A Frightening lesson in Autism Awareness

Last week Malcolm, Bethany, Jeremiah, and I stepped through the back entrance to our somewhat local art museum and proceeded to provide an extremely frightening lesson in autism awareness for the employees who work there!.

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For reasons known only to Bethany, she immediately went into “shut down” mode. She SILENTLY and without fanfare sat down on the floor in an out of the way corner in one of the museum’s hallways and covered her eyes.
Then she proceeded to lie down in the hall way, still silently and without a creating a disturbance.
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We were grateful that she was not causing a scene! Sensing that she just needed a few minutes to compose herself. Malcolm and I made the decision that Jeremiah and I should continue on through the museum while he waited for Bethany to go through the transition from being a passenger in the car to becoming a museum visitor.

Unbeknownst to me, while Jerry and I were merrily strolling our way through the museum’s exhibits, several of the employees respectfully inquired of Malcolm if everything was alright. My husband explained that everything was fine, that Beth had autism and just needed a few quiet moments undisturbed to gather herself together. Then she fell asleep on the floor in that same out of the way corner of the museum hallway.  (*We have since come to understand that this type of behavior is actually an indication that Bethany had experienced a seizure.)

Jeremiah and I quickly went through the whole museum. My husband and Bethany never joined us. When we returned to the hallway, they were gone.

We found them sitting in the car in the parking lot. My husband then began to recount to me all that had transpired in our absence.

A supervisor of the museum had decided that Bethany’s SILENT and unobtrusive behavior was unacceptable. She threatened that Malcolm better get her out of the museum or she would call the authorities to have her physically removed from the premises!

It was even suggested that he leave her sleeping on the floor ALONE with the security guard while he went out to the parking lot to retrieve the car and bring it closer to the door of the museum to make dragging her out of it easier!

Thank God that Bethany woke up and then calmly and cooperatively, at Malcolm’s suggestion, they both exited the museum and waited for us in the car!

The Supervisor’s reaction to Bethany’s autistic moment was rude, insensitive, and disturbing to say the least!

Forcibly removing Bethany from the museum would most likely have sent her into a full blown, knock down, drag out, kicking and screaming fight. A fight which might have resulted in a scene frighteningly similar to the one that Robert Saylor experienced when he was murdered by the police for refusing to leave a movie theater.

I sent a message saying as much to the museum.

I received a message back from the president’s assistant saying that he was very concerned and wanted me to call him. Since it was my husband who had really experienced the situation, he called the president back and explained everything that had transpired. The president, who also just so happens to be on the board of the United Cerebral Palsy Association was appalled at his employee’s behavior. He apologized and let us know that he had just arranged for the Cerebral Palsy Association to teach and train his employees about autism and how to better handle situations such as this one!!

Just one more small step in bringing awareness of the issues that plague special needs individuals to the public eye!

How apropos of this incident to have  happened during Autism Awareness Month!!

Autism is not going away. With current estimates being that 1 in 50 children are diagnosed with autism, it is crucial that the mainstream population be educated not only about autism, but about disability issues in general.

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26 thoughts on “A Frightening lesson in Autism Awareness

  1. Some people are just so ignorant towards those with special needs! I’m so glad that this story has a happy ending though, and I love the president’s reaction!! Thanks for sharing.

    1. I’m so very glad and grateful that it didn’t turn ugly and also glad that something will be done about it. Hopefully no other person with autism will ever go through that kind of treatment again!

  2. Wow! I’m glad that the President called you back and worked on resolving the issue and I’m glad Bethany walked out on her own lessoning the situation that could have been. Bless you, you have so much on your plate. Hang in there!!

  3. Sorry to hear about your husbands experience but glad the president talked with him. It’s nice to see that they will be doing some training and maybe react more appropriately next time.

  4. You know, I think it’s AWESOME that Bethany was able to recognize and do what she needed to get through the situation is a calm, collected matter. Oftentimes kids simply get to overwhelmed and can’t do that. It took a lot of control on her part. What an accomplishment!

    My youngest son doesn’t have Autism, but he does have Sensory Processing Disorder. When he was younger, before extensive therapy, he would have some serious, disruptive meltdowns dealing with sights, sounds and movement. We’ve found ourselves in quiet, dim corners of museums more than once for him to calm down and sometimes even sleep. Dealing with the world was exhausting. Never has anyone told us to leave however. I’m glad that the assistant recognized a need for change.

    1. Yes Jessy, it did take a tremendous amount of energy for Bethany to control herself. She has, many time in the past had total, massive, and violent outbursts. We were extremely thankful that she didn’t lose it like that at the museum. Who knows what might have happened!

  5. It is sad that this thing happened to you. I am surprise that the supervisor is insensitive for not accepting Bethany’s situation. I am glad that the president showed his concern, offered an apology and even suggested if the employees should undergo seminar. I am glad that everything went well with the day inside the museum.

    1. In the end everything did turn out okay. A lesson was learned and awareness was made! Now hopefully compassion will grow! Thanks for your comments, Sarah!

  6. Thank you for posting this, it touched me. As you say, ironic that it happened during Autism Awareness Month! My son does not have autism (so far as we are aware) but does have sensory processing disorder. He finds places like museums and galleries very overwhelming. Unlike Bethany, he is usually very loud in his reactions, so dealing with myself first so that I can be there for him is very important. If I’m busy worrying what other people are thinking (that I’m a bad mother and what’s an 8 year old boy doing having a “tantrum” like that, etc) I’m not present to support him.
    I’m sorry your family had this experience, but glad some good has come of it in the form of the training.

    1. It’s sad but true that special kids and special parents are sometimes judged pretty harshly. Bethany is known for her tendency to have violent tantrums in public and it’s not at all fun. thanks for stopping by, Lula! I appreciate it and your comment!

  7. Congrats on your success!

    People with interests in different disabilities definitely need to band together to create the kind of change we all want to see to make the lives of the people we care about richer, fuller, and more accepted.

  8. Oh my gosh, I am appalled that the museum employees were such jerks! Unbelievable and sad and scary and some people just suck!! However, I am very glad that you “fought back” and contacted the museum and that their employees will be trained in dealing with autism and other disabilities. I hope that the president had a good talking-to to the employee who suggested you should “drag her out” of the museum. Thanks for doing one more thing to raise awareness for our kids.

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