Lisa Goring, parent and VP of family services for Autism Speaks
When WWYD approached Autism Speaks to advise their actors on what it would be like for a family that has a child living with autism to go out to eat, I thought I could provide some input. As a parent of a young man with autism, I knew the situation well. When my son was younger, going anywhere as a family was a challenge. He had a number of significant behaviors that made it difficult for him to go out comfortably in the community. I also knew other parents who had felt the sting of the stares and criticism that they had received when their child was having a difficult time. So I was prepared for some of the patrons at the Chit Chat Diner to ask the family to have the child with autism “quiet down” or to stare and make comments that would make the individual with autism and his/her family feel uncomfortable and unwelcomed.
When the filming, the hidden cameras were rolling as we watched from a back office in the restaurant. We observed many patrons staring and looking upset and annoyed, but it was not at the child with autism or his family; they were angry at the antagonist who was complaining about the child’s behavior (he was another actor hired by WWYD to voice criticisms of the boy’s behavior after none of the actual patrons seemed bothered by it in the least). Tears welled up in my eyes as I watched the diners rally in support of the child and his family, and his right to eat out with his family. The diners demanded that the antagonist leave because he so lacked compassion and understanding of the child’s needs. As the day wore on, group after group of diners came in to eat and the scene was set. But the reaction of the patrons was consistent: they displayed remarkable support, encouragement and compassion towards the child with autism and his family.
The reaction of the community was overwhelmingly positive and heartwarming, and it speaks to the increase in awareness in recent years – awareness of autism, awareness and acceptance of all of our differences, and awareness of that all families are equal parts of the community. “Both Carl and I were sitting there in tears,” said Cathy Kanefsky, mom of twin adult boys with autism. “When it was over, I said ‘they did such a great job” (meaning the producers of the show) and then had to correct myself. The people in the restaurant did such a great job. When applause filled that place twice, it was incredible. The show should be commended for helping us show that through awareness, our world is becoming more understanding and accepting of our loved ones with autism.”
I thought back to the times when community members were not so aware; when they were quick to judge and assume that the problem was with the child or his/her parents. I am exceedingly thankful that our communities have come so far, and it gives me great hope that individuals with autism and their families will be welcomed and supported in whatever they choose to do in life.
Watch the segment here.
Going out to eat at a restaurant can be difficult for any family, but especially for families of individuals with autism. Please visit this page, which was designed to provide you with tips and resources to help make dining out a successful and enjoyable experience for everyone!