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Georgia Mountains YMCA Dismisses Boy with Autism from After School Program

LoganclimbBy Sarah David

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.

http://www.change.org/petitions/ymca-stop-discriminating-against-children-with-autism-and-other-disabilities


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." 

 

 

 

Thank you,

 

Sarah David

 

Comments

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This is interesting, because I refused to renew my family membership at the Y for a problem with my autistic son. I often took my three kids to the pool and sat down to observe them splash around. When my oldest, who is autistic, quietly experimented with splashing, the lifeguard screamed at him! He was off by himself, holding on to the side, and kicking his feet a bit. I walked over and explained to her that he was autistic, and functioning at a lower level in some ways. He wasn't bothering anybody, and most kids splash more while swimming around the pool. She told me "I can't change the rules for anyone, if he does it again, I'm giving him a time-out." Um, EXCUSE ME???? I explained to her that not only did he not notice that she was screaming at him, that he would absolutely not be getting a time-out when no one had explained to him that he was not allowed to splash (as much as the other kids.)

What ticks me off is not just the audacity of a 17 year old lifeguard assuming she has the right to put a special needs kid in time out for stimming, but the utter chaos in the pool on days when their summer camp was in session. Unfortunately for them, they lost a pretty pricey family membership due to that employee.

Unfortunately, this happens all too often. I agree with some of the above comments - advocate for appropriate After School Programs (ASP) through agencies that utilize the Medicaid Waiver program to fund the ASP. Our kids need properly trained staff and oftentimes a smaller environment. We are most fortunate that we got one started about 11 years ago when my daughter was just 8.

I have a friend whose daughter was kicked out of a YMCA summer camp ( b/c they were not equipped to handle, even though they assured her they could when she signed up, her daughter's diabetes). They too refused to give her a refund. But, she charged it on her cc, and hopefully you did too. I told her to tell them she was going to dispute the charge w the cc co. If you do this it's up to th organization charging you to prove you owe. When she told them this, the Y promptly issued a refund.

Just a warning. I know of a mom who hired a sitter off a special needs site. He was sexually abusive. A non verbal child would have a hard time reporting abuse.

Where I live in Frederick County Maryland, the YMCA has worked with the local Autism Society chapter and other special needs groups and organizations in the community to develop after school, weekend respite and summer camp programs for kids w/ Autism and other disabilities. They have strictly special needs programs and unified programs as well. I believe they even had professionals from the community volunteer to train staff and help create productive programs. Perhaps the Georgia YMCA should look at Frederick's model and consider the benefits.


Im sorry to disagree with the overall message here.

The YMCA seems to be in a bit of a bind.

This non-profit place hires young, untrained individuals and volunteers. They have an extremely modest budget and even with "typical" children can run into problems because of this.

It appears that the YMCA can be threatened with a lawsuit for Disability discrimination for not hiring more people (without charging more money) to take care of any child that has need for additional staff because of a disability.

Or, the YMCA can be sued for negligence if they do take the child with a history of running away and for example, a volunteer does not show up or for whatever reason they have less staff...the child runs away and is lost.

Perhaps a more appropriate solution would be to try to troubleshoot with this non-profit for ways to get funding (as a non-profit) to provide for the additional needs of the special needs population. This will make the parent feel great and the YMCA fulfill what they are clearly trying to do.

Sarah;
Gosh If anyone needs family close -- you need family.
Is there no one?

A trusted friend?
A trusted neighbor?
Some times we have to to be beholding to others.

I so hope you never go back to YMCA.

It is not just the after school programs that the YMCA has problems with. I signed up for a family membership ($1,200) for a year. Swimming, and fun time are "sold" as a big part of the membership. I spent at least 1/2 an hour specifically explaining the needs of my ASD child, the person that sold me the membership assured me they had staff that would make sure I could work out and that could work with my son during swimming lessens. In my state swimming lessons are included in the membership for children over 6. I was a member all of 2 days before it was clear that the fun time group was run by teenagers that had no desire to keep track of my child, much less entertain him. Ok.. I accepted that and worked out in the AM when my child was at school so I could stay with him for activities and swimming. I signed up for the kids swimming lessons; we attended 2 lessons taught by a nasty girl that was maybe 20 years old. I spoke to the manager and was told they would set up a special needs swim group if they can get at least 2 more children, BUT get this, I would have to pay $90 extra a month. We no longer belong the YMCA. I wish I had made a big deal out of the treatment I received because to this day it still makes me angry to think about.

I work for a school district that uses the YMCA for after school care, and I have an autistic son (pretty severely affected). I wouldn't allow the YMCA staff I've seen at the three school's I've worked at to care for my dog, let alone my son. The YMCA staff are barely trained 18-20 year olds who, at any given time, are assigned to watch 30+ children alone (WAY more than a well-trained classroom teacher would be expected to watch). From my observation, the YMCA afterschool care is a free-for-all of chaos. In my opinion, even if they were willing to provide an additional caregiver for your son, it wouldn't be worth it, especially if there's even the slightest chance of elopement. I would even go as far as to say that YMCA afterschool care would be dangerous / hazardous for your son.

I wrote an article for Age of Autism last summer about this exact problem - lack of places that can handle our children. My son was also kicked out of an adaptive day camp, which was supposedly able to handle special needs children. Why business-saavy people haven't picked up on this and started creating places for our ever-growing population of kids is beyond me.

What I have done for my son's care while I'm at work is hire a nanny off the website care.com. It has a "special needs" section where people trained to work with our kids are listed, and you can run background checks on them for free. My nanny picks up my son from school every day and stays with him until I get home from work. It is a lifesaver knowing someone competent is able to be with him, at home.

Hi Sarah,

I just received and signed your petition in my email via Change.org. You have many others who have signed. Best of luck and thank you for fighting for the rights of all of our kids!

No one is getting stoned. I would simply like to open up a dialogue between the YMCA and the autism community.

We've been there, Sarah. A few years ago we enrolled our high-functioning daughter in a mainstream summer camp that claimed to welcome special needs children. They even had an "inclusion counselor", with whom we thoroughly discussed our daughter's condition and the issues the camp might face. When we dropped her off at camp the inclusion counselor told us to go home, enjoy the summer, and not worry about anything. 36 hours later the inclusion counselor called and insisted we take our daughter home. She wasn't violent or a potential runaway, just awkward and autistic, and the camp couldn't handle that. Yes, I know, it sounds like a Woody Allen joke: "I was sent to summer camp, but I was expelled by the inclusion counselor." We discussed it with a disabilities lawyer, who said this sort of thing happens all the time, and in this case we were not protected by ADA. (We wouldn't have sued anyway.) Instead, we quickly transferred our daughter to Ramapo for Children, an excellent camp for autistic and at-risk children.

I have a friend who works for another YMCA in Georgia. Among other things, she does budgeting. YMCA's don't make big profits and many are on very minimal (shoestring) budgets. In a rural area, like the Georgia mountains, could this organization afford to hire someone for the days this child attends? That would be erratic employment for that person ( we are looking for someone who is available T and Th from 3:30-6). Perhaps rather than casting stones at the YMCA, some more investigation needs to be done. How do private organizations pay for the extra services our children need?

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