Mom Gets Punched Just for Trying to Help Her Autistic Kids

autismIt was supposed to be a nice, happy family outing. Mom Jennifer Schwenker took her twin 8-year-old sons to McDonald's for Happy Meals. But the fact that Schwenker ended up getting punched in the face by an off-duty manager shows just how far America needs to go in understanding the lives of families dealing with autism.

The manager, Tiffany Allen, happened to be a mom herself. She was even holding her baby in her arms when the Schwenker family walked into the Georgia restaurant to get some grub. But she took one look at the dog with the family and flipped, telling mom Jennifer that she had to take the pup outside.


Schwenker told the Today show that she explained their Labrador was a service dog, a special animal trained to help her sons because of their autism diagnosis, but Allen didn't let up. Schwenker claims the haranguing eventually turned physical, and Allen has been charged by police with simple battery, simple assault, and disorderly conduct. The McDonald's franchise owners have fired her.

Justice is being carried out here, but I'm still sad. If anything, a restaurant manager -- even an off-duty one -- should have been of the mind that the Schwenker family deserved extra help rather than additional harassment. Not only are service dogs legally protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act, but it's basic humanity.

But perhaps what's most troubling is that Allen is a parent, someone who should be aware of one of the biggest parenting issues of our times. In 2011, if a mom hears a child has autism, shouldn't she be aware what that means?

The numbers of children on the spectrum are growing -- it seems -- every year. They now estimate one in every 110 children has some form. That means more and more people are going to be dealing with kids on the spectrum every day. In stores. In restaurants. It means learning what autism is, why kids act they way they do, and the rights those kids -- and eventually adults -- have in society, be it rights to a service dog or protection from discrimination.

If a mom can't recognize that a mom's description of her child's autism means she needs a break, how are we ever going to break down the barriers in society that these kids face?


Image via BLW Photography/Flickr

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