A sad reality of our world is that people have an incredible capacity for cruelty, especially toward those who are different from them. And that is certainly the case about one set of parents whose horrible and discriminatory decision left another mom in outrage.
When Lacy Brandenburg’s autistic son, Ashton, returned home from playing with a friend, he gave her a note that turned out to be from his friend’s mother. As Brandenburg scanned the handwritten note on lined paper, the Des Moines, Iowa, mom felt herself wanting to cry.
It opened with “I am sorry but after speaking with my husband we don’t feel that your son playing with ours is such a good idea.”
The mother—whom Brandenburg has generously kept anonymous—goes on to explain that while Ashton was at her house over Christmas break, she was bothered by the fact that he wanted to play with toys and watch cartoons that were “that of a 3-5 year old,” whereas she wants her own son to engage in activities that are age-appropriate. Along the same vein, the letter-writer was also concerned about Ashton’s hand-flapping, worried her own son would start doing it, too.
“I know he has a disability but we feel his disability may hold our son’s level of comperhansion [sic] life, his communication, socialization, and learning level may be at risk if playing and being around Ashton continues,” she wrote. And then after conceding that Ashton’s behavior and manners were wonderful, she nevertheless drops one last and particularly hurtful bomb: “Please keep your son away from ours so ours are not picking up the idea that playing with toys or watching cartoons younger than his age is ok.”
(Oh, and those cartoons she was referring to? They were Bugs Bunny, Pokémon, and Tom and Jerry—shows that aren’t even unusual for adults to enjoy!)
Needless to say, Brandenburg was heartbroken. In addition to autism, Ashton has ADHD, intellectual disability, and cognitive disorder—and at the time Brandenburg received this letter, he only had one friend: the child of this horribly insensitive parent, who acts like the characteristics of Ashton’s disability—characteristics that hurt no one—are a bad influence.
Outraged and desiring to raise awareness of the kinds of things parents of kids with special needs deal with, Brandenburg posted a picture of the letter to Facebook. It has since been taken down, but not before it went viral and was shared over 90,000 times in less than 24 hours!
Needless to say, the people of the internet were in outrage, and Brandenburg was flooded with support. And though she ended up removing the post, she still seems to stand by the fact that she posted it in the first place.
“It was just technically to get it out there that you are your child’s teacher. If you are going to act like that, your child is going to act like that,” Brandenburg remarked.
Indeed; another parent, Colleen Novit, commented on the post with “Please don’t ever be THAT parent. Hate breeds hate friends, don’t break their innocence, let them love!”
And while Ashton ended up losing one friend because of some cruel grown-ups, he has since made friends with other kids, whom he says are “kind, funny, and accepting.”
As outraged as we are about the letter in the first place, we at The Autism Site are glad that Ashton’s story took a happy turn. Way to speak out, Lacey!Whizzco