Boy with autism and his mum 'shamed and belittled' by parents at park

Photo: Kate Swensen/Facebook
Photo: Kate Swensen/Facebook 

Any parent who has a child on the autism spectrum can attest to how hard it is for other people to understand their child's behaviour. That they are neurologically different is invisible to people encountering them for the first time.

Kate Swenson has issued a heartbreaking account of how she and her 6-year-old son Cooper - who has non-verbal severe autism - were treated by another family at a local park recently. In a video posted on Facebook, she said, "I'd like to tell the story, because it's got to change - or people like me ... I will never be able to leave my home."

The pair were attending Madison's Place Playground in Woodberry, Minnesota, a playground built for children with special needs, when Cooper accidentally kicked a girl and it sent her down the slide unharmed. Kate saw it all unfold and got a shock when the girl's dad began yelling.

"Before the father even checked on the child, he yelled at me and yelled at my son. I apologised to these people five times and I tried to explain that he has severe non-verbal autism," she said.

Cooper, who didn't understand the situation, ran off and resumed playing while the man continued his tirade against Kate, ignoring her pleas for him to understand.

"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 I had to physically remove him from the special needs park."

It didn't end there. She tried to explain again when she and the man encountered each other in the carpark, but was only met with more verbal confrontation as the angry parent pointed out the playground was built for a girl with cerebral palsy, not autism.

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Devastated by the incident, the irony of it hit Kate - that it had happened during Autism Awareness Month. As she posted the video to Facebook she wrote, "You want Autism Awareness? Here it is. You tell me how we are supposed to leave our houses. Tell me how we are supposed to live in the community. I'm all ears. Because parents of kids with disabilities feel completely isolated. And it's not by our kid's disabilities. It's by the people in the world that refuse to acknowledge that our kids are part of this world."

Exhausted, she wraps up her account by saying, "Every parent is doing the best they can. We try so hard. And we have to be able to leave our houses."

"I'm scared. It's going to be a long road for us; for all these families. When you can't even go to a special needs park."

Kate is a special needs blogger. You can read her work here and also on her website, Finding Cooper's Voice.