CALGARY- 7-year-old Michaela Evans doesn’t use words to communicate her joy at being on TV. Her excited eyes tell the story as she peers into the camera lens, before bouncing away on the family’s trampoline.
“She’s pre-verbal now,” her father Rob Evans explains. “She does have some words, some communication with us, but for the most part it’s non-communication.”
When Michaela was 2 and a half, her mother noticed something was wrong. Doctors later confirmed it was autism.
“Everything you had planned for your child goes out the window,” Jennifer Evans recalls. “I wanted her to giggle at sleepovers and fall in love and get married and go to school. You think all those things could be gone forever, and it’s terrifying.”
Despite her diagnosis, Michaela is expressive, outgoing and improving all the time. Still, her parents realize other people may judge their daughter for her unusual behavior. That’s why the story of a hateful letter delivered to an Oshawa family about their autistic son has been hard to take.
“My mother in law and I sat and cried last night watching all the news reports, seeing this poor woman who is suffering,” Jennifer shares. “It hurts when people judge our kids, thinking someone could feel the same way about our daughter.”
Ontario prosecutors are considering laying criminal charges against the author of a letter delivered to the family of 13-year-old Maxwell Begley. Begley has moderate to severe autism and frequents his grandmother’s home in Newcastle, Ontario. It was there that the letter comparing him to a ‘wild animal’ was delivered.
The original story sparked outrage and disbelief online, being read thousands of times and spreading across social media.
Families like the Evans’ says it’s difficult not to take the incident personally, when it reminds them of the many smaller acts of intolerance they’ve experienced first-hand.
“You notice the glares, you notice the ‘tsks,’ the old lady in Target who says your kids just needs a good spanking, the guy in the restaurant who tells you if you can’t keep you kid quiet you should keep them at home,” Jennifer says.
Support and advocacy organizations for people with autism have also expressed outrage.
The President of the Ability Hub says he was disappointed.
“I was really sad when I read the letter,” Tom Collins explains. “I just think in today’s world, it’s not the way we want to approach dealing with people with special needs.”
The Ability Hub helps adolescents and adults on the autism spectrum develop life and employment skills. Many of the Calgary facility’s clients are now working in retail, food service and IT.
“We’ve certainly been able to prove here that even people who have a profound disability have the capacity to learn and look after themselves, but it takes time, it takes patience and it takes some expertise.”
A fundraising website has been set up for Karla Begley, the mother who received the anonymous letter.
With files from James Armstrong, Global News