Family Excluded From Pool Membership Because Autistic Son Requires Flotation Vest

“If we make an exception for one, we would have to make exception for all.”

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June 27, 2013  [Updated June 28, 2013 6:50am]

Ellington, CT –  An exclusive country club in the suburbs of Connecticut excluded a family from becoming members because their autistic son would require a flotation vest while swimming in the pool.  With recent headlines of autistic children drowning rather frequently, one would think that a flotation vest would be a fabulous idea.  It seems it would be a much grander idea than outright discrimination of a person with disability and that person’s entire family.

However, when Mrs. Cristin Millen, a seventh grade Language Arts teacher in Ellington arrived at the Ellington Ridge Country Club to begin the membership process it never occurred to her that her son’s autism would exclude them from enjoying the same privileges other residents in the area enjoyed as members.  She left without being given an application but was told someone would get back to her.

“I almost didn’t say anything about his autism at all because I assumed it wouldn’t possibly be an issue,” said Millen.  “But when I became aware that the club had a rule banning flotation devices from the pool, I mentioned that I have a son with autism who is verbal, follows directions, and is a good swimmer.  I explained that we would be in the pool with him the entire time and that the vest was really just for peace of mind as he has always worn one.”

Ellington Ridge took Mrs. Millen’s request for exception under consideration for less than 48 hours before responding with a denial of membership.  Mrs. Millen was told that if an exception was made for one, an exception would have to be made for all, and that was not possible.

This country club is a private facility, which means that ordinarily the club owners and members could do whatever they please, invite whomever they choose to join, you get the idea.  But under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), any private club that opens its doors to the public at any time, waives that right.  The Ellington Ridge Country Club offers to open its doors for banquets, weddings, business meetings, fundraisers, and birthday parties.

Wait a minute…

Can you imagine?

Can you imagine if someone like ME thought to plan my autistic daughter’s birthday party at a beautiful venue such as Ellington Ridge Country Club, put down a chunky deposit, invited ten or so other Flaptastic kiddos and their parental units? What would happen when all of us showed up at the pool with our vests and inflatable wings? Would we all be tossed to the curb?

Can you imagine?

Can you imagine, Ellington Ridge?

Excluded Flotation Vest and the Handsome Child Who Wears It

Excluded Flotation Vest and the Handsome Child Who Wears It

UPDATE: Friday, June 28, 2013 6:50am – Local media reached out to the ERCC yesterday afternoon for comment.  Management quickly asserted that Mrs. Millen never filled out the application, so therefore the club was unable to review her family’s request.  However, in WFSB’s on air coverage last evening, management admitted that Mrs. Millen was not given an application during the miscommunication throughout the week but that ERCC would happily accept the family’s application with waiver for the vest.  In an email communication from management to Mrs. Millen last evening the same offer was made but included a timeline in which the Millen Family was advised it would take until mid-July before their application with waiver to accommodate their son’s need for a Coast Guard approved flotation vest could be approved by the Board of Directors of the Ellington Ridge Country Club.

LINK to WFSB News Coverage > CLICK HERE.




DoD Reports to Congress with Mystifying Excuses for Failing to Comply with Legislation

“Pilot Program” Held Paralyzed by

Pentagon’s Divisive Concern for Military Autistic Children

Autism Speaks obtained a letter from DoD to leaders in Congress dated May 7, 2013, expressing the several mystifying factors that make it impossible for autism therapies to be implemented.  CMKAA, a federal law, was passed in 2012 and modified in Committee as a Pilot Program to be implemented no later than April 2, 2013.  Families are still waiting.

It sounds like the DoD is truly worried for our military families with autism.  If they start treating some of our kids, just think about what would happen:

First, there are too many kids to treat and not enough providers.  Can you imagine? Even if one more child with autism received the treatment he or she needs while we figure this mess out?  Well, that would be tragic.  And I think promoting career advancement in the field of BCBAs is a stupid idea, too.  I’m with you, DoD.

Next, apparently due to a lack of mobile diagnostic capability, the military kids who have autism are too spread out to find them all.  So why start the search?  We might actually find them.  If we find them, we may have to treat them. Shhhhhh.  Next thing we will find at our doorsteps are ghillie suits for our autistic kids with a note from the DoD that says, “Put this ghillie suit on your kid. Ghillie suits cure autism. And here’s a map to the nearest pond.”

Cannot treat what you cannot see.

Cannot treat what you cannot see.

If that doesn’t work, at some point the DoD will just have to start to acknowledge the existence of our thousands of autistic kids and that the treatments proven to work um, actually do.  Which means, DoD, you will have to start treating them.

