Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Crate & Barrel at The Burlington Mall Could Use Some "Awareness"

The problem with autistic children is they grow up to be autistic teenagers and then, autistic adults who no longer seem so cute when they are stimming, avoiding eye contact or simply displaying any autistic traits that they have not outgrown. They might not screech, walk on their tippy toes or line things up (although some children never outgrow these, others do), they are still socially awkward and very much autistic. All you have to do is approach them and you will soon discover that "something's just not right". You don't need to be a rocket scientist to figure this out. It's as clear as day.
Before I tell you about my experience at the Crate and Barrel at the Burlington Mall in Burlington, MA; let me tell you that I have been shopping at this store for years. GP knows this store, and he is free to browse independently, as long as he does not leave the store. He carries an iPhone so I can call him if I can't see him, or he can't see me. Before we enter the store we have a set amount of time to "browse". Say twenty minutes, and when time is up, I make my final selections and check out, or just leave without making a purchase. This is not a routine specific to C&B, this is a routine we follow to ensure that GP is comfortable with the schedule. It is an adaptive behavior that I have taught him to reduce his stress while being out, doing necessary things; grocery shopping, shoe shopping, whatever. A time of departure is necessary at the time of arrival to ensure good behavior. It reduces anxiety and gives me the time I need to get things done. This brings me to yesterday's trip to the Burlington Mall.
I have a gift card to Crate and Barrel and I love their stores. The one at the BM is the closest one to us, and hence, the one we go to a few times a year. GP knows the store and is free to roam independently while I shop (usually for 20 minutes... sometimes I get a whole 30, but a quick stop is only 20. Beggars can't be choosers!). Yesterday, while I was browsing the furniture upstairs I spotted GP on the other side of the room. He was actually holding up a wood ball and using his peripheral vision to look at it. He was stimming and after a couple of seconds he just put it down and walked away. I moved on to the end of the room and he came to check on me, and remind me that it was almost time to go. I agreed and told him I was almost done. He left me there, and a few minutes later I went downstairs and was getting ready to make my final selections when a gentleman in a blue jacket approached me, and asked me if "That young man, is with you?" and I looked at him and smiled and said, "Well, yes he is. He's my son." and I thought nothing of it, but the man approached me again, and then he said, "Oh, so he is OK?" I looked at him and asked, "WHY? Did you ask him something? (GP is autistic, he is not the most social child, if you know what I mean...) Gene Paul..." GP comes over and I ask him, "Did you speak to this gentleman?" and GP says, "Oh, no. He's a stranger! I'm sorry, stranger. I'm Gene Paul." OMG! I had to laugh... and I did. I told the gentleman that GP is autistic and he doesn't talk to strangers. and I am getting ready to move on when the man says to me, "I'm mall security and was called over from the mall to check on him. I'll just go tell the ladies at the desk that he's with you, what's your name? Just so I can tell them." 
WHAT?  Are you kidding me? I said to him, "My son is not a danger to himself or others. I do not see how anyone can feel threatened by a young man who is minding his business and not being disruptive. He is alone because he is learning independent living skills!"which include, being in a store without someone hovering over you. He said he would tell the ladies at the desk, who when I looked over, seemed to be huddled together looking at us and chatting. 
Holy smokes! Now, does that mean that if I return to Crate and Barrel at the Burlington Mall (not that I ever would), I should check in at the desk and let them know that my autistic teenager, who paces the store alone, and does not talk to strangers while waiting for me, is not a shoplifter or terrorist?? Would they like me put a kiddie leash on him, or simply prefer that I leave him at home when I shop at their store so their employees don't feel threatened??? It's not like he appeared to be a hobo wandering around. He is dressed in chinos, shoes and a henley.. he is clean shaved and has a fresh haircut to boot. His shirt is tucked into his pants, he is wearing a belt and he doesn't even have a jacket. Did they suspect he was going to stuff a fork in his pants and make a run for it? Really???? What exactly seemed so threatening that they needed to call over MALL SECURITY ??????? Not the store security, the MALL SECURITY!!!! 
I would have walked over to the ladies and given them a little bit of "awareness" seeing how April is National Autism Awareness Month and GP displays textbook autism characteristics; stimming, social awkwardness, repetitive behaviors (pacing the store)...but I was too shocked to do anything other than leave. 
I believe that Crate and Barrel's employees could use a little sensitivity training. Seeing how one in every 88 children that walk into their stores is likely to have some form of autism, maybe they can be taught to spot the obvious characteristics. Stimming is pretty obvious, maybe that could be a good starting point. If they don't want to invest in training maybe they can put a little basket by the door with neon bracelets so parents can tag their kids when they walk in  and they can shop in peace knowing that mall security won't be called to the store to track their kid, who is minding his business but "acting strange" (He's autistic; he ALWAYS acts this way! DUH!) One in every eighty-eight children will grow up to be an autistic teenager who will then become an autistic adult. Would someone please tell Crate & Barrel that being autistic, or pacing in their store is not a crime and it is VERY offensive to be followed around because you act like someone with autism when you are autistic! 
A little sensitivity training would go a long way in this store... maybe a few autism awareness pamphlets with their paychecks would help too. 

