When Ashley Wright took her two children to Riverview Park and Zoo on June 10th, she expected to see some brutish creatures – just not of the human variety. Accompanying Ashley were her children Brinlee, 11, and Logan, 13. Logan has severe autism, global developmental delay, echolalia, and possibly Tourette Syndrome. Logan also has a great love for the Riverview Zoo and was excited for a well-earned visit after a week of hard work.
When Logan needed to use the restroom and was unable to voice his need verbally at first, he became stressed and upset. Watching Ashley try to calm and meet the needs of her 6’1, 190-pound son while he tried to hurt her and himself, was a man who had an opportunity to offer compassion, but instead chose to be awful.
This man approached Ashley and yelled, “WHY DO YOU PEOPLE BRING KIDS LIKE THIS OUT IN PUBLIC? THEY RUIN SOCIETY.”
Of course, he couldn’t have been more wrong. People like him ruin society. I’d be happy to run into Logan at to zoo, but if I see this guy, I’m crossing the street. Thankfully, proving not all humans are horrible, another man who witnessed the interaction asked Ashley if she was okay, and told the jerk to F-Off.
Children like Logan are part of society. They are valuable members like any of the rest of us and deserve to be treated with the same respect as anyone else (well, perhaps with more than that jerk at the zoo.)
When people with different needs such as Logan are vocalizing differently, or are stressed by their surroundings and reacting accordingly, they are not inconveniencing us – they are communicating. When my children need to pee, they say, “I need to pee.” That’s not as easy for Logan to do, so he communicated that need to his mother in the way he knew how. There’s really no difference between the two.
Earlier this week, my kids and I were at the pediatrician’s office, and we met a boy who didn’t communicate the same way we do. He was clearly scared (you don’t need to be verbal to get your message across) and he was making noises and movements that some might consider disrupting to the peace of the room. I’m not one of those people. He was not a disruption, he was a scared child. Even my five-year-old could see that. He asked me why the boy was upset, and I told him that the boy was nervous to be at the doctor, just as he gets nervous about people and places sometimes. That was enough explanation for my kindergartner (but apparently not for some adults.)
His guardian was wonderful. She was calm and patient with him, trying to ease his fears and make him feel more comfortable. It was clear he felt safe with her, and he became visibly less distressed. But it was clear his guardian was aware and conscious of his communications potentially disturbing others in the room.
I wanted to tell her she needn’t try to stop his stimming or keep him quiet. If vocalizing or stimming helped him feel less anxious, so be it. I wanted to tell her that his comfort came well before our ability to hear the TV or look at our phones without movement in the periphery. I didn’t tell her because I was afraid she would think I was criticizing her, which of course I was not, but I hope parents and guardians of children with special needs know that their children communicating is not a disturbance and that we care about their well-being more than our convenience.
Riverview Park and Zoo agrees. Though they were in no way at fault for the harassment Ashley and her children received, they issued a statement confirming their commitment to proving a safe and enjoyable place for all families. Their message was clear: children like Logan are welcome – always. Men like that brute are not.
I think it’s time for my family to take another trip to Riverview. Logan, I hope we see you there.