People with autism are, first and foremost, people. Yet they often face hurtful stereotypes and stigma. That’s why one mother, Magenta Quinn, is speaking out after she received a letter last week from one of her neighbors complaining about her son who has autism. Quinn, who is based in Australia, shared a copy of the letter on Facebook, and it’s pretty shocking. Fortunately, since then, she received an outpouring of support.
The letter begins: “When you moved in, we heard these strange moaning and shouting coming from your garden every day and night, for which we were concerned may be illegal activities, so we contacted the police who in turn have visited your premises. They informed us of your situation that a person in your family is suffering from a mental illness and that was the source of the noise.”
“Whist I sympathize with your situation, is it is a very disturbing noise that comes from your garden continuously, every day, sometimes late into the night,” the letter continues. “It is not fair on the community to have to bear this disturbance especially as it occurs daily.” The letter then “kindly requests” that Quinn “try to limit the amount of time that is spent in the garden such that we do not have to listen to the disturbing noise daily and sometimes before 6 a.m.” That request is followed up by a threat of contacting a lawyer if the noise doesn’t stop.
“This morning I collected this letter from my mailbox and shared it in my local community page with the following text. I shared it to state ‘this is not ok’ and make a stand about bullying,” Quinn wrote in her Facebook post. “I received an out pouring of love and compassion and am grateful for people who care.❣️”
Quinn tells SELF that her son, who is now a teenager, was diagnosed with autism when he was 2 years old.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a term used to refer to a group of conditions related to brain development previously thought to be separate, including autism and Asperger’s syndrome, per the Mayo Clinic. Everyone with ASD has their own pattern of behaviors, but that might include having difficulty picking up on social cues, performing repetitive behaviors, or developing specific routines and rituals, the Mayo Clinic says.
Those repetitive behaviors (such as rocking or repeating words) are often called “stimming” and may help people with autism regulate and process the sensory information they’re getting. Quinn says her son hums and yelps to soothe himself.
Quinn tells SELF that the incident with the police happened about a month after she and her son moved in, and she was “a little shocked [but] more indignant” when she received the letter. Quinn says she originally decided to share the letter because she was hoping to reach the neighbor via her community’s Facebook group. “I thought maybe 30 to 40 people would see it and let them know I’d like to talk,” she explained. But two hours and 400 comments later, Quinn decided to go public with the letter to help raise awareness that this kind of reaction isn’t OK.
Surprisingly, the public response to the letter on Facebook wasn’t overwhelmingly supportive. While most people were angry on Quinn’s behalf, some said the neighbor was right to write the letter. Still, Quinn says that she’s “overwhelmed” by all the love and support she’s gotten after sharing the letter.
Having a child with autism may come with some extra challenges, including facing stigma like this.
As SELF wrote previously, having a child with autism may mean taking some practical steps to make sure they’re comfortable and that those who need to know their situation have a heads up. But it’s on the rest of us to be understanding and accepting.
Aside from the already prevalent stigma against those with mental illnesses and developmental conditions, people with autism who engage in stimming behaviors may face even more judgment from those who don’t understand the purpose of those behaviors. Calling them “disturbing” just furthers that stigma.
Thankfully, posts like Quinn’s help raise awareness of what life with autism and raising a child with the condition is really like. “I don’t expect anyone to fully understand what having an autistic teenager is like,” she wrote on Instagram, “but I would hope people could approach each other with compassion and have open dialogue about things that concern them, especially when living in close proximity to each other.”