Dear (People in Charge),

I would like to make you aware of an unfortunate occurrence at (your community center) last week involving my seven year-old son, Adam. Although I spoke at length with Carol (your director of services) just after it happened, and was very appreciative of her time and compassion, I left that meeting feeling that I needed to do more.

My son Adam has autism and it isn’t always possible for him to participate in the activities that his typical peers enjoy. I was therefore thrilled when I first approached Carol and Steve, the coach of the Veteran’s Day Basketball clinic and they assured me that Adam would feel welcome and would be well cared for over the course of the day. They were open to my presence at the clinic and made it clear that they understood Adam’s social challenges. In light of the center’s reputation for welcoming children with special needs, I felt comfortable with their assurances.

As intended, I stayed on the center’s campus throughout the day and periodically looked in on the clinic. I was therefore observing the gym when the following incident occurred.

Coach Steve and his assistant led the kids through an elimination game. The kids were eliminated one by one until ultimately, the competition came down to Adam and another child for the win. At this point, I watched as the kids were told to move themselves to the side of the boy that they wanted to win the game. I then watched in horror as all eighteen boys – every single one of them – marched to the other boy’s side, leaving Adam standing completely alone.

As you can imagine, this would be upsetting for any child. To a child with autism – a social disability that by definition makes making and keeping friends desperately challenging – it was devastating.

Worse yet, there couldn’t have been any question about how the children’s loyalty would be divided. When Carol, Steve and I had spoken, I had discussed at length the fact that Adam did not know anyone coming into the clinic. A child who struggles with the simplest social pragmatics is not likely to win friends over the course of an afternoon. Sadly, the outcome – and Adam’s subsequent humiliation – was inevitable.

We are still dealing with the ramifications of that day. Adam continues to perseverate on the event, asking why none of the boys liked him and wondering aloud what he might have done to have made them all root for the other child. It is obvious that this is not something that he will quickly move past. As a mother, it is heartbreaking.

Additionally, there was a completely inconsistent award system that left Adam confused and further dejected. Coach Steve explained to me that he had given coins to some of the boys who had won games to spend as they saw fit in the vending machine, ‘but not to others’. Adam, after winning his game, walked away baffled by why he did not get a prize like the other boys.

No other mother – whether of a special needs child or not – should have to watch her child suffer such avoidable humiliation. Coach Steve’s actions that day were, quite simply, unacceptable. They flew in the face of everything that the community center stands for and they cannot be – overtly nor tacitly – endorsed.

Going forward, it is vital that anyone who the community center hires to work with children has an understanding of – and a sensitivity to – the needs of ALL children. It is the center’s responsibility to safeguard the children in its care, and to ensure that they are not subjected to physical or emotional abuse.

We are very lucky to live in a place that is chock full of resources. I have no doubt that the center will be able to find or design a training class for its employees and independent contractors. I am sure that the cost of executing mandatory sensitivity training will be far smaller than the cost that would be incurred if children – with or without special needs – were to continue to be humiliated.

I look forward to hearing back from you. I am eager to hear your plans to address this issue and to ensure that no other mother has to write a letter like this one.


(Any one of us)

ed notes: I helped my friend, C draft this letter yesterday. She was – in her own words – too emotional to make any sense. Once we had the words on paper, she was eager to share them, hopeful that something positive could come from the experience.

Please feel free to leave her a note in the comments. I’m sure that some support would be much appreciated. If your comments are anything other than supportive, please direct them at me.

As always, all names have been changed. Even Steve’s, though I’ll admit I was tempted.

52 thoughts on “adam

  1. How fortunate “Coach Steve” had a special needs parent like you observe this. Have no doubt, I would have verbally, and most likely physically showed him what feeling inferior feels like.

  2. As a former Phys Ed teacher and not to mention parent…this is absolutely horrifying and totally unacceptable….I am glad you are sending this letter. You hit the nail on the head when you said this would devastate ANY child. Shame on them.
    Once again we are reminded no matter how much preparation we do as parents sometimes it just doesn’t work out but we have to keep on trying to make our kids lives better by helping people understand. Hugs to you and Adam.

