Tuesday, July 8, 2008

If You Have Autism, You're Not Welcome

When Sarah Seymour took her daughter to Smitty's on Stony Plain Road in Edmonton's west end, her intent I am sure was just to have a nice meal with her family.  When her daughter Eowyn, discovered that her favourite food was not on the menu she became agitated.   Eowyn is not just some rowdy child who refused to behave, or one who was not being attended by a parent, she is a child that has autism.  Now I will admit that I don't know much about autism but I do know enough to realize that those that have it deserve the same respect and dignity as anyone else.  According to the National Mental Health Information Centre, "Autism, also called autistic disorder, appears in early childhood, usually before age 3 (National Institutes of Health, 2001). Autism prevents children and adolescents from interacting normally with other people and affects almost every aspect of their social and psychological development."

The restaurant was made aware that  Eowyn is autistic, and they still demanded that she leave the premises, because a customer was refusing to pay until the child was removed.  Now that this incident has been made public, the company has apologized and has pledged to raise funds for autism research.  Regardless of the good deed after the fact, what is clear is that if you have a disability, you are expected to rise above and overcome. Ssssh silence yourself, don't disturb anyone, wouldn't want anyone to know that you are alive and have the same right as anyone else to take up space in our world. We certainly cannot have our space invaded by "those people" sort of mentality is disgusting. Smitys could have asked if the family needed assistance, but instead they succumbed to the common ideology that if you have a disability you do not belong in society.  Reading the responses to this story made  clear the pervasiveness of this belief.

"I don't care if a child is autistic or what, the child needs behaviour modification. In this case, the child should have been removed from the restaurant by a parent until the child calmed down."

"I don't deny an person with a disability to the right of fair treatment. However when other patrons are in public they have rights too. When I go to any place in public I think I have the right to peace and quiet, whether a ruckus comes from a person with or with out a disability."

"I have a right to expect peace and quite, commensurate with the location, when I am eating. You do NOT have the right to disrupt my meal - disabled or not"

"The parents need a good slap in the head,bringing this all upon their head is mostly their own fault,I totally agree with :as i see it,If a person was intoxicated they would be ejected for upsetting the other patrons and apparently when your intoxicated the law states that a person is not in their right frame of mind and so be it for this child. the parents should have phoned ahead,it was least they could have done for their child"

"Sorry... having a disability gets you some basic extended rights. But its not carte blanche to run ramshot over other people. The child lost it and was being disruptive autism or NOT the child should have been removed by ONE of the parents and taken outside. The child would have and YES they always do autistic or not calmed down. They then could have been reintroduced into the situation. The parents should have engaged in some common courtesy instead of expecting society to bend to their child's disability"

"How come it is that the whole world must "accommodate" EVERYONE ALL THE TIME?? ..If I am in a restaurant, paying for a meal, with or without company I do not want to be subjected to a wailing child. The other patron had every right to state they were not okay with the environment.
It is unfortunate that this is a "special needs" child but where does that mean that everyone has to be understanding and accept the behaviour? They don't! Perhaps the restaurant was not the best environment for this child....perhaps the parents need to plan ahead and ensure that any restaurant has the required food to avoid this? I don't know but I do know that any behaviour by any person (little or otherwise) in any environment doesn't always have to be acceptable and excused!"

"Yes! I too have rights. I have the right to eat a meal in peace and quiet. Yes! The family has the right to take their special needs child out in public. Does one group's rights supercede another person's rights? Why do I have to be the accommodating one? AND if I am not the accommodating one I get myself a label. Prejudiced, racist, etc etc No.................this has got to STOP! There must be EQUAL accommodation! Am I the only person who gets this?? or questions this????? I DO NOT NEED TO CONCEDE MY RIGHTS TO ACCOMODATE THE REST OF THE PLANET ALL THE TIME!!!"

These are just a few of the offensive commentary that can be read at CBC.  The same solution to the "problem" keeps reoccurring... zero tolerance, zero understanding. I have not written a lot about disability on this blog but the death of Esmin Green made clear to me why disability is something that we all  need to pay attention to.  When we refuse to see people who are living with a form of disability whether it be physical, or mental as worthy of sharing our space we are constructing them as less than.  It is in this disharmony of worth and value that 'othering' occurs. Our ability to project difference onto others leads to dire consequences for those that are unable to fit into a model of what society has accepted as "normal."  Despite the fact that we are individuals and no true norm exists, socially what we expect is conformity to preconceived ideas of what validates personhood.

Here's my thought, so what if the environment was a little loud for your taste.  If you do not like it, then you should be the one to leave period. To expect someone with a disability to be removed from your presence because you are disturbed is the height of arrogance.  At some point we need to come to the understanding that all people matter, and everyone deserves the right take up space.


Sandalstraps said...

My wife is a behaviorist who works with autistic children. She tells me this sort of thing happens all the time!

