Minn. mom’s plea for autistic son strikes a chord with thousands on Facebook

Published 10:17 am Tuesday, April 4, 2017

By Aimee Blanchette

Minneapolis Star Tribune

A Cottage Grove mom’s emotionally raw video about a run-in with a family over the behavior of her 6-year-old son — who has severe autism — has been watched more than 300,000 times on Facebook.

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The video, filmed by Kate Swenson on the eve of Autism Awareness Month, centers around an incident that took place at an inclusive Woodbury playground for children with special needs. Swenson said a couple shamed her and her son after he unintentionally pushed their daughter down a slide at Madison’s Place Playground.

“This is the first time that Cooper and I have been made to feel that we were not truly welcome somewhere,” Swenson said in the 7-minute video. “They proceeded to yell at me and ask what was wrong with my kid and why was he there.”

Swenson, who frequently blogs about the joys and challenges of raising a child with special needs, posted her tearful video on her Facebook page, Finding Cooper’s Voice. The video was shared more than 5,000 times and received more than 2,000 comments.

Swenson described the encounter from her living room, while her son, Cooper, who is nonverbal, lined up chairs along the wall.

“I watched the whole thing happen, I was right there,” Swenson said in the video. “He was on the slide and he was rolling around … and his feet hit a little girl and she slid down the slide.

“Before the father even checked on [his] child, he yelled at me and yelled at my son,” she said. “Cooper doesn’t understand, so he ran away and laughed and played.”

Swenson went on to explain that she tried to apologize to the family and explained that Cooper has severe, nonverbal autism, but the couple questioned why she would bring him to a park. Swenson said the little girl was not crying and didn’t appear to be hurt.

“As I cried the entire way home, I realized that we cannot leave the house,” Swenson said, “because people out there treat us like monsters.”

In an interview Monday, Swenson described the park as Cooper’s favorite place and one of the only places that he is able to go.

“Cooper can run and jump and play, but he has no friends,” Swenson said. “He’s never been invited to a birthday party. He doesn’t have a life outside of his room. He wakes up every day at 4 a.m. and it’s the best day of his life.”

Like most kids, Cooper likes to swim and go to the beach, but Swenson said she takes him when nobody else is around, because he likes to throw sand and hear the plopping sound it makes when it hits the water.

“I always say we live in a secret world,” she said. “We go when it’s raining, when it’s cold and when it’s closed.”

An inclusive playground designed to accommodate children with all abilities was the one place she thought Cooper would be welcome.

Swenson said the mother who created Madison’s Place has already reached out to her in hopes that she and Cooper will return to the park.

She will, she said, but it will take awhile and she won’t go back alone.

She also plans to make cards to hand out that say something like, “My son has autism, please be patient.”