Sunday, May 25, 2008

Walmart article...

When the Manassas Journal Messenger changed websites, my links to the articles about Jimmy ceased to work. I was messing around and found the orginal text of the article on Walmart. I thought I would repost it, just so I don't lose it again.


Mother flushed with success after persuading supermarket to change toilet system for autistic son

MANASSAS PARK, Virginia, USA: Rachel Kirkland has made a difference in what she considered an unlikely place to do so.

The Manassas Park resident is the mother of a six-year-old autistic boy who goes through both in-house and community therapy sessions in an effort to acclimatise him to the real world. Part of that experience involves a trip to Wal-Mart on Liberia Avenue in Manassas.

Unfortunately for her son, Jimmy, the restrooms in the bustling retail store had automatic toilets that flush when a person is finished. That loud and unexpected sound of water rushing had the boy, who was recently potty-trained, avoiding the restroom. Instead, he was urinating in his pants in the middle of the store, instead of using the facilities.

Loud sounds are one of the many things that can profoundly affect individuals with autism, and Jimmy was scared to go back to the restroom.

So Kirkland asked management at the Liberia Avenue store if they could replace one of the automatic toilets with a manual flush toilet. The response initially was no, said Kirkland. She said they had told her that automatic toilets were necessary for sanitary issues.

Kirkland decided to call the corporate office. Corporate told her it was up to the individual store on whether it would replace the toilets. When she called the store back the next day, management decided to grant her request.

The family bathroom now has a manual toilet, thanks to Kirkland, who said she was surprised at how little effort it had taken to get them to accommodate her son and those like him.

"It was shockingly easy," Kirkland said. "If you identify the child and his problems, the lengths people go to help you is amazing."

A national spokeswoman, Marisa Bluestone, declared: "Wal-Mart felt it was important to take care of our customer. We always encourage customer feedback."

Kirkland's efforts have inspired her stepmother, who works in a Dallas-area Wal-Mart and said she will take up the toilet issue with her manager.

Unfortunately, Jimmy's issue is a microcosm of a disorder that has grown significantly in the past decade. There are now more than 1.5 million cases of autism in the United States.

With the prevalence of the disorder has come a corresponding need to battle it. The budget for the National Institutes of Health funding for autism-related research has increased by more than 80 per cent, from $56 million in fiscal 2001 to an estimated $101 million in the 2007 budget, including support for Autism Centers of Excellence.

It was parents like Kirkland who were on the front line, fighting the disorder and educating the public, said Jennifer Lassiter, a Round Hill resident who started a school for autistic students in Purcellville called The Aurora School.

Lassiter is also the mother of an autistic child who has experienced a similar fear of automatic toilets. She praised Kirkland's efforts to help those with this disorder.

Along with the Wal-Mart in Manassas, some other local businesses go out of their way to assist families with the disorder.

According to Lassiter, Red Robin Restaurants, a national chain that started in Seattle in the 1940s, is one such place.

Lassiter said, that if requested, they could seat you in the corner where there was no speaker. There are also locations in the restaurant where you can see a TV but not hear it. All of this helps with potential overstimulation of the senses, which is common among autistic individuals.

Eric Van Hook, an assistant manager with Red Robin in Woodbridge, said accommodating those with special needs was more just common sense and part of a larger customer service attitude on which the restaurant prides itself.

"We want to take care of them [customers] as if they were coming into our house," Van Hook said.

Lassiter said the Disney Store in Reston Town Centre was also very accommodating, letting anyone with an autistic child come to the front of the line. Autistic individuals generally do not like to be touched, and coming to the front of the line helps to alleviate a potentially stressful situation.

Lassiter said the key to combatting the disorder was for parents to recognise their children's condition early and do something about it. The other key is to make their community aware of those with the condition.

On that matter, Kirkland is doing her part, fighting a battle she thought would be a losing one.

"I love to hear when someone can get a really big company to be responsive that way," said Lassiter.

(Source: Potomac News, August 2, 2007)

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