Autism is a very misunderstood central nervous system disorder that does often manifest itself in what my wife calls "behaviors" (tantrums, outbursts, etc.)

Because people don't understand what is happening, they get nervous, and behave in irrational, bigoted, and hateful ways. There are even several active cases of abuse near where we live; teachers locking autistic children in closets, etc.

I wonder if backlash against disabled persons stems from a root fear that somehow such disabilities are contagious. And so we, how can pass for "normal," project our fears onto autistic children, attempting to quarantine them from us lest we "catch" what they've got.

Anyway, I'll send my wife a link to this post and see if she doesn't leave a comment providing some better information on autism.

William said...

At some point we need to come to the understanding that all people matter, and everyone deserves the right take up space.

Indeed. Good post.

hysperia said...

Thanks SO much for this post. My own opinion is that privileged people are used to having their wants and needs put before ANYONE else's and they get right pissed off it is suggested that the rest of us need not cater to their every whim, everywhere, all the time. Thus the squealing and whining, "What about ME!"

Sami said...

Hi, my name is Sami and my husband (sandalstraps/Chris) made an earlier comment on this blog. I work as a behaviorist for young children with autism and have worked in the field of behavior analysis with children and families for the last 8 years.

Chris sent me a link to the post due to my involvement with the children I work with. I am very disturbed, to say the least, by the responses to this story quoted in the post and am currently putting together some thoughts on this that I'll post on my blog.

Briefly I'll just say that often parents of children with autism are secluded in their own homes and taking a child out to a restaurant is the best thing they can do for them. Taking a child, any child, to a restaurant or the grocery or any other public place requires a lot of preplanning and energy. Parents do their best to preplan and control what they can. They cannot control every aspect of what is going on in the restaurant at that moment. For a child with autism a tantrum may be caused by something as small as a startling noise from the kitchen no one else heard or the cup being a different color. But for that child the best thing is to experience those environments and be with their family as they try to enjoy what families who do not have children with disabilities get to enjoy without putting much thought into it.

Thank you very much for this post I think it makes us think not only how others would react if in a similar situation but how we would react as well.

C-SNAP said...

My six-year old daughter with autism could have been the child asked to leave. This is a disability, not a choice for her. Do we really want a world where everybody is the same?

What if someone is offended by a person's race, perfume, whether they are a gay couple, or if they are over-weight? Do they think they have a right to live in such a sterile world that is padded and protected from such trivial and minor inconveniences as having your dinner disrupted by a child with autism???

Think about the child and what they must be going through, and the family. Where is the compassion? Your dinner is spoiled??? Please!

Thank you for such a warm and understanding commentary! I will pass this along to others!

Kev said...

As parent to an autistic 8 year old - thank you.

julie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
julie said...

I deleted the last comment to fix a word missing... lol


Where do I start? It is part of being a parent to put your all into raising your children.

But things have changed when it comes to being parents.

Only 30 years ago did families stop being lots of kids and just a couple. Now many have only one child.

Anyhow, all those with young children, ... wait till they are in their 20's. lol

There have been a couple of cases won in America to say 'Autism' is coming from the medical injections we give our children as babies.

Don't worry ... the pharmaceutical industry is used to having groups come at them. Crikeys, only 25 years ago they were giving women who were pregnant "A morning sickness pill" that created heaps of babies with arms or legs missing or just parts like the forearm ... having fingers on their elbows or no arms or legs whatsoever or/and internal parts affected like babies with holes in their heart.

Many of these experimental babies were not meant to live long. That was bad for that group. Thank God it was already off the market when I was pregnant.

We have a huge amount of kids with "Autism" in NZ. People from all levels are starting to ask questions.

lyndorr said...

Wow. Those comments are disturbing. And don't people know what rights are? Having a quiet meal in public is a privilege, not a right. From some of the comments, you would think people are accommodating disabled people every day in a way that bothers them which I'm sure is not true.

Renee said...

I wish that I could report that the comments got better as the day progressed but unfortunately the only got worse. It is clear a lot of work needs to be done with disability and privilege. Some people are just so into themselves that they don't see the larger picture.

Yoo said...

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, being autistic is no fault of the autistic person. On the other hand, other patrons of a private establishment are justified in expecting a mood fitting to the establishment. (As for this being a privilege, not a right, the same goes the other way; an autistic person visiting a private establishment is also a privilege, not a right.)

If there were some inexpensive way that unruly autistic people could be accommodated, then that would be ideal (quiet autistic people don't need special accommodations, of course, at least in terms of disturbances).

I don't know if there is such a way, though. Perhaps mandate private rooms? I don't know if there is a feasible way to provide such accommodations without incurring too high a cost.

Someone needs to invent a cone of silence ...

Sandalstraps said...


