Karla Begley is a woman with multiple sclerosis who has a 13-year-old son named Maxwell who has autism. She often brings Maxwell to her mother's house in Newcastle, Ontario for sleepovers because Karla needs help taking care of him and because he loves watching the movie "Grease" with his grandmother. Recently, Maxwell's grandmother received this hateful letter in the mail explaining in great detail why Maxwell isn't welcome in that neighbourhood.
The letter-writer — who signed the missive as "One pissed off mother" — was brazen enough to suggest that Maxwell should be euthanized, but lacked the courage to state her real name. I have never lacked the courage to put my name behind anything I write or say, and that will not change in this hypothetical response if I was mailed this letter about my seven-year-old son with autism -- who is coincidentally also named Maxwell.
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Dear “One pissed off mother”,
Your letter has left me feeling terribly sad. Not for me, or for my son Maxwell — that’s his name by the way, not “retard” or “wild animal kid” — but for you. In reality, I will never share your thoughts with my son, because he is a happy child who brings an incredible amount of joy to those who know him. And while your words were very hurtful to read, the support I receive from my family, friends, and my more understanding neighbours lifts me up on a daily basis and outweighs anything you could ever say to me.
The fact that you have chosen to address me anonymously gives me some insight that somewhere deep down, you know that what you wrote to me is wrong, and that gives me hope. Because those who know that they've done wrong sometimes want to do better, I want to help you know my son. Perhaps then you will open your heart to the beautiful person he is. If not, I will at least know that you have been provided with the opportunity to become educated, and that maybe something good will come out of your negativity and misguided hatred.
Maxwell has a diagnosis of autism. He is not “mentally handicapped” or “retarded”. Autism is a disorder of brain development characterized by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviours. The noises he makes that you describe as “dreadful” are in fact the way he expresses happiness. He loves being outside, and shares the right to enjoy the outdoors just as you or I do. Perhaps you find his form of expression unpleasant, but if you took the time to meet Maxwell and got to know him, I would like to think he could bring a smile to your face.
Maxwell loves jumping on his trampoline, playing on his iPad, hanging out with his family, and and reading books. Most of the time he has a smile on his face, and he has never said a cruel word to anybody. You could actually learn a lot from him.
Because of the lack of empathy in your letter, it seems likely to me that you have not had the privilege of having a close friend or family member with special needs. This is a great shame for you and your “normal" children. You do yourself and them a disservice by limiting who you interact with. There is no reason to be scared. In fact, people with special needs have much more reason to fear intolerant individuals such as yourself. My son is a gentle soul who would never want to hurt anyone — physically or with hateful words such as the ones you typed in that letter.
A great man named Mahatma Gandhi once said, "A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members." While you and I clearly have very little in common, we both live in Canada — a nation that passed The Canadian Human Rights Act in 1977, which states, "All individuals should have an opportunity equal with other individuals to make for themselves the lives that they are able and wish to have and to have their needs accommodated, consistent with their duties and obligations as members of society, without being hindered in or prevented from doing so by discriminatory practices based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability or conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered."
If you need me to put that in simpler terms for you, the law states that Maxwell has just as much right to live his life without being discriminated against as you do. If you have a problem with that, it seems to me that you're the one who should move to a trailer in the woods where you hopefully won't be too annoyed by the sounds made by actual wild animals.
Katrina Carefoot, one proud mother