September 12, 2009

What does autism look like?

Autism is not visible.  Yes people see behaviors and stims, but if a child is on the spectrum and your ABA therapy has been successful, you might not see those stims or behaviors.  How does society reward such progress?  Its a two edged sword - on the one hand inclusion is the goal, but accomodations should not be withheld. How do you train someone working a minimum wage job to be able to identify disability in a customer? Read how one family challenged a major retailer's "policy".

Abercrombie and Fitch fined for discrimination against girl with autism
by Madeleine Baran, Minnesota Public Radio
September 9, 2009

St. Paul, Minn. — Abercrombie and Fitch has been fined $115,264 for discrimination, four years after employees at the Mall of America store refused to allow a family member to accompany an autistic girl into a fitting room.

Judge Kathleen Sheehy, an administrative law judge, found that the retailer had discriminated against the 14-year-old girl, in violation of state statutes. Sheehy ordered the fine this month, after the retailer repeatedly refused to respond to the daughter's mother's request for an apology and denied engaging in discriminatory practices.

The retailer has appealed, charging that the fine is excessive.

The judge found that the girl, whose name has not been identified, suffered mental anguish as a result of the incident.

A psychologist who interviewed the autistic girl said she reported feeling "bad," "scared," and "nervous." The girl told the psychologist, "It's all my fault. I hate autism." She added, "I am a misfit at Abercrombie."

A spokesperson for Abercrombie and Fitch declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

The girl had been shopping for school clothes with her 17-year-old sister at the Bloomington store in August 2005. Her sister requested to accompany her into the fitting room, and told an associate that her sister has a disability and can not be left alone.

The associate then told the sister that corporate policy mandated that only one person be allowed in the fitting room at a time. He refused to let the sister accompany the autistic girl, even when the sister provided information about the girl's disability.

The sister then called her mother, who had been shopping at a nearby store in the mall. The mother, Elizabeth Maxson, arrived and questioned the associate about the policy. She explained that her 17-year-old daughter was a caregiver and asked that she be allowed to accompany the autistic girl into the fitting room.

Maxson asked to see a copy of the store's policy, but employees said they could not locate it. She then asked for the customer service phone number, and left the store to call the company.

The mother said a customer service employee told her, "So, you think our fitting room policy is ridiculous," according to court documents. Maxson asked to file a complaint about the incident, but the employee offered no further assistance.

She then returned to the store and asked to speak with a manager. An assistant manager said he could not deviate from the policy. He offered to let the Maxsons buy as many clothes as they wanted, try them on at home, and then return the items that did not fit.

Maxson sent two letters to the retailer, but received no response. She called customer service again to ask for the record of her telephone complaint. A customer service representative declined to provide records, and stated they were for company use only.

She then reported the incident to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, which began an investigation.