  3. I agree with carol – this would upset any child, but especially one with special needs, and *especially* one with special needs who was trying to reach out as best as he could by doing the basketball activity.

    Way to go, Coach Steve. And I say that dripping – no, swimming – in sarcasm.

  4. It would not have been pretty, as I showed the Coach exactly what I thought of his game-after all the kids left the area that is. C, you deserve our love, support and compassion while you deal with this “situation” and please keep us informed of how things turn out, please.
    xoxoxoxoxo~Sheila mom to Aidan

  5. Coach Steve doesn’t know how to show good sportmanship and that’s a horrible thing for a coach. I’m sorry your son had this experience. I hope your letter can change things for future children.

  6. This is beyond horrifying.

    I would like to see Coach Steve GONE from that place. But something also needs to be said to those 18 boys, about why what Steve did was hateful, hurtful, and wrong. I am willing to bet that there were a couple of them who would have supported Adam but succumbed to peer pressure. If these children are not spoken to, a hugely important teachable moment will have passed.

    C., I am so, so sorry that Adam — and you — had to experience this. You are both winners in my book.

  7. I am so sorry you and your son had to experience this. I agree with *m*… the teachable moment for those boys is something that should not be overlooked. Yes, we all have a lot to learn–about kindness, support, human dignity–but think of the possibilities. If we can only somehow figure out how to raise this next generation in a truly enlightened way, I’m sure the world will be better for it.

  8. UGH Coach Steve is one of the reason my family has quit organized sports forever. Coach Steve (if you could even call him a coach cause in my mind he is nothing but an adult bully) deserves a foot in the ass!

  9. I am horrified! and that takes some doing! Poor Adam and his mom! Coach Steve should be fired. It’s unacceptable to do this to a typical kid but a child with special needs.

    That’s bullying. Plain and simple. GRRRRRRRR

    xooxoxoxoox for C and Adam


  10. This piece left me with a pit in my stomach. Since I can so easily see this scenario unfolding for my own son should he be in that situation, I actually feel nauseous. To mom – I’m so sorry that you experienced this. The jackasses of the world were clearly in rare form. I’m sorry for your pain and your heartbreak. And Adam – Coach Steve was wrong. Those kids were wrong. No one deserves to be treated as you were and well…I’m just so sorry. Thank you both for sharing your story.

  11. I’m having the same reaction as Shannon. This story makes me sick to my stomach. My heart breaks for Adam and for his mom and for all the other boys there who now think that excluding and humiliating others is acceptable behavior.

    Nathan just told me he spelled his name wrong in class yesterday, and the teacher pointed it out to him in front of everyone and they all laughed and called him (including the teacher) Athan all day long. He was tearing up as he told me.

    This coach sounds like an equal opportunity ass. Unfortunately our kids are so sensitive and already at a huge social disadvantage that they just don’t need insensitive, immature grown ups making their live more difficult.

    • Please tell your beautiful son that I- a NT 43 year old MOM- spelled my name wrong yesterday too. Everyone makes mistakes- starting with your babe’s imbecile of a “teacher”. Please give him a hug from me- just another person who made a mistake.

  12. I’m so rattled by this, I can’t even find the words- other than support- and a hug. And that most people, like my husband who coaches kids’ soccer and understands, would NEVER do this! Please don’t let one bully- or ten, or a thousand- destroy your faith in people- or sports. It sounds like Adam was GOOD if he was in the final two- and THAT should have been celebrated!

  13. This is awful. I want to defend what’s good and right about sports, but this is indefensible. Participation in and study of sports has taught me discipline, perseverance, how to deal with diverse groups of people, and provided me with a fulfilling career. Most importantly it has provided a wealth of shared experiences with my PDD/NOS son, with whome it can be difficult to relate on other subjects.

    I am a firm believer in the values that can be taght by participation – and yes, even healthy competition – in sports. But what this “coach” did has nothing to do with sports. It was bullying, pure and simple. Never in my time participating in sports or now observing as a parent, have I ever run across a situation where a coach has asked children to basically announce to the group which of the other children they like better and which they don’t.

