Kate Swenson’s son Cooper is 6. He has severe autism, but he looks just like any other kid, and really is just like any other kid.
“He is, he’s just a kid,” she said. “He loves the way things sound, he likes to push things, he likes to drop things, he likes to hear it.”
One of their favorite places to go—actually, one of the few places they go, is to Madison’s Place Playground, a park built by a family with a special needs daughter.
But a recent encounter there left Swenson in tears. Another family had yelled at her for her son’s actions, and so the mother and son went home, Swenson crying and Cooper unaware.
“I have been crying for the last half an hour,” she said in a Facebook video she filmed so that she could bring this issue out into the open. Her page “Finding Cooper’s Voice” shares Cooper’s journey and opens the conversation about autism. “It’s got to change, or people like me will never be able to leave their home.”
Cooper had been rolling around on the slide in the playground, and his feet hit another little girl.
“I was right there, I saw the whole thing, and I was right there immediately. I was next to the family.”
“Before the father even checked on the child, he yelled at me, and yelled at my son,” she said. “Cooper does not understand this so he ran away.”
Swenson has to always keep an eye on her son—he is nonverbal and doesn’t understand what is going on around him sometimes, and he will just run straight into danger.
“Instead, I apologized to these people five times,” she said. “I tried to explain that he has severe nonverbal autism. The little girl was not crying, nor was she hurt.”
But instead of listening, the parents started yelling at her.
“They asked, what was wrong with my kid, what were we doing there—at the park for disabled children,” she said.
Swenson was speechless. She tried to explain, but they just yelled over her. She tried to apologize, but it did not fix things. So she went to get Cooper, and the two left the park.
“He was having the time of his life, and I had to physically remove him,” she said. Then she saw the couple in the parking lot, and tried to make her case heard. This was a playground for children with special needs—her son had a right to play here. They were still angry, so she apologized yet again, but they proceeded to yell at her a second time.
When Swenson got home, she was hurt and baffled. And this was just the day before Autism Awareness Month, April.
How can people raise awareness if nobody wants to listen?
“Another one gives up—we’re never going to leave the house, because people out there treat us like monsters,” she realized on the drive home. “I am sorry. I apologized six times. What do we do?”
“This was the first time that I felt like this,” she said.
“Cooper is not a monster.”
She made a plea for help, and the video was shared thousands of times.
“Honey. Don’t drop going out. He is your blessing. Praying,” one commenter said.
“I hope some how they see this ! 💔” another said.
Swenson has since received an outpouring of support and messages of raising awareness.
“My message throughout all of this continues to be openness and honesty about disabilities,” she said. She said she is not angry; she just wants to start a conversation.
“Start talking to friends. Share your stories. Sprinkle awareness everywhere you go!”