When I was in Portland doing my training with Kati from ASDA, she warned me about situations where I might have to defend my right to bring Hope in all of the places we like to go. I remember thinking that she was a little hyper-sensitive. Of course, I knew that I might have to tell the random grocery clerk or restaurant worker that Hope was a service dog and, therefore, protected by federal law. The shocking thing is that I keep encountering resistance from people who I would otherwise consider to be educated and socially savvy.
The majority of people in the community are incredibly kind and sympathetic and interested the relationship between Gray and Hope. The majority of people are rooting for us. And then there are the people who are not… I am puzzled by these people. I am curious to understand where they are coming from, because, for the life of me, I cannot wrap my brain around what motivates them. We have had two experiences where I have had to fight to get Hope admitted to places where our family frequents. Of course, I was naive in the beginning and assumed that simply everyone would welcome us with open arms, so I was blindsided whenever the opposite reaction occurred. Now, I’m getting better at reading the subtle messages in people’s body language or choice of words that lets me know when there is going to be a problem.
I would like to clarify here: I am not talking about people who are not aware that Hope is a service dog. I am not talking about the restaurant hostess who tells us that she is very sorry, but they do not allow dogs in the restaurant. I am not talking about the security guard at the mall who follows us around until he can get close enough to read the words on her service pack. And, I am not talking about the teacher at Zoe’s school who looked very worried when we all walked in to drop her off. These are all people who truly did not realize what kind of dog Hope is. These are people who have only seen service dogs attached to blind people with sunglasses. The simple solution in all of these scenarios is just an explanation of Hope as a service dog and Gray as the boy she assists. Generally, the conversation stops there.
The people I am talking about are the people who completely understand that my son has severe autism and that Hope is his full-fledged certified service dog. And yet, these people do not want to allow her in their establishment. I don’t know if people have some “oh no! something different must be bad” alarm that goes off in their heads. Perhaps, they just cannot conceive of an animal behaving in the remarkably civilized manner that service dogs do. Or, maybe, they are intolerant or uncomfortable in the presence of people with disabilities and the dog just highlights that situation so that it cannot be ignored. A kid with autism is weird enough to have around, but a kid with autism and a dog is just too much to bear. Honestly, I do not know which answer is correct, but regardless of the reasoning, I will not back down. It is one thing for people to say that they support autism awareness, but I say that people need to be willing to push that boundary into autism acceptance. With the newest numbers finding that 1 in 50 children are diagnosed with autism today, it is time for people to get comfortable with autism and whatever strangeness (or dogs) that might bring.
Tomorrow, Barry and I will be meeting with the school board for our district because someone in the higher levels there does not want Hope to come to school with Gray when he begins next fall. Regardless of the fact that Gray’s future teacher and principal and many other people within the district are excited to see how a service dog can assist a child with autism, there are a few powerful administrators who want to kill that possibility. Fortunately, we have federal law on our side. A family who also received their dog from ASDA had to sue their school district in federal court to allow their son’s service do to attend school with them. They won. I hope that, by presenting their case, the powers-that-be in our school district will quickly fall in line. If not, then I am ready to stand and fight.