    When my son began participating in sports, we did so with great trepidation. There have certainly been rocky moments, and even an awkward moment or two with a coach. But the experience has been nothing but positive. I hope this very unfortunate incident does not discourage you or your son from wanting to continue taking part in organized sports. And you are doing the absolute right thing by bringing it to the center’s attention.

    Please know that there is a lot of good out there. Lots of wonderful coaches who will treat your child – and mine – with care and respect and make the experience a positive one. Youth sports has plenty of bad apple, it’s true. But it doesn’t need to be that way, nor does it outweigh the potential benefits, even for kids like ours.

  14. WHO DOES THAT???? C and Adam I’m so sorry that you had to go through that. Adam,you sound like a fantastic basketball player!!! All of us posting here would be proud to stand behind you and cheer for you! Carol thank you for speaking out. Your story breaks my heart. We all expect to run into some degree of insensitvity, but this was way beyond and crossed over into cruelty. May your hearts heal.

  15. i’m heart sick after reading this. very sorry that you and your wonderful son had to go through this painful experience. it’s a cruel and incredibly unfair thing that happened.

    please keep us updated about this letter, what sort of reaction it receives, i know i’m rooting for you guys…and after today, after reading this post, A LOT of people will be thinking of you, rooting for you both.

    i went through similar experiences when i was a kid and i know that the way you are supporting him, trying so hard to help him through all of this, it will make such a huge difference. it’s not a comfort to hear that, nothing makes what happened better, but as he goes through the pain of this, just the fact that you are there, trying so hard, that will be a great help to him.

  16. This is simply horrifying. I applaud you and your friend for standing up and letting your voices be heard in the most eloquent, persuasive, and reasonable way possible, while still projecting the rage and emotion that surround this situation. I’ve been a reader of your blog for a while now, and I am so enamored with your voice and your passion for helping ALL children learn about and accept differences. Kudos to you and your friend. The world needs more people like you guys.

  17. Heartbreaking doesn’t begin to describe this. Thank you for helping your friend put the words on paper so that this can be addressed more fully at that center. If it’s not, please encourage her to keep pursuing it and keep the pressure on.

    My husband has worked in TV news for 20 years and I guarantee a station would be thrilled to cover this story — not expose style but raising awareness style and, with the right reporter, compassionately. I have two children with autism and we’ve encountered many, many situations over the years that definitely should have been handled differently. Nothing to this degree and this is exactly the kind of story the public needs to hear to continue raising awareness of our childrens’ needs and struggles.

    Please contact me if you need help finding someone to cover this in your area. TV is a small business and hubby has friends all over the country he can put you in touch with. It could make an enormous difference for another child, and your friend’s child and Adam in the future. Good luck and bless you for posting this.

  18. My stomach is in knots as I picture how this must have felt. I’m so angry at that coach. No child should have to endure that kind of humiliation, especially not one who faces such social challenges. The fact that this mother had discussed her child with the staff prior to the clinic makes it utterly inexcusable. Adam – I’m cheering for you and if anyone ever asked me to stand behind the player I thought would win I’d stand behind YOU!

  19. I am also horrified that this happened to Adam. I can only imagine what it felt like to watch him humiliated and then to try to help him make sense of something insensible. And to BE Adam. The poor boy. I so hope that they respond to this well though-out and put together letter. You are definitely doing the right thing, taking the high road, and trying to bring awareness and change what’s wrong, in the hopes that it never happens again. I’m sure the first impulse is to bash heads and scream, good for you for taking the initiative and making a difference. Adam is a lucky guy to have such wonderful caring people in his life.

  20. This should never, never, have happened. Not to a special needs child, nor to a neurotypical one either. Sounds like “Steve” needs the boot and some sensitivity training. I’m so sorry this happened to your son, it is a travesty, and I do not use this word lightly.

  21. (((hugs)))
    The “coach” is a bully. And he modeled this behaviour for all of those children. If this is how he behaves with a mother observing, imagine how he behaves when no parent is there.