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think this is just awful what happened to you and GP. I too, believe these people need to be better educated. Although we do not have a Crate and Barrel near us, this is enough to ban me from shopping with them in store or online. I would take this what you wrote and send it to their corporate offices, this way, just maybe something would get done. I have worked in retail for many years and once it goes to corporate, they have to do something.
Betsy
LazyAranch@centurytel.net

Paulette said...

I feel you need to send this wonderfully written article to the head manager of not only that Crate and Barrel, but the regional manager as well. I have seen something very similar just this past weekend. Making people aware of appropriate interactions with someone who has autism (and other conditions) would be an excellent store policy. My stepson (now 30) is mentally ill, and we have to shop with him in a somewhat similar fashion, giving him independence yet easily reachable by phone in a store. Shame on that C&B and those ignorant employees!! Please voice how GP was treated to them. Who knows, it could help.

Donna said...

Brenda, you handled that well. People! Grrrr. I agree that a letter to the higher ups is needed.
Sorry for your hurt heart and hoping that GP missed any hurt from this.

Happy Me said...

Brenda, first let me say GP is a very handsome young man!! I can't believe that C&B handled things so poorly. I can tell you I will NEVER go to the one in Burlington again!

I agree that sending this post to the regional and/or national managers would be in order!

Anna said...

suspicion is the reality of our world unfortunately. I worry about my cousin, he is now a 45 year old autistic who is living in a group home and has a job. When we are at the park he wants to talk with the "kids" not the adults in the park...people freak. It is a challenging world for those who don't meet the standard for "normal." one step in front of the other...

Linda said...

My heart goes out to you and GP.
It's a harsh world out there unfortuneately. I have a 4 year old grandson who is autistic and runs. He does not know what stop means so you always need to hold his hand. He has no speech as of yet. Sorry, but the world can be so cruel.

Dawn Heese said...

Brenda,
In your previous post you quoted the statistic "1 in 88" children have autism. Here is a statistic for you "another 1 in 88 people are just stupid".
Dawn

Happy Cottage Quilter said...

Write the letter. I have a niece who has an autistic child. She is one of five children. My niece would have gone right up to the sales ladies and explained the facts of life to them. So sad that they were so insensitive.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry that this happend to you and GP!:( Praise God that there is still lovliness in the world and kind and lovely people; so hopefully you can put this behind you. Such ignorance(sigh). Hope that this never happens to you again.

Anne said...

Such a shame that these insensitive employees took such a drastic precaution. Was there no store manager present to address whatever concerns these employees perceived as a problem? I hope what happened isn't this store's standard protocol. Had I been in your shoes, I probably wouldn't have been so gracious to the C&B employees.

Had I seen your son gazing at the wooden ball, I would have thought he might be an art student studying form and shape.

You should send a letter about what took place at this store to the head of C&B, that particular store's manager, and to the head of the mall's administration.

This past Sunday afternoon, while I shopped at a book/video store in my town, a young man stood very close to me while I browsed a display of DVDs. My first thought was that he'd invaded my personal space just a bit, but we both remained there while we browsed.

When I heard the young man's father call out to him, I realized that I was familiar with the young man. He is autistic. He quickly responded to his father's request to follow him to the checkout area. No one in the store seemed alarmed, and I don't recall noticing a security guard hovering over this young man while he enjoyed shopping.

Anonymous said...

You need to pursue this..there is no reason for this kind of ignorance at this day and age. I am sorry that this had to happen to you and your son, but maybe some good can come out of it..

Sheila said...

Brenda,
I agree with Paulette, that you should send this post on to the store manager. Perhaps becoming aware and educated could be incorporated into their "staff" meetings, not just at C&B, but EVERYWHERE! It's sad our society is so clueless.

quilting_queen_57 said...

Brenda,
I have a daughter, age 27, with Asperger's. I am sending a hug your way.....

Lisa said...

