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Adapting to the world or having the world adapt to you?

By Christine Castellano

Content Warning: Physical abuse of a disabled person

As an autism parent this is something that I struggle with immensely. My son has been in therapy since he was born due to feeding issues which turned into speech, then into ABA therapy by the time he was 2 years old. Giving him support and strategies for dealing with the outside world has always been at the forefront of my mind. He does very well with extra curricular activities and I have found programs and made modifications that support him. He’s enrolled in a bridge karate class, he takes piano lessons and he plays on a special needs baseball team. These are all activities in which I have some level of control with the person in charge where I can assure my son is in a safe environment where he can achieve success.

Where I have no control of other people’s actions is the outside world. We have had our fair share of public meltdowns and the stares from strangers. I have learned how to have a thick skin and ignore (even if it’s hard!).

My family decided to take a cruise this summer with a well known autism group on a major cruise line, Royal Caribbean. I spent the weeks prior preparing Andrew for the cruise with videos, social stories and pictures. Boarding the ship, Andrew became overstimulated fast and ended up having a very hard time going through security. This was unexpected as we have been on many trips before and Andrew has done wonderful. At one point while almost boarding the ship, Andrew’s meltdown caused him to fall to the floor at my feet. A pier worker comes up to Andrew and myself and tells me he needs to get up. I acknowledge her and tell her I am trying to help him. She proceeds to bend down as if to pick him up. He senses she is invading her space and he goes to kick her in the shin and she SLAPS him on the back. Right before my eyes, a grown woman slaps a child who is having a meltdown right in front of their mother. At first, I was too stunned to say anything or do anything. It wasn’t until I looked at Andrew and saw his face change. His facial expression went from being overstimulated to being fearful. Needless to say our family vacation was ruined.

It has been a few months since this incident and we are still trying to open up communication about sensitivity training for people with disabilities with these two major companies. However I ask myself, when is enough enough? Myself and Andrew’s team have worked tirelessly trying to give him strategies to adapt to the outside world, when does the outside world adapt to him?


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