When one youngster arrived at his local pumpkin patch, he couldn’t wait for an action-packed day of fun. However, as he enjoyed himself on the bounce house, a member of staff asked his babysitter to escort him out. Later, his family claimed workers had discriminated against the boy because of his Down syndrome.
Like most 11-year-olds, Nicho Fajardo was no doubt looking forward to the Halloween festivities in October 2017. The youngster comes from North Hollywood, California, where he lives with his mom and dad. In many ways, Fajardo was just like every kid his age, except for the fact he had Down syndrome.
Down syndrome is a genetic disorder that occurs when a third copy of the chromosome 21 appears in a human’s DNA. The condition can cause physical growth problems, characteristic facial features and some intellectual disability. However, despite the challenges his disorder posed, his parents always ensured Fajardo experienced everything his peers did.
That’s why they were so upset when they felt their beloved son was discriminated against in fall 2017. In preparation for Halloween, Fajardo’s babysitter, Erika Ganier, took the youngster to a nearby pumpkin patch in Van Nuys. The day out was supposed to be a treat, but it descended into disaster.
At first, the day passed without incident. In fact, Fajardo was having a whale of a time, jumping around on a bounce house. His energy was infectious. As a result, Ganier couldn’t resist taking some snaps of the youngster enjoying himself to remember the special occasion.
However, moments later, something would happen to transform those good memories into bad ones. That’s because, as Fajardo let loose just like the other children at the pumpkin patch, someone approached Ganier and asked her to remove him from the play area.
According to the pumpkin patch worker, it was unsafe for Fajardo play with the other children. She told an astonished Ganier that “kids like him” weren’t permitted at the patch because of previous problems with injury.
Understandably, the babysitter was furious. At first, she declined to remove Fajardo from the patch. However, after a heated exchange, Ganier begrudgingly managed to convince the child to move on, so as not to cause more of a scene.
The incident left her fuming. “I am furious! I couldn’t even believe what was happening,” she admitted to CBS 2 in October 2017. “The other children are running around and jumping and we have to leave.”
Unable to bite her tongue, she later shared a lengthy post about the incident on Facebook. “I gently took Nicho’s hand and told him that one must fight against mean and unkind people,” she wrote. “He was affected by this experience but he did not know how to express it.”
One person who reacted to the update was Fajardo’s mom, Maria. “Erika, thank you for sticking up for my Nicho, I’m so upset!” she wrote. And it turned out that she wasn’t the only one. In fact, the babysitter’s post outraged many who saw it.
Consequently, it soon clocked up more than 1,000 reactions and more than 2,000 shares. “I’m so angry and upset reading your post. What kind of monsters deliberately hurt a little boy?” read one of the many angry comments on the update.
In the comments, Ganier revealed she had contacted local news channels. As a result, it wasn’t long before Fajardo’s awful experience hit headlines. CBS 2 in Los Angeles picked up the story and approached the pumpkin patch’s manager for comment.
He declined the station’s request for a recorded interview. However, he did claim Fajardo’s family were pursuing “a federal case” over the snub. He also said Ganier’s behavior had left two girls in tears. Furthermore, he said parents that have kids with special needs should call ahead to let them know they’re planning to attend.
The publicity could not have been more ill timed for the patch. October is, in fact, Down Syndrome Awareness month. The campaign aims not only to raise awareness of the condition, but also to celebrate the abilities of those with it. The month’s main goal is to promote advocacy and inclusion within all communities.
Meanwhile, the pumpkin patch owner left the Fajardos an apologetic voicemail. “I am so, so sorry,” they said. However, they reiterated the manager’s suggestion that parents of disabled children should call ahead. “You make arrangements for him to be, a day ahead of time, to where it’s not busy because you know how kids are bullies and stuff,” they explained.
However, according to Sandra Baker from the Down Syndrome Association, such a request might not be within the law. “There’s no legal reason that you could possibly do that, exclude a child from participating in any activity,” she said. “He could have a day where it’s specifically for children with disabilities but you also have to welcome them any day.”
Thankfully, little Fajardo soon forgot all about the incident. However, his parents couldn’t wipe it from their minds as easily. “That’s not right, what they did and they discriminate against him,” the boy’s dad said. “Why? Because he has a disability or he’s special needs?”
Meanwhile, Fajardo’s mom revealed it was the fact the patch excluded her kid that got to her the most. “It’s just upsetting, you know. My son’s always been an inclusion kid,” she explained. “To think people still, nowadays, treat him different. I’m glad I wasn’t there to see his reaction.”
The Fajardo family want an apology for their son and babysitter and hope their story will raise awareness of disabilities. Most of all, they want to promote a spirit of inclusivity. After all, no matter what they look like or deal with in their lives, kids are all the same at heart.