One grocery store clerk’s simple act of kindness brought a special needs mom to tears.
Alisen Booth, from Brentwood, California, was at a Trader Joe’s near her home doing some shopping with her 5-year-old son Hank on Wednesday. Hank, who has autism, was having a rough day — Booth had picked him up early from school after he had a fall. Booth was trying to soothe him, look after his little brother and shop all at once. Hank was getting increasingly frustrated.
“Normally, when I’m out shopping, people look at me like, ‘Why isn’t your kid behaving? Why cant you handle your kid?'” Booth told The Mighty. “Nobody seems to think, ‘Maybe this kid is dealing with sensory overload. Maybe theres something else going on.'”
Finally, realizing there was too much going on and it was time to go, Booth got into the checkout line. Hank, still in overload, continued to take items from the shelves and the cart, until the Trader Joe’s cashier leaned down and started talking with him.
She engaged Hank and taught him how to scan the barcode on groceries, letting him check out his mother’s entire cart. She then gave him and his little brother some stickers as a present. Hank lit up immediately.
“She was very hands on and very caring,” Booth told The Mighty. “No one has ever done that before for us before. She didn’t even ask questions about Hank or his behavior, she just wanted to help. It blew me away.”
The small interaction completely charmed Hank and helped calm him down. Booth, touched by the gesture, snapped some photos, paid for her groceries and then, once in her car, started crying.
Later, she shared the story on Facebook. Someone who saw it put Booth in touch with the cashier, who turned out to have gone to high school with her husband. Booth was able to thank her some more.
Booth says for the rest of the day Hank was proud of himself and excited. He mentioned that he wants to be a Trader Joe’s cashier one day.
“I wish people would be more compassionate not just to people with special needs, but people in general. A smile, a hug, a touch, even a handshake can help anybody’s day. She made him feel like he had a purpose,” Booth told The Mighty. “It made his day, it really did.”
Nearly two-thirds of young adults on the autism spectrum are unemployed after the first two years of high school, according to the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute. But with his dad, Dennis, the 17-year-old is finding success in his “pro-autism” hat company, Tuck’s Tooques.
The father-son duo use the term “pro-autism” to mean “owned and operated by an autistic family.” Tucker is autistic and although he is currently balancing life as a high school student and entrepreneur, he dreams of being a pulmonologist someday. His dad is also on the spectrum.
“The business is really just a platform we developed for [Tucker] to develop skills to become an independent adult,” Dennis Mashue told The Mighty.
Frustrated with the public education system’s lack of post-secondary education focus for autistic students, the Mashues started discussing the idea of starting a company in 2012, but it wouldn’t officially be a registered entity until this January. Tuck’s Tooques sells the Himalayan-based touqe, or in this case “tooque.” (The extra ‘o’ was added to help Americans with pronunciation.) When they started looking at business models, a friend introduced them to tooques, and a light bulb went off. Outdoorsy people always need a good winter hat, and the business model for a hat company would allow them to distribute from anywhere and to travel freely. Another incentive for the Mashues was that the tassel hats would support Nepali stay-at-home artisans. Tooques seemed like a viable fit.
Tucker said one of his favorite parts of running a business with his dad is that it has helped the two become better friends. He said he has also learned new skills, like typing, shipping, setting up displays, collecting payments, paying bills, and customer service. The best part of running the business for Dennis: watching his son thrive in life.
Tuck’s Tooques has created a platform for Dennis and Tucker to bring new opportunities to the autism community. Through their OuterSelf Intiatives (OSI) project, the two have hosted parent workshops on changing autism health laws and available resources. OSI has initiated peer-to-peer programs in local schools, a nature day-camp program at the Chippewa Nature Center, and co-facilitated a national webinar to demonstrate how to develop peer-to-peer programs. They have also fostered mentor relationships between local college students and autism families, including fitness and bowling programs for autistic teens.
The longterm plan for Tuck’s Tooques is to create a lasting business and help change society’s approach to working with people with autism. In the future, the company plans to expand to become more than a seasonal business, and the Mashues also hope to employee other autistic adults. Their main focus for this year is promoting Tuck’s Tooques on Tour, a 6-month coast-to-coast promotional tour that will kickoff April 15. The primary goal of the tour will be to promote Tuck’s Tooques to retailers, as well as hosting speaking engagements to support “pro-autism” endeavors, online schooling for children on the spectrum, and to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the National Park System.
Tuck’s Tooques already has made a number of accomplishments for the year. It was accepted by Central Michigan University’s Right Choice small business accelerator program. The company also made a noteworthy partnership when Lonnie Dupre, a world-class mountaineer and polar explorer, chose to outfit his Vertical Nepal expeditions in 2016 with Tuck’s Tooques.
Like any parent, Dennis wants his son to know that whatever he wants to do in life, whether that is to run the business, become a doctor or something else, he can achieve it.
“I wanted him to understand that while his learning style is different from his peers’, he can do it,” Dennis said. “I want to preserve his spirit and to push him to dream.”
Tucker hopes society will learn to be more accepting of people with different abilities. He also encourages other kids with autism to have confidence in themselves.
“Be proud that you have skills that most other kids don’t have,” he said. “Individuality is awesome.”
For more information about Tuck’s Tooques, check out its Facebook page and GoFundMe campaign.
Hello everyone, Production Intern Andrew Levin here. I have a new video talking about what it feels like to socialize when you have autism. If you have autism or know someone with autism, feel free share your experiences in the comments.