  22. I am speechless…my heart is heavy. Sending out much love to all who are going through this or see this situation as things to come in the future for our special children. I urgently hope and pray every day for the outside world to one day SOON really SEE our children for the wonderful people they are, to accept them as they are…I am so sorry this happened.

  23. I am so deeply sorry for the humiliation and isolation that Adam felt and I am disgusted that someone like that ” coach” is allowed to work with children. I echo the sentiments that he is a bully and at this moment, that is the nicest thing I can think of to call him. I’ll reserve my choice of words and language for my private outrage and spare you all.
    As a mom, I am so sorry that you had to witness that horrible abuse of your beautiful child. I can only imagine the emotions you had flooding through you all at once. I am just so sorry.

  24. ‘C’ – this is a great letter. Sometimes you just have to persevere and have the conversation. Most people are unaware of your challenges, and they need to understand them. Two years ago, my eldest son had an autistic boy on his church basketball team. He was a wonderful young man, just as happy as he could be, and he loved playing ball. He wasn’t very “good”, but it was heartwarming to see the giving nature of his teammates blossom; they all made sure that Justin got chances to dribble and pass and shoot. Everybody had a great time, and it taught the boys, and their parents, about the true nature of giving.

  25. I am so sorry about what happened to Ms. C and Adam. Ms. C, I commend you for taking the step forward. Hopefully, “coach” Steve will get fired not before apologizing in public in front of Adam and the other students for his “coaching” skills. Adam, YOU ARE GREAT! I am so proud of you too.

    Best wishes

  26. Damn, when I started reading this, I was hoping it was some fictitious account. When I finished, I felt ill. To C and Adam, I am profoundly sorry you had to experience such an outrageous incident. I hope the letter accomplishes something good and that “Coach Steve” gets his walking papers.

  27. Sounds like “Coach” Steve is a bully who didn’t get it all out of his system in middle school (or perhaps he was the target who is now misusing his position of power). Shame on him. Thank YOU, C, for pointing this out to the community center leadership, because it will surely help all of the children if a new coach with integrity and respect is hired. Hugs to your family as you help Adam navigate his way to an understanding of this confusing event.

  28. I am the proud Mother of an 18 year old Daughter with moderate-severe autism. of course that incident was a horror, & the people involved sound downright Ignorant! Not to make this poor Mother feel worse; But, ….Until the world is more enlightened….it is the Duty of the Parent to field feel out in detail all activities ; Before exposing your child to such brutality. Ask Lots of questions AHEAD of time so you know if it will be appropriate for your child or not! I must have been brave as a Teen, because I would have gone & stood next to your son….Those boys are disappointing too!!

    • robin,

      If you re-read the post you’ll see in the letter that she spoke at great length with both the ‘coach’ and the director of services about her son, the activity, whether or not it was appropriate and what kind of support he would need to participate.

      you would also see that she left assured – based not just on their words but on their reputation as a place that is very supportive of special needs kids – that he would be well cared for.

      the problem was not, in any way, shape nor form a lack of diligence in determining the appropriateness of the activity. adam was perfectly capable of participating in the clinic. heck, he was even capable of winning a game!

      the problem was that the coach lacked the most basic level of compassion that one would expect of someone working with children – any children. his actions were completely out of line – whether the kids involved were typical or not.

      the harm that they caused to Adam was certainly a) predictable and b) magnified in light of his challenges, but they would have been wrong no matter who those two boys were.

  29. This is just purely wrong. And it has nothing to do with SPED or autism – it is unacceptable that ANY child should go through such humiliation. C – my thoughts are with you.

  30. Special request- would you please let us know the outcome of this situation? I’m very curious to know what happens next. Thanks. And again…I’m so sorry that this horrible thing happened.

  31. What the hell was the *point* of all that? Why would the coach ask all the kids to take sides? And why are they giving the kids money for winning games? Leaving Adam’s experience aside (my son is ‘quirky’ but officially NT and that would have really upset him, my heart breaks for Adam having that experience) the whole way Coach ‘Steve’ is handling the program sounds peculiar.

