WECT (NBC affiliate in North Carolina) released a story this evening about a mother who claims that a local restaurant is violating the American with Disabilities Act by posting a sign and refusing to admit screaming children. The owner told WECT that screaming children wouldn’t be kicked out. They would be asked to step outside until they calm down. The mother, Kelly Chambliss, has an autistic son (tantrums are a common symptom as autistic people are sometimes unable to express emotions in a less intense manner) and confronted the restaurant’s owner as she feels the establishment doesn’t want her son there. According to WECT, no formal suit has been filed against the restaurant.
From a journalistic background, it’s hard to draw any conclusions from a “he said/she said” perspective. A general rule for journalists is to report every side of the story in order to satisfy the criteria for objectivity. While the rule prevents professional reporters from choosing sides (cable news pundits have that covered), the strive for balance can also be a hindrance, with many articles and TV reports on social topics stripped to an over-simplification, including the story on a restaurant supposedly banning autistic people. With no clue to the actual cause, this story, through no fault of the reporter, is likely to waste time on Internet space and a newsblock because viewers really won’t know whose story is more accurate.
That’s not to say this idea should be abandoned. Mainstream reports in the past have touched on the trials of transporting autistic children, where they face environments that can be overwhelming for them and for a public who may not understand the autistic mind. I blogged about a movie theater chain offering autism-friendly screenings back in April as a sign that autism is slowly permeating through mainstream society. After reading the WECT story, journalists may want to speak with businesses and/or psychologists on how everyone can adapt to autistic customers. Businesses would be ill-advised to restrict entrance based on physical or mental disabilities, as they would suffer the wrath of civil rights groups. They also need to maintain a professional and relaxing atmosphere to avoid alienating other customers, and those two needs sometimes clash as they may have with the subject of today’s blog.
This won’t be the last “he said/she said” story to hit the web or the airwaves, but proper conflict management and understanding of the rules in place for customers and employees would likely promote a better emotional understanding and reduce the quantity of stories like this, focusing instead on the deeper realms of autism yet to be explored.