Sign warning drivers about child with autism vandalized over controversial wording

A Michigan mother posted street signs to warn drivers that her son with autism, may be outside. Someone changed her grammar, ruining her sign. (Photo: Courtesy of Maggie Sharon).
A Michigan mother posted street signs to warn drivers that her son with autism, may be outside. Someone changed her grammar, ruining her sign. (Photo: Courtesy of Maggie Sharon).

A neighborhood sign warning drivers to avoid a child with autism were tampered with over a mother’s controversial wordage.

Six-year-old Austin Sharon of Garden City, Mich., was diagnosed with autism as a toddler and even with behavioral therapy, he’s started running out his front door without his parents’ approval.

“You can imagine that even using quickly the bathroom is stressful,” mother Maggie Sharon tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

Worried that Austin could get hit by a car, the family added extra locks and an alarm system to their home. Last year, they also installed two signs on either end of their block that read, “Autistic Child In Area” purchased by a local charity called Taking Action for Friends Family and Youth.

Six-year-old Austin Sharon has autism and tends to run outside without permission. His family installed street signs to warn drivers, one of which was defaced by a stranger. (Photo: Courtesy of Maggie Sharon)
Six-year-old Austin Sharon has autism and tends to run outside without permission. His family installed street signs to warn drivers, one of which was defaced by a stranger. (Photo: Courtesy of Maggie Sharon)

The signs afforded a small peace of mind until Monday when Maggie saw that one was covered up with yellow tape and the edit, “Child with Autism In Area.”

Maggie only wanted to be concise, but she touched upon a larger debate over how to refer to diagnosed people: Autistic person or person with autism?

According to a blog post re-published by the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, some favor the term “autistic” to recognize autism as “an inherent part of an individual’s identity” similar to descriptives like “Muslim” or “African-American.”

The post reads, “On the other hand, many parents of autistic people and professionals who work with autistic people prefer terminology such as ‘person with autism,’ ‘people with autism,’ or ‘individual with ASD; because they do not consider autism to be part of an individual’s identity…They want ‘person-first language,’ that puts ‘person’ before any identifier such as “autism,” in order to emphasize the humanity of their children.”

A stranger in Michigan changed the wording on a safety sign to protect a child with autism. Now, the boy's mother is upset. (Photo: Courtesy of Maggie Sharon).
A stranger in Michigan changed the wording on a safety sign to protect a child with autism. Now, the boy's mother is upset. (Photo: Courtesy of Maggie Sharon).

Altered, the sign is wordy and less readable. The vandalism is also a new distraction. And because the sign is made with reflective material, the words on the tape are completely blacked out in the evening.

Maggie ripped the tape off her sign and hopes the stranger stays away.

“My instincts say whoever changed the sign doesn’t have a child with autism,” Maggie says. “But it could also be a parent dealing with a new diagnosis — which is a scary and touchy time. Everyone has their own way of dealing with it and I respect the person’s opinion.”

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