If you have any ideas for videos you’d like to see, please contact me at [email protected]
Paul Gordo, 18, appeared in court on Wednesday to face a felony assault charge stemming from an incident in which he injured a woman in Monterey, California. Gordo’s family confirmed on Facebook the offense was reduced to one misdemeanor charge for great bodily harm, and Gordo, who has autism, was put on probation, but neither they nor disability advocates across the country are pleased with the outcome.
“The court still ignores that this was prosecution of a disability,” Paul’s father, Steve Gordo, wrote on the family’s Facebook page, Autism is Not a Crime. “If this is success, why do I feel sick to my stomach?”
Paul Gordo was at a public library in July 2015 with a teacher, and after the busy setting triggered a meltdown, he ran out the door and injured a 58-year-old with Huntington’s disease. Jeannine Pacioni, deputy district attorney for Monterey County, told the Modesto Bee the injuries to the woman, who reportedly suffered a concussion, worsened her complications of the disease.
Gordo’s family was ordered to pay restitution for the woman’s medical expenses, and per the request of his family, Gordo will be receiving behavioral therapy at an out-of-state facility in Kansas. The court was presented with a letter from a forensic psychologist stating Gordo’s actions were the result of a neurological disorder and not driven by criminal intent, and Gordo’s family believes this helped lessen the blow.
“We are still angry with the system,” Steve Gordo, told the Modesto Bee. “One thing we are not happy about is that Paul was exhibiting the behavior of his disability and really was not under control at that time. We are glad we don’t have to sell our house to pay for a criminal trial.”
“It is ridiculous, but I am not surprised this happened,” added Shirley Nutt of Ripon, former director of Special Needs Advocates for Understanding. “I think it will happen more and more. If you are going to charge an adult with autism for manifestations of their behavior, then I guess you will charge a blind person with jaywalking if they step outside of a crosswalk.”
“His case and countless others across the country highlight the need for professionals within in the criminal justice system to be properly trained on supporting individuals with various diagnoses and recognizing various disabilities, including autism,” Leigh Ann Davis, Program Manager for The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability, told The Mighty.
The Arc has been involved with the Gordo family throughout this process. “The fact of the matter is that people with intellectual and disabilities are not getting the proper support they need within the criminal justice system,” Davis added. “To manifest change, we need those on the inside to educate others in their field about what to look for to spot a disability, and how to find the appropriate supports and services for these individuals.”
The family set up an online petition protesting the criminalization of Paul Gordo’s actions, and to date, it has received more than 13,000 signatures of support. Jill Escher, president of the Autism Society of the San Francisco Bay Area, wrote a letter to the judge urging her to drop the criminal prosecution. Escher previously told The Mighty major changes need to be made within our legal system.
“One thing’s for sure, our criminal justice system, which is predicated on the idea of punishing those who willingly choose to transgress the law, is no place to address impulsive acts of developmentally disabled adults,” Escher wrote in an email.
To get these results, scientists studied the sleep habits 81 children on the spectrum. Sleep problems were significantly associated with physical aggression, irritability, inattention and hyperactivity. Researchers noted that night awakenings had the most consistently strong association with daytime behavior problems, even after controlling for the effects of age and sex.
Though it’s unclear what exactly is driving sleep challenges in those with autism, the findings reiterate the need to consider sleep habits when evaluating behavior, Disability Scoop reported.
“If parents are noticing that their children are having behavioral problems, it may be helpful to make sure they are sleeping well at night,” said Micah Mazurek, an assistant professor of health psychology at the University of Missouri and an author of the study. “For all children with ASD, it is important that parents and professionals routinely screen for sleep problems. Addressing these issues will help children be at their best during the day.”
Brothers and sisters, we are losing. We can argue about the reasons why; we can argue about the biased media, unreasonable expectations, poor self-promotion. But the brutal truth I’ve seen is many individuals with special needs and their families are afraid to call us when they need help. They are afraid we will hurt them. They are afraid we will judge them. They are afraid we will take their children away. That is both tragic and unacceptable to me, and I hope it is unacceptable to you, too.
This is difficult for me to say, but in all honesty I’m afraid, too. I am a high-ranking officer in my police department. I am in charge of training. I teach this stuff. And as a dad, I’m afraid, too. You — we — are granted immense power to affect the trajectory of people’s lives. That scares them — us.
We are family. I would bleed for you. I am calling in my chips and begging you to hear me out. You will meet our families at our lowest points. Understand the courage and sheer desperation that is required, given their utter fear, to pick up the phone and dial 911 during a crisis. You will be tempted to judge us — to “otherize” us. Please don’t. I am a good father. My wife is a wonderful mother. We enjoy the luxury of an incredible support structure. And if you were to judge me based on any of the four (yes, four) times I have lost my son, you could make a case that I am unfit.
Families like mine operate on high alert 24 hours per day. I have not sat and relaxed during a meal with my wife at a family picnic in 11 years. We take turns keeping watch over my son. We sleep in shifts. We sleep with one ear open for the sound of the chain latch on our back door — not because we are afraid of burglars coming in, but because we are afraid of our son breaking out. We are constantly aware of the ignorant stares and judgment of strangers. We have to carefully plan and coordinate even the shortest trips to the supermarket.
I’m not asking for your sympathy. This is not a tragedy. This is a challenge. And sometimes, our best isn’t good enough. Sometimes we need help. Sometimes we need you.
I am your biggest fan. I am your loudest advocate. I am screaming from the rooftops that you are, without equivocation, the Good Guys. But it’s so fragile. One negative headline spreads like wildfire and can become the accepted perception. Open your hearts and minds, and learn about our families. Approach us with genuine curiosity and empathy. You have no idea how much we need you.
The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a moment you were met with extreme negativity or adversity related to your disability and/or disease (or a loved one’s) and why you were proud of your response — or how you wish you could’ve responded.If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.