Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Response to Cincinnati Radio Broadcast

On July 14th, radio host Mike McConnell of the Cincinnati station WLW 700 discussed a recent incident in which a family in South Carolina was told to leave a restaurant because their four-year-old autistic child was crying loudly. Several people called in to comment on the program, including some who were obviously uninformed about autism and who suggested that autistic children did not belong in public places or in mainstream schools. Here is a link to the podcast.

ASAN Southwest Ohio sent the following letter to Mr. McConnell to express our concerns. For those who may also wish to contact Mr. McConnell about the program, is the address where he can be reached.

Dear Mr. McConnell,

We are writing to you on behalf of the Southwest Ohio chapter of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN). ASAN is an international organization that seeks to improve the representation of the autistic community in public policy discussions, to advance the autistic culture movement, and to raise awareness of civil rights issues that affect the autistic population.

Regarding your July 14th discussion of autistic children at restaurants, we are concerned that the tone of the comments suggested that some listeners might have thought you were advocating exclusion of autistic children from public establishments. Although we realize that this probably was not the intended message, we would appreciate it if you could issue a clarification to ensure that your listeners do not have the wrong impression.

Autism is not a static condition. Autism at age 5 does not look the same as autism at age 25 or age 50. Many autistic children outgrow their behavioral problems and become successful later in life. Autistic children, like any other young children, need opportunities for social interaction in public places so that they can learn proper behavior and become integrated into the community. Placing autistic children in restrictive and isolating environments only causes the child's social skills to deteriorate. This applies to restaurants, churches, and even mainstream education.

Also, forcibly removing someone else's autistic child from a public place is counterproductive on many levels. In addition to depriving the child of much-needed social interaction, it will increase the child's stress level and make the situation much worse. The child's feelings should be considered, in addition to the feelings of the other patrons. The child is indeed under stress, likely due to sensory overload, and a more gentle approach will help relieve some of this stress and make the situation better for everyone.

Perhaps the most dangerous thing an autistic child can learn when forcibly removed from a public place is that a stranger apparently has the right to discipline someone else's children.

Please help us to spread a message of inclusion and tolerance.


r.b. said...

We can help. When you see someone who may be autistic melting down, ask. Give support to the parents, and the child. All it takes is one supportive voice to quiet the maddening crowd. I did this at Wal-mart, and it was one of the most freeing things I had ever done in my life. You could see the parent's pain at being judged melt, and their son was so distracted he quieted down.

JohnnyQ said...

It is funny, you mis-quote Mike, as you are claiming things that he did not say. Mikes point is that if kids are disruptive, they need to leave, even if they have autism. There is nothing wrong with what he said, what ever happened to the right of the public. It is not my responsibility to deal with someone be disruptive, I and other have the right to a calm and non-disruptive life, if i choose.