I should probably let Sami speak to this, since she's the expert (whereas I'm just the guy who lives with the expert and sometimes absorbs a little something when I have the sense to ask, "How was work today, dear?) but...

quiet autistic people don't need special accommodations, of course, at least in terms of disturbances

I hate to get bogged down in semantics, but I think that the way that we phrase things matters a great deal. There are no "quiet" or "loud" autistic people. There are no "calm" or "disruptive" autistic people. There are persons with autism, who behave in a quiet way or a loud way, who may be engaged in "disruptive" behaviors, or who may not be.

Tossing out a handy label like "quiet autistic person," while obviously a well-intentioned attempt to negotiate a tricky social situation, can be problematic because it creates a false binary category: quiet v. loud, calm v. disruptive.

This participates in the marginalization of autistic persons by labeling some (and, I would argue, eventually all or almost all) as uniquely problematic. And of course such problematic persons stand in need of some solution - in this case banishment.

And, make no mistake, that's what happened here. A person was banished because they made others uncomfortable, and because they were vulnerable enough not to be able to resist their banishment.

Yoo said...

My point, regardless of whether there are "quiet" or "noisy" autistics (I'm just an ignoramus on autism in general), is that the restaurant was perfectly in their rights to remove a person causing a disturbance, no matter what the cause is, be it autism, PTSD, simple rudeness, ADHD, etc.

(In a rather contrived example, I wouldn't let some crazy person hold dozens of people at gunpoint in a restaurant simply because they suffer from a mental illness. Mental illness is not what I would eject the person for, threatening other people would be.)

I do abhor the attitude some people show, and think that the girl deserves a sympathetic attitude, but she was actively causing harm to others (in this case, causing a disturbance). If this were a case of surrounding people being uncomfortable simply because of who she is, then I'd say they should just bear with it, but this wasn't the case, at least from what I can see.

I'd prefer if some sort of accommodation was made for people like Eowyn, perhaps private rooms or noise cancellers or whatever, just like visual aids or hearing aids are provided during public events instead of ear-splitting volume amplification to accommodate those that are hard of hearing.

I just don't know whether providing such accommodations is feasible or not. (I certainly hope so.) And yes, they should have asked if they could have helped first before demanding them to leave.

Sandalstraps said...


I'm certainly not trying to pick on you; I have a great deal of sympathy for the point you're trying to make. But here are some important questions to be considered when we're comparing competing claims to rights:

If the child is allowed to stay while the family works through the tantrum, who is harmed, and what is the nature of that harm?

If the child is forcefully removed from the restaurant, who is harmed, and what is the nature of the harm?

It seems more harm is done, to persons who are considerably more vulnerable and thus able to appeal more legitimately for protection from harm, in the later situation than in the former. What, after all, is the harm done by having to temporarily hear a child pitch a fit? It is certainly difficult to quantify.

The harm done to the child and her parents, however, is much more easily quantified. The child is denied a therapuetic opportunity to work through an aversive situation. The parents are denied yet another opportunity to engage in social behavior, temporarily escaping from the isolation imposed on so many families with persons affected by autism.

For anyone with any kind of liberative ethic (an ethic that favors the vulnerable, the marginalized, the outcast) this is a very simple moral dilemma. No claim to the right to eat a completely undisturbed meal trumps the claim of the right of a family with an autistic child to engage in social behavior, and to attempt to negotiate a difficult outburst without shame, ostracization, etc.

Renee said...

@Yoo the solution to the problem is a very simple one. If the person felt that their meal had been disrupted they should have left.
I'd prefer if some sort of accommodation was made for people like Eowyn, perhaps private rooms or noise cancellers or whatever, just like visual aids or hearing aids are provided during public events instead of ear-splitting volume amplification to accommodate those that are hard of hearing.
What you are suggesting is not an accommodation. You are suggesting a separate area for her...Do you not believe that she has the same right to occupy space as the able bodied? This is a sign of unacknowledged privilege.

GallingGalla said...

My response to this is rather complex, and shaped by both having a disability and my ablism.

I have Asperger's Syndrome, which is a condition on the autism spectrum. One feature of this, for me (and many others with Asperger's) is something called Sensory Integrative "Disorder", which in a restaurant situation, means that I *cannot* filter out noise. I won't be "disruptive" in that situation, but you might see my eyes glaze over as I tune out and shut down.

That noise can be coming from an autistic child having a meltdown. (I have meltdowns as part of Asperger's). My reaction tends to be the same as Yoo's, I'm afraid ... can't I have some peace and quiet? But that reaction is complicated by the fact that noise causes me mental distress, not just discomfort.

I cannot control the fact that noise (screams, yelling, etc) is truly distressing to me (as it is, apparently, to Eowyn). But, since I can control, to some extent, how I react to that distress, then Renee has the answer: "If you do not like it, then you should be the one to leave period."

