Family says son was not allowed in aquarium exhibit because of his autism

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Photo courtesy of WOAI

SAN ANTONIO, TX (March 13, 2015) – The mother of a boy with autism says an employee at the San Antonio Aquarium denied her son entry to an exhibit because of his disorder.

Ramona Vedia says her five-year-old son Jr was wearing a shirt that said “I have autism, what’s your super power?” when they took a trip to the aquarium on Wednesday. She thought it was a positive shirt for her son to wear, but instead she feels like JR was judged because of it.

Vedia told WOAI that an employee told her son he couldn’t go into the aviary because he was “dangerous”.

San Antonio Aquarium’s chief operating officer Alui Cleaver is backing up the employee that denied Jr entrance into the exhibit, but he says it has nothing to do with the boy’s disorder. “The child was not calm enough to go into an aviary where we have very small birds that can be easily hurt.”

Cleaver also said that Jr. was seen shaking part of the exhibit.

Upset by the situation, the family decided to leave. “He knew they were talking about him. That they were making fun of him. That they didn’t want him there. And it hurt me.”

Autism experts say the type of behavior displayed by children like Jr – for example hitting or clapping – can be misunderstood.

“They see it as aggression or a tantrum and they see it as acting out,” said Bernice De La Cruz with Autism Community Network.

But in actually kids like Jr who are non-verbal are just trying to communicate.

The aquarium told WOAI that from now on they will plan ahead and will accommodate children with autism by opening or closing early for them. “So they aren’t dealing with large crowds all the noise and distraction,” said Cleaver.