I am a newly single
mother facing the daunting task of reentering the work force and trying to earn
a college degree while still being a good mommy to my two kids. We are new to the area we live in, because of
the move, because of the end of the marriage.
So when I found out that in Hall County (Georgia) Schools there is after school
care that takes place at the school run by the YMCA I was very grateful. My son Logan, who is on the spectrum, and my
daughter began attending the after school child care program at their school
when I recently found a job.
Before the YMCA accepted my son into the childcare program I had a conversation with the program director and on site staff about his condition and they seemed understanding.
My son’s special education teacher and I met with the YMCA staff to discuss that he exhibits elopement behaviors, a common symptom of autism. This simply means he will try to leave an enclosed space.
The YMCA staff member assured me they would not allow my child to leave and that they would provide an additional staff member -- so where normally there are two adults, they would add a third -- for supervision on the days my son was scheduled to attend. However, when they were picked up, there was never another staff member there.
On Wednesday, October 24th the staff at the YMCA called a meeting with me. First I was asked to pay extra to keep my son in the program, and then I was told that he was no longer allowed in the program. Previous to this meeting there had never been any notes sent home about behavior incidents. There were only two voicemails to me in one day alerting me to the fact that he had tried and failed to leave the building.
The director of the After School programs told me in the meeting the reason for his dismissal was that he was a flight risk due to his autism. Once outside the meeting room and in front of additional staff and YMCA patrons, staff members denied having kicked my son out. I asked several times whether they could attend that day but all I got was pleas to discuss it privately. It must have been very embarrassing for them. Admittedly, I was upset and even told some poor girl who was only there to apply for a job that she would soon be working for a company that doesn’t allow kids with autism to their programs. They had been in the program for just over two weeks.
I had just started a new job and was scheduled to work that afternoon. I had only two hours to find an alternative childcare provider, which ultimately I was able to do, but the day had taken its toll on Logan. He has a difficult time adapting when he is put into an unexpected situation. He had been expecting to be at the YMCA program that afternoon and when that wasn’t where he ended up all he could do was growl for the rest of the day. I can only imagine how much fun that was for the sitter. I have yet to find a suitable permanent child care solution. I have yet to receive a refund or a written explanation from the YMCA.
I’m not the first parent of a child with autism to face discrimination by the YMCA.
In 2001, the Greater Toledo YMCA was sued by the the mother of 8-year-old child with autism after her son was terminated from a YMCA day care program and the Greater Toledo YMCA was required to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act. In 2007, the West End YMCA in California settled a case with the Department of Justice after the Y kicked a kid with autism out of their child care program. These settlements dealt with the problem at a local YMCA but it’s time for the national office of YMCA of the USA to take action.
In addition to those, since I have been spreading the word about this, I have talked with several other parents, some local, some not, who have had difficulty getting YMCAs to accept their children with disabilities into their programs.
With one in every 88 American children on the autism
spectrum how can child care centers just turn them away? How can it be that there is an entire county,
at least, where a single mother has zero childcare options just because one of
her kids has autism? Organizations that
provide services to children need to prepare their caregivers and staff for the
influx of children with autism, because they are greater than one percent of
our children and rising.
Please sign my petition on Change.org and join me in telling the Georgia Mountains YMCA and the YMCA of the USA that discrimination against children with autism and other disabilities is unacceptable.
Sarah David says, "My son Logan is seven years old. He has autism. His communicative ability is on the low side and when he does speak, his language is like that of a two year old. He enjoys things that seven year old boys usually enjoy. He likes to run and play outside. He loves to climb, and he loves cars, trucks and action figures. He is generally cheerful, easygoing and lovable. One of the symptoms of his autism is elopement; this simply means he tends to try to run off. Part of the reason for this is that movement helps him to calm down. Running, jumping, swinging and spinning make him a calmer, happier boy."