  32. C–Good for you not letting Steve (no honorific required) get away with such horrible behavior. Standing up and speaking out is precisely what needs to be done to get people and organizations to change. It is incredibly hard to do because we would like to forget it happened and certainly avoid exposing our wonderful children to situations where it could possibly happen again. So thank you on behalf of all special needs parents for standing up for our children and helping to open up opportunities for other children to participate in activities.

    Adam–You are incredibly brave for going into a situation in which you did not know anybody and should be very proud of making it to the “finals” of your basketball competition. Hope you continue to try out new activities to explore your many talents.

    And while not deserving of any sympathy, let’s take Steve’s behavior as a reminder about how far autism education has yet to go in the general populace. He may not have given Adam money for the vending machine because he associates autism with GFCF diets and was not sure whether he needed to be careful about what he ate. He may associate autism with a disconnectedness from social interaction such that Adam would not even notice/register the boys’ rejection. Or he could just be a $@#*&.

    But anyway, much love to C and Adam as they find their way to process this painful event.


    SRR ~ C and Adam, sending love and support:)

    AKB ~ SRR, you’re nicer than me. I wanted to go do an “Adam Braverman” on the coach! But since violence doesn’t solve anything, I’m hoping that Adam and his mom find their way through this. and I hope they try again…somewhere else.

    MBS ~ This is totally disgusting…people never cease to amaze me!! I can’t even imagine the heartbreak of this little boy and his mother–this just sucks, no sugar coating here! I am so sorry you experienced this! Here’s hoping your letter gives this idiot a big fat pink slip!

    SRR ~ AKB you give me far too much credit. Irish to the bone sista and I If you read DOAM’s blog comments, I say in fact that I would have taken care of the “situation”, which translates to kicking a$$ and taking names later:) A ♥.

    MAM ~ I would have done an “Adam Braverman” as well. How many of us cheered during that scene? sigh. I would love to just find a clip of that scene…

    WDM ~ Sending love and positive thoughts to C and Adam. Thank you for allowing Jess to share your story. I wish you both the best.

    CS ~ I’d say I’m shocked, horrified, disgusted, outraged and appalled but even those words don’t come close to describing my actual reaction. Adam and C, I am so sorry that man’s ignorance and/or thoughtlessness has caused you so much pain. He owes you both a thoroughly considered and sincere apology.

  34. hugs to C and Adam. so very sorry. i’ve never heard of such a thing — moving kids to the side of the player they want to win? what???

    Adam, you must be one heck of a b-ball player!

  35. My heartbreaks with empathy and understanding. I hope that the center will take this letter to heart, and that maybe conventional wisdom is wrong – Perhaps there *is* a cure for stupid – Because Steve sounds completely and utterly clueless.

    At least she is turning a horrifying negative situation into a learning experience. I don’t know if I would have handled it with so much grace.

  36. This story makes me boil over with anger. All I can think of is choosing teams back in grade school and being picked last. I’m not on the spectrum and of course still found it devastating. What a horrifying situation, and I’m glad you are helping your friend address it in a professional but quite firm way: this CANNOT be tolerated.

  37. It is so true that no matter how carefully you try to protect your child; you can never know for certain how a situation will unfold in reality! [Let alone when you are out of sight.]….it is frightening! Please post something to let all us outraged people….know how your dear son is faring with all this at this point in time & how YOU are doing. the Encouraging part is the power of all the caring that is being shown you in these replies…Your family is not alone with their pain over this incident. Since I read it…You have been in the back of my mind. We will all keep trying to educate people!

  38. That is absolutely horrifying! I cannot believe that any child would be put through such an unavoidable and traumatizing situation, and that a child who already struggles with autism would be put through such a thing is even worse. I sincerely hope that at least the center gets some training and new policies, so that other children don’t have to go through this.

  39. Wow. I can’t even fathom. As someone who coaches a special needs soccer team, that is unacceptable. On so many different levels. It would be unacceptable if it was a neurotypical child, or one with autism. It’s just WRONG.

    I’m sorry. If you are ever in New York and your son wants to play soccer, we would be thrilled to have him on our team!

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