A while ago, I read this article about an IKEA playground---how a mother wasn't allowed to go in to the playground with her autistic 9 year old, so he wasn't able to play there. My reaction at first was "Well, that's not much of a big deal. That's their rules" Then I got thinking about it, more and more, over the last few weeks. Although that particular incident might not be a big deal, little closed doors like that one add up. They add up into a world where so many, many places are closed to Janey and others like her.
our trip to the library, I realized that it was not a place for Janey, especially not with small children around. Trips to playgrounds or to splash parks are not really possible, because Janey is bigger than most of the kids there and prone to lashing out at the little ones. Restaurants are out of the question, for the most part. I would not ever attempt a plane, or a longer train or bus ride, because Janey would scream at many points during the ride. Church doesn't work---others can't quietly worship with a screamer in their midst, and Sunday schools or childcare aren't staffed by those able to handle Janey. We can't go to movies or plays or concerts, because others pay to be there and it's not fair if they can't hear what they paid to hear. If you start to think about this list, there are very few places we can take Janey.
I don't like the above list, but I can understand it. I think sometimes of the Spock line from one of the movies "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few" (rest in peace, Leonard Nimoy!) Although I COULD make a point of taking Janey to many of those places, and I know many children with autism could handle those places without making them hard for others to use, I know Janey, and I am not going to ruin a movie or a restaurant dinner or church for others to make a point.
What I don't understand, what I have a much harder time accepting, are the closed doors in places that are supposed to be for children with special needs. I think often, more than is probably reasonable to think about, about the Saturday program run by the city that I got a flyer about from Janey's school, for special needs children. The program had a 1 to 4 ratio of caregivers to children. That made it, in essence, closed to Janey. She needs a 1 on 1 ratio. The program sounded so ideal, but, much like the other respite program we tried, it seems aimed at children with mild special needs, or perhaps children with special needs that are physical and not behavioral/emotional/intellectual.
A literal closed door that comes to mind for me so often is that of the Child Life room at Children's Hospital. When Janey spent six days at Children's awaiting placement in a psychiatric hospital, we were not allowed to take her out of her room. Right down the hall, there was a room chock filled with toys, books, games and the like. We were not allowed in that room. It was for the SICK children, the PHYSICALLY sick children, not the children like Janey. I even offered to take her there in the middle of the night, when other children would not be there. I would never, ever have gone there and put a little sick toddler in jeopardy. I only wanted Janey to be able to play there if no-one else was there. But that was not permitted.
Janey's old school, the inclusion school, was in so many ways a dream school. It had a wonderful courtyard, an outdoor classroom, a beautiful sensory room. It was filled with people that had known Janey since she was born. I loved her school. And then---it too was closed to her. I understand the reasons---I understand the reasons for everything I've written about here. But still---sometimes it makes me cry to think of all the places Janey is not able to go, all the doors that are closed to her.
What can be done? I'm dreaming here. In many ways, maybe nothing can be done. Maybe my initial reaction to the IKEA story was the true one---well, that's just the way it is. However, I will dream. I dream of restaurants, parks, museums, churches, playgrounds, all of those, having special days for autistic kids and families. If we had the urge to eat out, or go to church, or a park, we could look at a web page and find a place that had a special day going on. Even if each venue only held such a day once a year, there's enough of those places that we'd almost always have a place to go. My other dream is that programs for special needs could truly mean ALL special needs---that I could describe what Janey needs and it would be provided. And a big dream---that someplace like Children's Hospital would treat mental illness like physical illness---that they would actually find a way to make children like Janey feel welcome, and not like a scary outsider.
Life isn't fair. That old chestnut mothers tell their children is very true. Everyone has closed doors, and I accept that. But the amount of doors closed to Janey, and to children like her, create an isolation that builds on itself, that creates a loop, a vicious circle. There are no easy answers to this problem.