On the eve of April, Autism Awareness month, one mom experienced something that she's been dreading for the past six years. The timing wasn't lost on Kate when for the first time in her child's life, she and her boy with severe autism were publicly shamed and belittled for his disability.
Instead of staying silent after this heartbreaking interaction with another family, Cooper's mom is sharing an important message about her pain in hopes of bringing some awareness and compassion for autism families - especially this time of year. "The world has to get better . . . I have never apologized more than I did to this family and they made me feel like we didn't belong and that we shouldn't be there."
She explained that the incident occurred when she took 6-year-old Cooper to his favorite place in the world, a park built for special needs families. According to Kate, Cooper was rolling on the slide when he accidentally kicked a little girl, which caused her to slide down the slide. "I watched the whole thing happen, I was right there and immediately I was next to the family," she said in an emotional video on Facebook. "Before the father even checked on the child, he yelled at me and yelled at my son. I apologized to these people five times and I tried to explain that he has severe, nonverbal autism."
According to Kate, Cooper didn't understand, so he ran off and continued to play, but the little girl wasn't crying or hurt. However, this fact and her profuse apologies weren't enough for the family who didn't seem to understand - or care - about her son's disability. "They proceeded to yell at me and ask what was wrong with my kid and what were we doing there . . . at the park for disabled children," she said. "I couldn't speak. I had told them that he has autism, I tried to explain it and it wasn't enough. They continued to yell at me and I found my son, who was having the time of his life and had to physically remove him from the special needs park."
At this point, Kate was furious over the way they were treated and saw the couple again in the parking lot. She approached them and apologized for a sixth time, also trying to explain that he didn't even see their daughter and that it was an accident. Yet, they continued to shame her as they stood next to the sign explaining that the playground is for kids with special needs and was built for a girl with cerebral palsy.
As she cried on the way home, she had a startling thought that she'll never be able to comfortably leave the house with Cooper until the world changes. "How's that for spreading autism awareness? Another one gives up," she said. "We're never going to leave the house because people out there treat us like monsters."
But for Cooper's sake, Kate isn't going to give up on her son and hopes the world catches up quickly on behalf of all kids with disabilities and their families. "I am so sorry that my son pushed a little girl. No one feels it more than me," she said. "Cooper is not a monster, he doesn't even know. I'm doing the best I can - every parent is doing the best they can and we are trying so hard and we have to be able to leave our houses. I'm scared, it's going to be a long road for all of us and these families when you can't even go to a special needs park."