Nfld. & Labrador

Kippens couple receive anonymous note shaming autistic son

A mother on Newfoundland's west coast wants to spread a message of tolerance after receiving an anonymous letter from some neighbours, criticising her autistic son's behaviour.

'I was absolutely devastated,' says mother about letter apparently sent by group of neighbours

Tamara Downey received an anonymous letter earlier this month, complaining about her 12-year-old autistic son's behavior. (Submitted)

A mother on the west coast wants to spread a message of tolerance after receiving an anonymous letter from some neighbours, criticising her autistic son's behaviour.

Tamara Downey and her husband Todd live in Kippens with their son Ryan, who is nonverbal.

"I describe him as my gentle giant because, although he's only 12, he's about 5-8 already and wears a size 11 men's shoe. But in his own mind and his heart, he's just a kid," Downey told CBC's Corner Brook Morning Show.

The anonymous three-page letter, sent earlier this month, states it was written on behalf of a group of concerned neighbours.

Anonymous note 

"When I received that on Friday, I was absolutely devastated," she said.

Downey said she immediately contacted the RCMP, as the note said that police had begun a file on Ryan and his parents due to his unruly behaviour. 

His behaviours aren't because he's a bad kid or we haven't been good parents — the way he acts is the autism.- Tamara Downey, received anonymous letter from neighbours about he son 

While police have since assured Downey this is not the case, she said the letter still raises multiple red flags. 

"The implication that neighbours have discussed that things have gone missing from their property and damage has been done," she said. 

"Ryan does not take things from people's property and, if he did, he would bring it back with us — we're there with him all the time."

Downey also contacted the town, and found that no reports were filed regarding damaged or missing property. 

"No one has ever come to me or my husband to say that there's things missing or damaged. And, of course, if property was damaged, we would absolutely like someone to come forward and we would help pay for it."

Ryan's needs 

Downey describes her son as having a "profound level of autism."

When Ryan was six months old, Todd Downey made the decision to stay home full-time to become his son's caregiver.

The province's Autism Society plans to hold an information session in the Stephenville area. (Autism Society Newfoundland and Labrador )

Downey said Ryan relies on them for everything, from getting dressed in the morning to helping him communicate his needs.

"His behaviours aren't because he's a bad kid or we haven't been good parents — the way he acts is the autism."

The letter also mentioned Ryan's tendency to slow down traffic on the street while riding his three-wheeled bicycle, designed to help with his coordination.

"I don't think they understand what autism is all about and the traits and the severity of it," she said. 

"I can't and I won't keep my child locked up." 

Neighbourhood support

Downey said there are young families in the area, many of whom play with Ryan.

"I believe this is maybe one or two people who have gotten upset if Ryan has gone onto their yard, or been in the street riding his bike and it takes Todd a little longer to get him off to the side."

Downey said the letter prompted her to contact the Autism Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, adding there are plans to hold an information session in the Stephenville area for people who want to learn more about autism as well as what to expect from autistic children.

"Ryan, with his autism, can be a little noisy as far as when he's outside playing and he gets excited, but there are more supportive people in my neighbourhood than there are who wrote this letter," she said.

Downey said since going public, a number of neighbours have come forward to assure her that they don't share the same sentiments.

Still, Downey said she and her husband want to know who wrote the note.

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