After her 13-year-old autistic son, Logan, had a particularly good week of behavior, Ashley Wright decided to reward him with a trip to the zoo to see his favorite animals, the camels. So she and Logan and his 11-year-old sister, Brinlee, loaded up and headed to the Riverview Park and Zoo in Peterborough.
On top of autism, Logan also suffers from global developmental delay, echolalia, and possibly Tourette’s. When they arrived at the zoo, he began to display his excitement in a way that made others stare in curiosity, something the Wright family is pretty accustomed to.
“He was being loud. He was flapping his hands. He was jumping. But he was happy,” Wright says.
After they got inside, Logan began to have a meltdown. He began growling, grinding his teeth, pinching himself, and making a loud screeching noise, and he was not able to tell his mom what was wrong. “Could you imagine?” says Wright. “Knowing you needed water? Or had a headache? Had to use the bathroom? But not being able to voice it?”
It was then, as Wright worked feverishly to calm her son and find out what was wrong, that a stranger confronted her and yelled in her face:
“Why do people bring kids like this out in public? They ruin society!”
Luckily, another individual told the man to leave Wright alone, so the situation didn’t escalate any further. Shortly afterward, the family left the zoo. But Wright, still perturbed, turned to Facebook to voice her feelings about the incident in the hopes of preventing something similar from happening to other people with disabilities.
“What you don’t realize is Logan deserves to be out in public just as much as anyone else,” she writes. “He doesn’t ruin the society. He didn’t hurt anyone. […] He deserves to get to see his camels after a good week of behaviour. He deserves to be treated just as good as anyone else.”
Shortly after the incident, zoo staff reached out to the family to offer Logan a free tour of the zoo in an effort to rectify the situation.
“I think it’s an important follow up to the incident,” says Jim Moloney, manager and curator of the Riverview Park and Zoo. “To make it very clear that our community and the zoo itself is very welcoming and open and supportive to everybody.”
Members of the Peterborough Police Service and the Riverview Park and Zoo staff accompanied Logan and his family on the tour, where he got behind-the-scenes access to some of the exhibits and was given the chance to feed several of the animals, including the camels.
“This meant so much to me, not only seeing Logan, but Brinlee, too, and seeing how happy they were,” says Wright. “Being able to come back and just seeing how happy he was to pet the camels and to feed some of the animals was just amazing.”
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?