Parents of children with learning disabilities can face some unfortunate situations when out and about in public places. Ashley Wright can certainly relate to that, as a man yelled at her autistic 13-year-old son during a trip to the zoo in June 2018. Later that day, however, she hit back at him through an impassioned Facebook post.
A resident of Belleville, Canada, Ashley is the mother of two children named Logan and Brinlee. The former is 13 years old and stands over 6 feet tall, and he also suffers from a number of mental disabilities. According to his mom, the teenager has severe autism, echolalia and global developmental delay.
Logan earned a trip to the Riverview Park & Zoo in Peterborough, Ontario, for good behavior in June 2018. After a two-hour car journey, he and his family finally arrived, but their day out soon turned very sour. As they walked into the zoo, another group started to look back at the teenager, staring at him while he made some loud noises.
With Logan becoming more agitated, the other family continued to stare on from a distance, as Ashley tried to gauge what was wrong with her son. Before long, though, a man from that group walked over to the mother and her children. As the man came closer, he then allegedly shouted at them, questioning why the teenager was allowed out in public.
Ignoring him, Ashley made her way into the nearest bathroom with Logan and Brinlee, before breaking down in tears. The trio then ventured over to the camel enclosure, only to see the man and his family again. However, while he continued to stare at them, he didn’t say anything else, much to the mom’s relief.
After that, Ashley and her children travelled home, with the incident involving Logan still simmering in her mind. Later that day, though, she went on Facebook and vented her frustration, writing a lengthy message about what had happened. Unsurprisingly, she directed her anger at the man who’d approached them.
“To the man at the Peterborough Zoo today who loudly yelled [while] glaring at us, ‘Why do people bring kids like that out in public?” Ashley wrote on Facebook in June 2018. “This letter is for you. Will you probably ever see it? No. Do I think you will actually care even if you did? Probably not.”
“Maybe, just maybe, someone else will read this, though, and think twice about making someone feel the way you did today,” Ashley continued. After describing her son’s condition, she then recalled the events at the zoo in greater detail, noting how quickly things had turned sour.
“You walked ahead of us as we walked into the zoo,” Ashley continued. “[Logan] was being loud. He was flapping his hands. He was jumping. But he was happy. You kept turning back and staring at us, and at first it didn’t bother me. We were at Logan’s favorite place. He had worked hard all week to earn this trip, and I honestly just thought you were curious.”
“Then all hell broke loose at the zoo, and I realized you weren’t curious at all,” Ashley added. Following their lengthy journey to Peterborough, the mother needed the bathroom, taking Logan in with her. Within moments of leaving the facilities, the teenager then became agitated, but due to his condition he couldn’t verbalize what was wrong.
While Ashley tried to calm her son down, she caught a glimpse of the man again. “I noticed you and your family were stopped and staring at us again,” she wrote on Facebook. “I was getting slightly annoyed at this point, but you still weren’t my concern, my very upset, very stressed out son was.”
Before long, Ashley realized that Logan needed the bathroom himself, prompting them to head back. However, that’s when the situation escalated. “You started walking closer to us and my brain instantly went into thinking, ‘Sir please stay away, I’m trying to protect myself, my daughter and my son, I don’t need another potential person getting hurt,’” Ashley recalled.
“You got about two feet away from us and very loudly yelled, ‘WHY DO PEOPLE BRING KIDS LIKE THIS OUT IN PUBLIC? THEY RUIN SOCIETY,’” Ashley continued. “Now, you have your opinion and I’m sure you think you are valid in what you said. But you are wrong. What you don’t realize is Logan deserves to be out in public just as much as anyone else. He doesn’t ruin society.”
After composing herself in the bathroom, Ashley noted that another man had stepped in to stand up for her and Logan. She then recalled what happened when they walked over to see the camels, before finishing her post with a stern message. “All I can hope is that in the future, if a situation like this happens again, you don’t make another family feel the way you made ours feel today,” she wrote.
“I also sincerely hope your children don’t grow up feeling that kids like Logan shouldn’t be out in public,” Ashley concluded. “Because he needs that social interaction. He deserves to get to see his camels after a good week of behavior. He deserves to be treated just as good as anyone else.”
Ashley’s words clearly resonated with people, as her Facebook post earned over 17,000 likes and more than 13,000 shares. However, few could’ve predicted what happened next. After reading her impassioned message, officials from the zoo contacted the Belleville resident, offering her family a behind-the-scenes tour.
“I think it’s an important follow-up to the incident,” Jim Moloney, the curator and manager of the Riverview Park & Zoo, told Global News in June 2018. “To make it very clear that our community and the zoo itself is very welcoming and open and supportive to everybody.”
Accompanied by zoo staff and a few officers from the Peterborough Police Service, Ashley took Moloney up on his offer, returning just two weeks after their last visit. Unsurprisingly, the atmosphere was a great deal more welcoming this time around. “This meant so much to me, not only seeing Logan, but Brinlee, too, and seeing how happy they were,” she told Global News.
“Being able to come back and just seeing how happy [Logan] was to pet the camels and to feed some of the animals was just amazing,” Ashley added. Meanwhile, Grant Eastwood of the Peterborough Police Service also offered his support to the family, making it clear that people like Logan shouldn’t be discriminated against by the public.
As for Ashley, she was clearly touched by the zoo’s kind gesture, comparing her contrasting emotions from the previous trip. “I definitely left feeling very down and sad that day, and so this day has definitely made up for it,” she said. “I can’t say thank you enough to everybody.”