Nasty letter about autistic child hits close to home for Manitoulin Island families

MANITOULIN—Manitoulin Island parents who have children who are autistic are disgusted about the case involving a letter received by a woman in Newcastle full of hateful language about her grandson, who has severe autism.

“I think it was the most horrible letter, written by a horrible person,” stated Pam Blodgett-McLaughlin of Gore Bay, whose daughter Molly has autism. “Their ignorance is that great that people like that don’t understand. That kind of meanness when it comes to children or a person who may be, or is a little different, is totally unacceptable.”

“The positive in all of this is that the family was brave enough to come forward and let the media know about this hurtful letter,” said Ms. Blodgett-McLaughlin. “There is no reason for people to send out hurtful letters like this, based on someone’s colour, race, religion, or that they are a little different than others.”

The case involves a Newcastle resident who reported that her 13-year-old grandson, who lives with severe autism, received a vile, unsigned letter, presumably from a neighbour. The letter stated the young man should be either moved from the neighbourhood or “euthanized” because his behaviour “scares the hell out of my normal children.”

As reported by the Sault Star in its August 22, 2013 edition, the letter initially appeared to be so ‘over the top’ that some people believed it might be the product of a prankster, but police have since been called in to investigate.

Since media reports of this letter first appeared, people across the province and the United States are banding together to stand up for Max Begley, the 13-year-old boy with autism. Several people have come forward with offers of money to either provide the boy’s family with a vacation or for a reward in exchange for a positive identification on the letter writer.

“I thought that there was a positive ending to the letter,” wrote Stasia Carr of Kagawong, whose son has autism. “I doubt the author intended that to happen, but as a result the media has given a forum for autism awareness and a lot of support has been given to the autism community, not just this one family.”

“Unfortunately, the feelings expressed in the letter are quite common,” wrote Ms. Carr. “Coming from a large city where people don’t know their neighbours well, my family has experienced harsh judgment from people in public many times. It is hurtful and upsetting to have people tell you your child is a brat or that you are a lousy parent because of your child’s inability to control themselves in public. It is extremely embarrassing having not just some stranger belittle you, but having an audience while they do so. Autism is a disorder that is not physically noticeable so short of sticking a label on our kid’s forehead, we are judged routinely. Most people don’t go as far as this letter did though. I teach my children that a little understanding and patience goes a long way and that everyone is deserving of respect. I could yell and scream at these rude people I have encountered. I don’t think that would accomplish anything. Understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is the key so any positive awareness that can be offered helps.”

“The media coverage has been amazing and the community support given to this family is overwhelming,” wrote Ms. Carr. “It is a sensitive issue for ASD families. It is something that we live with daily so it doesn’t go away for us. It is exhausting but also rewarding being a parent of an autistic child. I wish I could take away my child’s challenges. I hate watching him struggle with concepts that are easy for those of us who are neurologically typical. As I said, a little understanding goes a long way. It really helps.”

“What is positive from all of this is that the family was brave enough to come forward,” said Ms. Blodgett-McLaughlin. “And the positive reaction that has come from members of the public has been wonderful, because so many people have since been showing their support and for the people to show more compassion to others. That’s what parents want the most. I think the letter was horrible, but I’m glad the family came forward to make this public. It is so important to provide a loving environment, and show compassion, for children and parents. At times it isn’t easy being the parent of an autistic child, but we love and support our children as much as other parents with their children.”

Ms. Blodgett-McLaughlin acknowledged that when she first heard about reports about the letter, “for us it hit close to home. We felt the family’s pain and hurt. As all parents we love them and want to protect our children, but people are mean sometimes when it comes to children or adults that have autism, special needs or are a little different from others.”

Tom Sasvari