PoV: Autistic community models understanding 0
Maxwell Begley's grandmother received a letter at her Newcastle, Ont., home with hateful language about Maxwell who has autism. (Craig Robertson/QMI Agency)
There has been a firestorm of public comment since it was revealed by a Newcastle, Ont., resident that her 13-year-old grandson, who lives with severe autism, was the target of a vile, unsigned letter, presumably from a neighbour.
The letter, whose disturbing contents have gone viral through social media, says the young man should be either moved from the neighbourhood or “euthanized” because his behaviour “scares the hell out of my normal children.”
Initially, the letter appeared to be so over the top some people believed it might be the product of a prankster. But police have been called in to investigate and, for now, the letter appears to be as presented, from someone who signs herself “one pissed-off mother.”
Not surprisingly, the people who seem to be the most understanding of the letter writer are the people who are either parents of an autistic child or associated with the medical condition.
Laurie Mawlam is the executive director of the Autism Canada Foundation, and she says she pities the letter’s author.
Mawlam also agrees with Durham Regional Police, who don’t consider the letter to be a hate crime.
“We want tolerance and we want understanding and compassion. (People) don’t know what it’s like to walk in their shoes,” she said Tuesday.
Parents who have a severely autistic child are faced with all types of demands and situations, but they don’t need the kind of appalling comments that were delivered to that the Newcastle grandmother last Friday. Yet, we can all learn a lesson from Mawlam’s even-handed reaction, and from the reaction of others who work with autistic children.
The incident also is a reminder that intolerance is frequently the product of ignorance and of an unwillingness to hold a healthy concern for our neighbours and their well-being. When we close our doors to the challenges faced by our neighbours and to others in our community, we close our hearts to understanding their lives.
The letter writer could have inquired further about the autistic child, rather than pouring her anger and ignorance into a letter whose contents are offensive to the vast majority of Canadians.
But Mawlam and others have shown a better way.