. And I know that it’s probably not an ideal philosophy for an autism family. But it has worked for us. And we just keep working on expanding what’s comfortable for us so that we are also expanding Aiden’s exposure to different places and things.
People will stare. That’s a given. There are looks that judge. There are looks that wonder. There are looks that pity. There are looks that understand. Some people will say something. Some will ask, “Can I help you?” when they really mean, “Please take your child home already!” But then on rare and special moments, there are those who will say, “You guys are doing great. It’s okay.”
When Aiden was in kindergarten, the school nurse very casually told me, “Oh Aiden was at it again today!” She chuckled as if she was amused that my child had a hard day at school. I didn’t find it funny. Aiden’s emotions are real. And it may appear “the same” to someone who doesn’t know him and that’s okay. But diminishing his feelings for that particular time by regarding it as “the usual” is not okay.
It used to make me feel so uncomfortable addressing people when they start looking as Aiden stims, or flaps, or squeals, or yells, or screams, or drops on the floor, or cries. But now, I will simply ask to excuse us because he has special needs. And then I leave it up to people on how they continue to feel about what’s happening. My energy is focused on comforting and helping my child. It’s no longer spent on worrying about what others think. My hubby is still a work in progress on this but he has gotten so much better too. In fact, him and Aiden go out more in public than Aiden and I nowadays.
I think this establishment should really look into their facility’s accessibility to people of all ages with varying special needs including Autism. They have to pursue training as well for all of their employees. Addressing layout needs to be partnered with educating staff. And if it’s something that they aren’t willing to do as a business then they have to be very explicit about it so that guests can make an informed decision before booking.
There’s a myriad of wrong assumptions on this exec’s response to the mom. But none greater than invalidating how she felt. They did issue an apology but the exec went on to other platforms to stand by his response. He can’t help himself. He is ignorant and arrogant.
I really hope one day, we can live in a society where people do not need to experience Autism to understand Autism.