I know, DoD, if you start treating them, there will only be more and more to treat because autism is increasing in prevalence.  So you’re right, DoD… let’s just pretend this all never happened.  Coffee, anyone?

DoD letter

[The petition to Congress to actually MAKE autism treatments available to all military dependent children is still active and every signature sends a letter directly to every Armed Services Member urging them to take action. You will find the petition HERE. Sign it. SHARE it. Thank you.]

An Open Letter to Governor Malloy, Connecticut Congressional Delegates, Manchester Board of Education, Board of Directors, and Manchester Public Schools Administration

[Hello, Friends.  This morning I sent the following email to just about everyone. Attached was the State Department of Education complaint we filed last week. I am not sharing the actual complaint document here as it contains personal details, but the general content of the complaint is described in the below letter.]

Good morning, Governor, Ladies and Gentlemen,


My name is Rachel Kenyon, mother of RM (6).  RM is a special education student in the town of Manchester and attends the *** School.

Once again, our family has been subjected to unethical practices carried out by the Pupil Personnel Services (PPS) Staff of Manchester Public Schools.

Attached you will find the complaint filed last week with the State Department of Education, Special Education Bureau.  There were an additional 200 pages of documentation that we provided to support the complaint.  Those documents are available upon request to all parties in this communication. This complaint was filed after a Planning and Placement Team (PPT) meeting on March 4th, 2013, during which the Outplacement Coordinator of Manchester Public Schools (MPS), refused to listen to and accept a recommendation by RM’s neurologist and advised me instead to file for mediation or due process, or file a state complaint.

I spend much of my time advocating for special needs families when I am not advocating for my own children.  Sadly, time and again the families that seek out my assistance are also victims of the continued practice of MPS to say “no” to appropriate services for special education students, forcing parents into a corner.  Special needs families are struggling day to day.  We are the most vulnerable population within our communities while also the most underserved.  Most of our families do not have the resources to spend thousands of dollars on attorneys’ fees to push for the legal access to education their children are afforded under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Rather, our families are being bullied to the brink of exhaustion within a system that is so inherently flawed that the Pupil Personnel Services (PPS) staff think nothing of laughing at parents and telling them to go ahead and file for mediation or due process.

Our family has endured several such PPT meetings where we were laughed at and ignored by PPS, and talked over by Board legal counsel.  We have been to mediation.  We have spent thousands on attorneys’ fees while my husband was serving in Afghanistan.  Years later now, I have educated myself regarding the rights and laws designed to protect my child’s best interest, yet I have never experienced a single member of the PPS staff exhibit an ounce of compassion or reason when discussing my child’s education. Instead, PPS staff have refused to even listen to physician recommendations and also refused the simple courtesy of including a school physician consultant in PPT invitation.  Even more disturbing, is that the Outplacement Coordinator for MPS was once RM’s in-district speech pathologist.  There was a time when Ms. Outplacement Coordinator claimed to love my child and enjoyed eating lunch with her each day.  Subsequently, it was Ms. Outplacement Coordinator who rejected RM’s neurologist’s diagnosis of autism in 2010 while my husband was in Afghanistan.  MPS then conducted an in-district evaluation while our family hired an attorney and pursued an appropriate Independent Educational Evaluation, mediation, and eventually outplacement.

My daughter may have disabilities, and she may need accommodations to access the educational curriculum, but she is worthy of the same high expectations that we place upon our “typical” children.  IDEA specifically states that right.  Please tell me that you agree we should have high expectations of our educators and PPS staff as well. Please share with us that you agree and understand that the accommodations and high expectations we have of our special children today will prepare them for a successful and independent future rather than a lifetime of dependence on social programs and dollars, incarceration, mental illness, or worse.

As a lifelong resident of Manchester, it is sad and so embarrassing to know that Manchester Public Schools has a deplorable reputation regarding special education.  The special needs community sees no improvement on the horizon.  How can we come together to change that?  Because requiring my Congressman’s office to attend and observe a PPT seems dangerously heading in the opposite direction of any hope that we can make our district great again.

While I continue to learn more about MPS and district practices, I also invite all of you to get to know my daughter and our experiences with Manchester Public Schools.  I invite you to witness the deep chasm between the best interests of our unique and amazing children and MPS practices.