You sound like an amazing advocate for your son and I for one think you deserve more respect as does your son. Ignorance is not an excuse, Autism is not an obscure condition that no one has heard of, it is definitely more prevalent in today's society since the Autism Spectrum Disorder has grouped different degrees of autism and similar conditions together. When I was younger the only children that were diagnosed as autistic were severe cases and Asperger's Syndrome did not even exist as a diagnosis. And I am only 41 years old. In another 20 years I am sure more changes will occur. That being said, there is still no excuse for store employees to gang together and treat a potential customer in any disrespectful way especially when it is not warranted. I wholeheartedly agree with the previous comments left by your other blog followers, you MUST forward this post to the management at Crate and Barrel or these narrow minded employees will never change and another unsuspecting innocent individual will be mistreated.

Anonymous said...

It is so sad that people react this way. I have worked with many Autistic children over the years and most are wonderful and do just fine in public places when given time frames such as I you do with GP. I have only known one or two who did not do well when out in public, and given time and training they adapted and were able to learn the behaviors that were required in settings such as you describe.
I agree the employees need sensitivity training. You are doing a wonderful job with GP and I think you need to write a letter to the company letting them know that this incident occurred.

Anonymous said...

It is so sad that people react this way. I have worked with many Autistic children over the years and most are wonderful and do just fine in public places when given time frames such as I you do with GP. I have only known one or two who did not do well when out in public, and given time and training they adapted and were able to learn the behaviors that were required in settings such as you describe.
I agree the employees need sensitivity training. You are doing a wonderful job with GP and I think you need to write a letter to the company letting them know that this incident occurred.

Mary Anne, Rochester, NY said...

My niece is a special ed teacher in the Rochester, NY area with 6-7 little (6-7 year olds) in her classroom. She loves each and every one of them and tells us about their achievements. I can't believe in the insensitivity of the the security guard displayed...where was he trained? As for the staff, I admire your restraint, I would have given them a piece of my mind! Poorly handled at the store so I would send a copy of your beautifully written article to the President and Marketing VP and store manager at Crate and Barrel. Perhaps you will be invited (GP also) to meet with the "powers that be" and enlighten them. Your son is a handsome young man and certainly not a problem or danger to the patrons or staff at the store. God bless you, GP and thank you for showing such patience.

MJ said...

Please contact this shop's manager with a copy of your letter to corporate headquarters. They need to make some postitive changes!

Teri D said...

I am with the others - send this posting upwards and onwards ! I admire your patience and grace under such conditions , I might not have been so nice. It sounds as if you are doing a wonderful job with GP - good job Mom! Don't linger on others ignorance , move past this - (after you send the posting) and continue to make beauty in the world where you can find it (especially with all your talent I have witnessed on your facebook site :) ).

msdaisy42079 said...

Hi Brenda,
I totally understand your feelings toward the sales clerks at C & B. Is it possible the clerks were just concerned about your son? Maybe they thought he was confused, lost or something.
I am a teacher and have several autistic students in my class, but many folks simply don't understand.
By the way, you handled things in a totally appropriate manner, it probably wouldn't have done any good to confront them.
Just my two cents worth...
Take care, Kim, a person who loves primitives and kids with autism!!

Janice said...

My son has Asperger's Syndrome and has poor speech. It makes me crazy that salespeople will not even attempt to try and understand him. I'm afraid I have been rude and made them listen to me rave about their horrible attitudes toward the autistic people of the world. I commend you for holding your tongue. I have learned from my wonderful, loving son that "its ok Mom they just don't need to know me." Janice from Watseka, Il.

Crafty Spirit said...

I've worked retail for years, and have always loved autistic customers. Then again, my oldest (dearest, and yeesh, it's hard to believe he's a grown man now!) nephew is autistic, so I find I greatly enjoy being the cashier that makes what can, and usually seems to be, a hellish shopping experience at least a little bit easier. I won't hesitate to answer an overheard "Wow, that customer's WEIRD" with a discreet "No, that customer is autistic, what's the problem?"

Anonymous said...

I had the same type of thing happen to me at Somerset Mall near Detroit. This is an upscale mall and I was shopping with my teenage son, who was dressed a little bit scruffy that day but still looked like your average teenager. I was waiting in line for a coffee so I told him to go ahead of me and wait in the store. When I got there, he told me that security had been following him around. We decided to try a little experiment. I sent him into a store ahead of me and watched while he just wandered the store, picking things up to look at them. Usually within a minute there was a store clerk or security guard hovering around him. As soon as I came into the store and spoke to him and they knew he was with me, they would back off.

People today are just too suspicious and distrusting of others. There is no excuse for store employees to treat a potential customer that way especially when it is not warranted. Unless they were concerned for GP's safety (which I highly doubt) they should learn to treat anyone who comes into their store with respect, not just those who fit their "shopper's profile".