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Autistic families removed from restaurant, airplane

Anywhere you go in public, it seems, there’s a wild child controlling her parents. Last week, two events have unfolded leaving many heads shaking, eyebrows raised and fingers pointed.

First, a woman was not allowed to board her connecting flight from Detroit to Seattle. As reported by local news outlets and cnn.com, Wendy Slaughter admitted that her four children were out of control between Detroit and Phoenix, and that flight attendants had asked her to get them settled down. But she was caught off guard when she was not allowed to get on the plane in Phoenix.

Then, a family was asked to leave a family restaurant in Canada after a fellow patron complained. Apparently, Sarah Seymour’s five year old girl started throwing a fit when she learned that her favorite meal was not on the menu that night.

What connects these two stories is not just a “bratty” kid, but a child living with Autism.

The conversations I have heard about these stories seem to revolve around whether or not the moms should have been able to control their children, and who bore the burden of responsibility. I think I see both sides of it.

I do not have an autistic child, but I have had very close contact with several, and I have done enough research to know that parents of these children can’t always employ the same discipline techniques that other parents can use. But I have also been in a restaurant and on an airplane with children who drove me crazy, and I know that autistic children are very able to understand consequences.

So, who was at fault here? Both moms asked for apologies. Ms. Slaughter received a refund of her ticket price (after leaving her stranded), but no “sorry.” Ms. Seymore did receive a public apology (after the manager suggested the autistic child should not be out in public), as well as a promise from the restaurant to better train their employees about autism and raise money for autism research.

Do parents of autistic children bear the burden of ensuring that their kids do not ever make other people uncomfortable? Certainly that is part of the goal for all children, especially autistic kids who tend to have outbursts. But do the companies also share the burden to accommodate all of their patrons–regardless of disability?

In the end, I do think that it was the parents’ responsibility to make sure their children were up for the challenge. But I also think that people could be a little more understanding of a family that clearly is trying to teach a child how to interact with the public. How else will they learn?

What do you think? Were the airline and restaurant in the wrong for being intolerant toward a child with a disability? Or were they right for protecting the interests of dozens or hundreds of other patrons?


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