I wish to take this opportunity to thank MPS for pushing me so hard to fight for my daughter’s educational rights.  Not only has it allowed me to pay it forward and teach other parents how to advocate for their children, but it has given me a national platform to pass federal legislation and bring these battles to light.  I have made multiple Freedom of Information Act requests to Manchester Public Schools. Please look for my upcoming articles with TIME, Huffington Post, Autism Speaks, American Military Families Autism Support,, The Courant, The Journal Inquirer, Manchester Patch, and CTFEAT, as well as my own publication Welcome to StimCity.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to working with all of you to bring awareness and equality to the special education of our most unique and amazing children. Most especially, I look forward to seeing Manchester Public Schools work to improve their service to the special needs population and lift up our families rather than add to our burdens. I look forward to one day sitting across the table from MPS staff and having a sound, meaningful relationship which includes respectful dialogue concerning the best interests of my daughter.


Rachel Kenyon

Autistic and the F-bomb

This is my daughter.  She is autistic. And let me tell you, she is F-ABULOUS.


Every day, she steps outside this door into a world that doesn’t quite understand her yet.  Where stares and whispers and outright insults assault her everywhere she goes.

Like the R-word. Retard.

She can hear you.  She understands every crinkle of your nose, every look of pity and she knows that your condescending tone of voice is more about your insecurity and discomfort than it is about her communication barriers.


Seriously.  The F-word is so much more appropriate.  Does this child look anything other than F-ABULOUS?


She may have challenges that are unique to you and I, but she isn’t complaining.  She is overcoming.  She hears the conversation and she is saying I AM WORTHY.

It is autistics like her that are changing the world every day with their determination and their spirit to change our perception of autism.  With a single smile this child commands that you respect her heart, her intelligence, her inner fabulousness that shines brighter every day.


That word cuts deeper and inflicts more pain than any other weapon possibly could.

Unlike a bullet that rips through flesh, that word shreds the soul leaving the kind of scars that never heal.

Each day she steps outside our door and into the world, she is asking you to embrace her.  She is expecting greatness of heart from you.  She is expecting nothing less than what we all yearn for on this earth.  Love and acceptance.


She deserves to live each day being FABULOUS, not continuously victimized by a word that is used by people so consumed by egoism they feel the need to protect their seemingly harmless right to wield their wordly weapons.

It has not always been easy.  It has not always been fabulous.  There have surely been people whose words have made the journey painful at times, and there have been so many more whose loving words have made it sweeter.  The sweetest have been the moments when just one more person chooses to never use those hurtful words again.

My daughter is heaven on earth for me, my husband, and her older brother.  The beauty of her transcends all boundaries of what words used to describe her could ever cage.


This is my daughter.

She is autistic.

Go ahead and drop the F-bomb, y’all.  Because she is F-ABULOUS.

Unfettered by the Unpretty

Friends, there has been much discontent among the ‘autism community’ – which in my understanding is the correct term for *all* persons with an interest in autism to include parents, Autistics, professionals, educators, advocates, etc.

I have remained quiet and abstained from such discussions.  Not because I lack passionate opinion, but because my interest is in remaining a useful member of the community.  Even in advocacy efforts, I have attempted the impossible of not affiliating myself with one particular organization over another simply because of the intense conflict over the years, most of which occurred long before I came on the scene, and sadly seems to be progressing rather than waning.  What is most upsetting is that these divisive chasms make the possibility of unfettered autism unattainable.

That’s right – unfettered autism.  Because that is the wish I have for all who parent autism, live autism, educate autism, advocate autism and embrace autism.  It is also my wish for those who see autism as unpretty.

I feel in order to exist as a community, it requires us all to speak our own truths as we see fit in a respectful manner.  A manner which takes into consideration that none of us are an expert in autism.  Autism, and Autistics, cannot be contained in one definition, one area of expertise, one science, one belief system, one treatment plan, one advocacy campaign, or one collective understanding.  As in all meaningful exchanges, not only should we speak our own truths, we must listen and accept the truth of others.

To consider the impossibility for any forum to contain both parents and Autistics is as devastating as either group not considering the natural differences in each other’s experiences.  Such exclusivity of what some see as polar opposites of the autism community is as deadly as our country’s inability to come together and discuss gun control in a civil and respectful way.  It suggests that my own home is considered a battleground between my love as a parent and the individual rights of my daughter to be an Autistic.  Absurd.  What my home and my family live each day is no more open to debate than what an Autistic should be able to achieve in life.  The answer to both is whatever works.  [May I also add, that for gun control to be debated only by lawmakers, lobbyists and activists rather than including victims and citizens from our poorest city streets to the most affluent suburbs is equally ineffectiveI digress…]

When my daughter was born with a chromosome deletion, doctors said that if she survived at all her life would be limited.  She may never sit up, smile, walk or talk.  It was devastating news.  And as a mother, I can say this with sincerest honesty and truth – I wanted my daughter fixed.  The layers of what that means to me and my daughter cannot be experienced, understood or explained by anyone outside of us.  And it does not afford any person the right to judge that onion.  I can only touch upon the intent of such desire by saying that I chose for her to be cut open and given a life-sustaining feeding tube.  I chose for her to be cut open again and her heart repaired so that she could run and play as she grew older.  I chose these ‘cures’ to allow her the most opportunity for an enriching life – whatever that would mean for her.  As a mother, I feel that is my greatest responsibility.