I can pay my bill, calmly ask the server to package my meal, and calmly walk out, get to a private space, and have my meltdown if I need to ... and Eowyn can have hers.

Yoo...you don't know what it is like to be autistic; you're treating it like the kid (and / or her parents) is being truant. Just because my autism is "milder" or "high functioning" (I hate terms like that) and I have partial control over my response to noise (and other disturbances) doesn't mean every autistic has that level of control. Example: When a car alarm goes off incessently, I'll be like Eowyn. Deal with it.

Larry Geater said...

The fredom of a society is best measured by how the excentric and the different are treated. If you cannot tolerate a little disturbance you are not fit to participate in a free society.

Yoo said...

To be perfectly clear, I am not considering Eowyn to be any sort of truant or in any way to be at fault. (If I did, I would have said that they should have locked her up for a day. Obviously, I don't think this way.) And don't try to assume what I can or can't understand; you don't know if I have any mental issues or other disabilities that may or may not be comparable with autism.

There are many other sorts of disabilities which could cause a disturbance at a private establishment. Out of control alcoholics, while in the long-term could improve their condition, can hardly control themselves or restrain from alcohol. Some people have a pathological inability to control anger. Others just cannot pay attention. Should everyone just accept it if these people start a disturbance and don't stop? (OK, maybe we should ...)

Having been restrained and ejected for being out of control myself in the past, I don't blame them (and no, I am not going to divulge any details, except that I wasn't entirely in control). I am in fact glad that they restrained me, since later on I felt guilty about annoying the people around me and once even almost caused bodily harm. (Hopefully that last will never happen again.)

While I approve of accommodating disabilities as much as one can, I just think that it's totally unreasonable to expect everyone to be infinitely patient and accommodating. Although I do leave an establishment if someone is causing a disturbance rather than have them remove the person, I can't blame others for not following suit.

Yoo said...

On second thought, maybe you're all right and I'm completely wrong. Having been ejected could be yet another reason why I'm so messed up ...

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but I really have to disagree with this.

It's not the child's fault she's autistic, and of course she deserves some measure of integration with the larger world.

But when her behavior is disruptive, the parents have a responsibility to remove her from the situation. Not just for the sake of being respectful of everyone else around them but because obviously, the child herself is unhappy in that situation, and would be happier elsewhere.

These situations are almost never about what's right for the child, but about what the parents want. And in this case, it seems to be selfish parents who thought that they deserved to be in a restaurant even when their child was clearly upset by being there.

So no, I don't blame the child, and I don't blame the restaurant. I blame the parents who seem to think that the responsibility for managing their child's comfort level lies with anyone but themselves.

Like it or not, when you have children, your life changes. No, you DON'T get to go out to eat all the time. You DON'T get to go to the movies all the time. Those are limitations you need to accept before you ever decide to have kids. And that goes for any parent of any child of any ability level.

The other patrons were disrupted. The child was unhappy. The restaurant lost money. And all because of parents who were too selfish to accept the responsibilty they have.

Andee J. said...

But when her behavior is disruptive, the parents have a responsibility to remove her from the situation. Not just for the sake of being respectful of everyone else around them but because obviously, the child herself is unhappy in that situation, and would be happier elsewhere.

Yes, and I think that's the point that's getting lost here. I'm Aspie. If I saw an autistic kid screaming and having a fit and not being taken out of the restaurant, my thought would not be, "Poor me, I don't get to enjoy my privileged little meal out in peace and quiet," but, "Why on earth are they having that poor girl sit there and suffer through a meal that's she's obviously not enjoying?"

Not taking her out was not for her benefit, as she clearly WANTED to leave. It was for her (likely neurotypical) PARENTS' benefit. If she was loudly having a good time that would be one thing. But the people you quoted, although they are being shitheads about how they express it, are not wrong to be adversely reacting to the girl's distress and her parents' apparent obliviousness to it.

ibsulon said...

I am CF and a VHEMT supporter. On my reading of this issue, the problem is that it is a child, not that it is an *autistic* child. If the situations is explained that there is a momentary interruption because an autistic child is having sensory overload, I'll be understanding.

However, we've been conditioned by bad parents who tolerate this behavior from neurotypical children, or even non-neurotypical with disabilities only tangentally related to the behavior issue.

Similarly, I'll be pissed at a pedestrian if they walk out in front of my car. If there is a mental condition (a suicidal individual, for example) I'm more likely to be understanding. I understand this disclosure has the potential for embarassment, but are you telling me that I should sit through every neurotypical child's temper tantrum because they might be autistic or otherwise disabled? Baloney, and we do a disservice to the neurotypical children if we allow them to do so for fear of the autistic exception.

Anonymous said...

I'm extremely pleased to find this website. I wanted to thank you for your time for this fantastic read!! I definitely loved every bit of it and i also have you bookmarked to look at new things on your blog.