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!.
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.
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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