When autism was included in her list of many diagnoses, yes, I wanted to fix that, too.  I wanted to learn everything I could about autism so that I could get RM the treatments that would afford her a better life.  I wanted her to be successful, to be active in our family life, to fulfill every ounce of potential within her to live her best life for her.  Never have I set out to change who my child is meant to be, rather as her parent I feel the responsibility lies in adapting to her needs and her autism.  That requires an open mind, an open heart and the building of a new parenting framework.  Simply put, this is not the parenting we expected and therefore as parents we have much to learn in order to grow with our autistic children.  It’s a process, a journey.  Sometimes we get it right, and there are times we fail miserably.  With hope and love, we try again.

Though I am no expert, I have learned enough about autism to know that my daughter is amazing regardless of the challenges she faces.  And though it has taken time for me as a parent to digest it, I know that autism is as much of who she is as the freckles on her nose.  It took time for me to learn this framework of parenting autism that differentiates between fixing a problem and growing a useful tool box.  It took time for me to unlearn the unpretty and embrace the unfettered.  It took time to expect RM to work hard for what she wanted instead of making excuses for why she couldn’t.  At her pace, with her own tool box.  For us, that meant advocating for an outplacement autism school.  Not to fix her, but to unfetter her.

As a parent, I am thrilled to learn as much as I can from self-advocates because I want my daughter to grow up empowered as an Autistic.  I have come to rely on the useful perspectives of those who choose to speak their truths and work within the autism community to bring us together toward a common goal of understanding the very real spectrum of this spectrum.  I rely on my fellow parents to walk this road with me and I rely on Autistics who have navigated the road ahead to guide me.

My wish is not for compromise of truths, but communion.  I wish for a universal agreement that the unpretty is unproductive.

I am trying.  Every day I am trying to grow my children.  I am trying to forge a better path for my autistic daughter.  I am trying to share our truth and I am listening in effort to understand yours.  Sometimes I get it right.  Many times I falter.  But I am trying.

This is my unfettered and sometimes unpretty truth as an autism mom.

This is my unfettered autism:

Contact HASC & SASC Today!


Caring for Military Kids with Autism Act





I have personally contacted every office of every HASC and SASC Member to urge them to pass the NDAA on to President Obama with our autism legislation intact.  I am sharing their email addresses with you to do the same.  With one personal note, you can group email with one click and help change the world.  Just copy and paste the addresses into your email message and tell them – it’s personal.


HASC Chiefs of Staff and Legislative Directors:

Adam Howard <>; Adrienne Elrod <>; Andrew Lattanner <>; Angela Kouters <>; Arthur Sidney <>; Ashley Shillingsburg <>; Ben Schultz <>; Betsy Hawkings <>; Blair Milligan <>; Bobby Cornett <>; Brad Gentile <>; Brad Katz <>; Brian Crawford <>; Brooke Bennett <>; Casey Street <>; Chic Dambach <>; Chris Austin <>; Chris Connelly <>; Chris Kelley <>; Chris Perry <>…

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Caring for Military Kids with Autism Act

action alert***ACTION ALERT*** IN ONE CLICK YOU CAN TELL THE CONFERENCE COMMITTEE MEMBERS TO SEND OUR BILL ON TO THE PRESIDENT FOR SIGNATURE!!!!! Use the link below at Autism Votes to send an email to each member of the House and Senate Armed Services Committee Members with one click!


Thank you!

My name is Rachel Kenyon. I am a proud and battle-tested Army wife and mom of two beautiful babes, one with autism.   Currently, TRICARE military healthcare provides less than half the recommended treatments for autism, and only to children of active duty service members.   Service members who retire after more than twenty years and Wounded Warriors forced to medically retire are stripped of what little treatment TRICARE allows via the Extended Care Health Option (ECHO).


On Thursday, May 17, 2012, Congressman John Larson took to the House floor armed with embarrassingly large…

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