End of the quarter. No school. Busy toddler. Cold snowy day.
Open gym at a local gymnastics studio seemed like a decent idea. One of Max's classmates, A, went last week, and his mom said that they had a really nice experience. It was a huge warehouse with all of the gymnastics equipment and tumbling mats, wedges, circles etc. set up for the kids to go nuts. Today, since there was no school for a lot of kids, was insane- to put it nicely. But I was expecting that.
When Max's friend was there last week, the instructors held a circle time with parachute activity, etc. For an autistic child, circle times are extremely stressful and generally out of the question in a situation like this. So last week, when the situation presented itself, Max's friend continued playing on the mats and doing his own thing. When approached by an instructor, his mom explained that circle time was not a realistic expectation for him and they were very understanding. A couple of other kids with autism were also there and not interested in group time. No one had an issue with these children not participating. A's mom told me what a great place it was for our kids and we made plans to meet there this morning.
When Max and I arrived, it was crawling with other preschoolers. It was crazy. And loud. It took us ten minutes just to get checked in and hand over our $8. Despite the number of people and new place, Max did ok. He immediately found a part of the gym that wasn't very populated and happily did own thing. Eventually, he made it over to the busier activities. Several activities required Max to wait his turn, which is very hard for him. This place definitely required me to keep him within arms reach so he didn't crawl right over another child. A's mom and I do not have the luxury of standing on the side lines, sipping our coffee and chit-chatting while our children independently play. We are there. Micromanaging. On offense. On defense. We just didn't know how much we would have to on defense today.
So all was well until the cow bell rang signaling... DUN-DUN-DUN.... circle time. A's mom and I looked at each other- a little relieved. While all of the other children willing participated in circle time, our kids could play peacefully on the gym equipment- which was by the way, off to the side, around a little corner... The relief of sudden openness and backing off of their mom's was instantly seen on their little faces. Until SHE arrived. I will refer to her as D-bag.
D-bag told us that the boys needed to go over to circle time with everyone else. A's mom explained that our boys had autism and that neither had the ability to sit and participate in such an activity. The lady rudely responded that it wasn't a choice. They had to go. I had walked Max over to the circle time area and he wouldn't even sit down, staying in that area was not an option. A's mom said that they had been there last week and the boys were allowed to play quietly off to the side. D-bag said they should not have allowed it. Because all of the instructors were doing circle time, there was no one to supervise the boys. This was a funny point because since we'd arrived at the madhouse- not a single instructor had even glanced our way. We didn't need them. Max and A weren't exactly doing back flips off the high bars. They were playing on mats and wedges.
A's mom and I were very adamant that due to their autism, our boys would not and COULD NOT participate in circle time. It would be a screaming disaster and that situations like this provoke indescribable amounts of anxiety for our boys. And since we were never told that circle time (which is stupid during OPEN gym anyways) was a mandatory part of open gym- they shouldn't have to partake. (And PS, for Max, if we went to open gym regularly and he wasn't forced to do circle time, he would probably eventually do it for at least a short time anyways.)
Then she said it.
D-bag told us that, "Well then YOUR boys can go to the lobby."
That's right. Because our kids have a disability that prevent them from participating in the circle time activity, they were not allowed in the same room anymore. They were to be banished to the lobby.
Cue the flames shooting out of A's mom's ears and my mouth dropping to the floor. I was in shock that she had just said that. A's mom said, "You know that's discrimination right?" D-bag didn't care. We told her that she was excluding our children because of a diagnosed medical/behavioral issue- just to make sure she understood. She said pretty much said those were our options and that's it. We said we wanted our money back (Max and I had only been there a half hour), we wanted to talk to whoever was in charge and that we would be filing complaints. She gave us a snarl and said, "Go ahead." And walked away.
We were stunned. Max was mad we had to leave and protested, but eventually obliged when I told him we would go to see Grams and Gramps. A, however, had a giant meltdown. He hadn't been there long and was unfairly being told to leave now. We asked to speak to someone besides D-bag, and a very nice and apologetic woman came over to give us our money back and smooth things over. She said that we should have never been told that and that if we ever come back, they would make sure things went better. However, she mentioned that it might be best for our kids to come to a special needs class on Weds. morning. First, our kids have school then. Second, I don't want him to have to go to a "special needs" class, I want him to participate in open gym with all of the other kids. Just because he does have this disability doesn't mean he should have to go sit in a different area of the gym and it doesn't mean that he has to take a special class just to use their equipment, when all of the other kids can use it during open gym.
At this point, I had to leave because I could sense Max approaching the dreaded meltdown point. But A's mom stayed and I guess D-bag begrudgingly came over and delivered a very forced and rude "sorry." A's mom said it resembled a sibling being forced by mom to apologize to their brother or sister. Totally insincere.
A's mom has already filed her complaint and I will be doing the same this weekend. Making a big deal out of something like this is not something I want to be involved in- it's the last thing I want to deal with actually. And I don't think the whole studio has this discriminating attitude that D-bag did. But D-bag needs to be dealt with. So that our kids don't have to deal with something like this ever again and that some other unsuspecting family doesn't walk into the same situation.
I don't want special treatment for my child, I want fair treatment. If a child came in that was born with one arm and the instructors were to decide that circle time meant taking turns swinging on the rings, would that child be told to wait in the lobby because he or she couldn't do the rings? I doubt it. Public places adapt themselves to be accessible to people with certain disabilities by adding wheelchair ramps, automatic doors, wide doorways, etc. ATMs have braille. Certain situations utilize subtitles. Hell, some places even use more than one language to accommodate those that don't speak English.
Generally speaking, you can't tell someone has autism by looking at them. I don't know how many time we've been told that "I can't even tell he has autism." This drives me CRAZY!! Autism doesn't have "look." A lot of times you can't notice anything different until Max is put into a certain situation and certain stressors are presented. My kid isn't a brat. I wish he wouldn't sit in circle time because he was a brat. That would be awesome. But he's not a brat. He has sensory and neurological issues that he cannot control. So don't punish him for that.
I didn't think we would have to deal with a situation like this until Max was older. And I was shocked to be put in this position at a preschool open gym. I guess "open" gym isn't so open after all.