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Karla Begley: Answer to Hateful Letter is to Spread Autism Acceptance

September 03, 2013

Autism Speaks Staffer Kerry Magro had a chance to speak with Karla Begley, the Canadian mother who received a hate-filled letter from a neighbor who was angered by the behavior of her son Max who has autism. The shocking letter has since gone viral and sparked an outpouring of support.

Kerry Magro: Hi Karla. We appreciate your time today to help answer a few questions. So Karla, can you tell us a little about your son?

Karla Begley: Oh Max. Well, he’s 13, has autism and loves life. He’s my little angel. He’s very smart. We always kind of joke around. Our oldest son Jackson, he’s 15 and he has high functioning autism. Max has a lot more common sense about the world but loves to have fun. He can be so silly at times and he loves physical activity. He’s just always moving around; it’s hard to keep up with him at times.

KM: Can you tell us a bit more about what happened?

KB: About two-and a-half weeks ago, Max was at my Mom’s house about two towns over from where we live. My mom was checking her mail and found the letter and was completely disgusted by what she saw.

She was completely mortified and disgusted by the wording of the letter. She didn’t like the wording especially the term “euthanize”. Max I would say spends about 20 percent of his time at my mother’s house and this was a complete and total shock.

KM: Do you have any idea who wrote the letter?

KB: We don’t but the police are looking into it, and taking my mom’s fingerprints to see if they can see any other prints on the letter. A detective was just at our house the other day. From what they said, it seems to me that they are on the right track. One thing they are doing is sending forms to everyone in the neighborhood to get more information from them if they know of anything.

KM: What was your immediate reaction to the letter?

KB: One thing many people don’t talk about is that the incident didn’t happen at my house. Although it happened at my mother’s house it was targeted at Max because he’s always the one there and going around the neighborhood. So I finally found out about it that day from my husband. He said that there was a nasty letter written about Max. The neighbors in my mom’s neighborhood got a hold of it and started posting it.

My immediate reaction was that it made me sick, sick to my stomach. I didn’t know what to think about what would happen next until it got posted online. Even though I’m disgusted about it, there’s been so much support from everyone both locally and nationally. It’s made things good from getting it out there but also a little overwhelming with all the attention our family has been receiving.

KM: What was the reaction from your neighbors?

KB: My Mom’s neighbors have been up in arms and proactive about the entire situation. They have stood behind Max and what’s going on.

My neighbors have also been really good about it. We moved to our neighborhood in Oshawa, Canada in March 2000 and Max was born in April 2000 so he’s spent his entire life here. Our community has been very warm towards him and all of his transitioning to this point. I can remember times when Max would throw clothes and CDs into other people’s yards but all the neighbors would always collect them and bring them back. And they were very understanding.  

KM: Has life changed for you since your mother received the letter?

KB: My life hasn’t that much but Max’s absolutely has. People have been so warm to Max, saying hi to him when he’s out. For me, I haven’t had that much time to get out but friends have been visiting and sending their best wishes.

KM: What do you think is the most importation lesson to be learned?

KB: It’s all about acceptance. There are a lot of us (families affected by autism) out there in the world. People stare and give off rude expressions. I just think it’s important to treat people as people. There’s always going to be that one person that is going to be ignorant but hopefully they can change because we aren’t going anywhere. Our voices are just getting louder and louder.

KM: If there was one message you could share with our community about the incident what would it be?

KB: We have to keep pushing out there and have a thick skin towards our community. We’ve fought for everything we’ve done for Max. We won’t give up and we hope these types of people get quieter as we get louder and spread acceptance and awareness. Life is short. Anything can happen. Be careful how you treat people because it can happen to you. Max is a blessing. Don’t get me wrong but ignorant people need a dose of reality. They need a day in our shoes.

KM: How is your son doing now?

KB: Well, my son doesn’t know about the letter but he’s been more vibrant and more sure of himself because people have been coming up to him and saying hi.  His positivity has skyrocketed. He’s actually smiling at me right now.

KM: Karla, thank you so much for speaking with us! We send our support and stand with you on this and look forward to speaking with you again soon!

You can read more about Karla’s story via the Huffington Post here. Lorri Unumb, Vice President of State Government Affairs here at Autism Speaks wrote a response to the hateful letter about Max and shared her own experience with harassment which you can find on our blog here