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.”

Photo courtesy of

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.




About Rachel Kenyon

Rachel Kenyon is an Aspie, Advocate and single mom of two beautiful babes - The Boy (11) and RM (8). The Boy is a Legomaniac and RM is a kick-ass diva with Autism and 4q Deletion Syndrome. View all posts by Rachel Kenyon

18 responses to “Family Excluded From Pool Membership Because Autistic Son Requires Flotation Vest

  • Niksmom

    I can understand the restriction on things like “noodles” and rafts and inflatable ring toys and the like. But, a flotation safety vest impinges on NO ONE’S personal space. I hope the Millen’s take action against the club.

  • kathy

    absolutely insane. so are they saying no children are allowed to wear protection from drowning?? stuck up idiots.

  • Jennie Daniels

    Would it be bad taste to say that I would take this national BECAUSE of those three angels lost to drownings in a two week period? What in the actual hell possessed them to ban safety vests and floaties (water wings)?

  • Doris

    I see Huge mistake written all over it!!! You may want to rethink this?!!!!

  • extremeparenthood

    This is disgusting and if it happened to me and my sons I would go straight to the press. This is a safety issue for God’s sake.

  • Jo Ashline

    This is some straight up BULLSHIT. That’s what I think. Disgusting.

  • Jennie B

    I don’t buy their argument at all. Of course they could make an exception for a child with a disability. Sounds like they just don’t *want* to.

  • Rachel

    Reminds me of M Spa here in southwest Michigan over Memorial Day weekend. Handling a situation badly wound the spa owner on CNN and a brand new FB page calling for a boycott of her spa…with 8,000 people liking the FB page within 48 hours of the incident.

  • Rachel Kenyon

    StimCity’s response to the public comments on WFSB:

    “It is truly sad when a devoted parent, a loving autism mom, a teacher, an advocate, a wife, a friend – makes herself vulnerable to public judgment to share a teachable moment. This is not about an elitist country club, because truly I believe her community is a kind community, but rather an issue of ignorance and ego on the part of the ERCC management. Mrs. Millen was denied an application from the word “autism”. She was not given the opportunity to discuss that it was indeed a secondary precautionary measure to use a CG approved vest while she and her husband personally supervised her son in the water. She was not given the opportunity to share with YOU that many children with autism are attracted to water, yet are unaware of its danger. You did not hear her say that her son is able to swim and this vest is for additional safety around the water. Haters, this woman did not run to the media, the media ran to her out of outrage and interest, just as you took the time to speak your own sentiment here. We all should WANT to know – How could this be? It doesn’t make sense! No flotation vest for an autistic child in a pool?? Of course Mrs. Millen spoke up, not for her, not just for her child’s rights, but for all of us. It is the responsibility of each and every one of us to educate, to adapt, to accept. Her boy is brilliant and charming and makes this earth a better place to live, so I personally would not bar that kind of innocence and precious joy from ANY “typical” activity the rest of us are blessed to enjoy without prejudice. This isn’t “changing rules for one kid” or “mom running to the media to get her way” – this is OPPORTUNITY. This is how we change and grow. TOGETHER. One flotation vest at a time.”

  • Lynne Barrelle

    I wonder if they have any vision-impaired members who have to leave their seeing eye dogs at home. . . or maybe leave their eyeglasses at the door! Or members with mobility impairment: do they also ban crutches, walkers and wheelchairs? I’ll bet they have handicap parking spaces in their lot, though. Wonder who those could possibly be for?

  • Justin

    It made the news..

  • Cristin Millen

    I just wanted to say one last thing before I put this Country Club fiasco behind us. I realize that telling this story opened me up to being called a spoiled brat. I am VERY fortunate!! I have dealt with real problems in the autism world. This is not a major problem. For those of you who know me well, you know that I have worked and advocated very hard to get myself here. I worked and fought and hired attorneys to get to the point where my biggest problem is where to swim. The media did not cover any of those struggles. They didn’t tell story of the Kenyons who got their diagnosis when William was deployed. They didn’t cover our story when the school system threatened to end placement at Aiden’s school without warning. They don’t want to hear about the 5 years of potty training or see the poop on my floor. I am well aware of the caliber of this issue. I chose to tell the story because for once the media is listening. I couldn’t get 2 major CT news stations to be in my driveway when we were fighting the real wrongs. I chose to open myself up about this issue because people were finally listening.
    As to the actual “resolution,” ERCC was so sorry they offered me an application (not membership) to be reviewed by July 18th. With that we decided to join South Windsor Swim and Tennis club. To be honest the country club was cheaper. (As my dad would say, “I can’t afford for you to save me any more money.”) I am so lucky that I saw able to walk in and pay for a membership at another club this morning. I am so blessed that my biggest issue is where to swim. The free swim lessons the Ellington YMCA offered to a right a wrong they didn’t commit, I will ask they use this scholarship for a special needs child who is unable to pay for lessons and I will pay for ours. I felt strongly that with Autism, as the most prevalent disability facing our children, at a rate of 1 in 88/ 1 in 54 boys, it is unacceptable to be discriminated against because a child need a floatation device at a pool, so I told my story. I am truly grateful that right now my story is just a swimming club issue. We have paid our dues, literally to be here.

  • Tina

    You go girl your are blessed with a miracle, every child is a gift . i would file application let them deny it then sue them you’ll win and still not join them they are wrong and blind and ignorant because every human being deserves to be treated with respect and our rights are the same even if we may be physically and mentally disabled

    They should be ashamed of themselves all actions have reactions it won’t be very pretty when it’s there time to be judge for there action
    God bless

  • mike Mundo

    I’m very happy to say the South Windsor swim and tennis club has accepted them as a member this week, when we heard the news the club members reached out to this family right away, and was more then willing to have them part of our community. We have another special need member at the club and over the year they have become great friends of ours. So I’m happy the club stepped up and reached out to this family.
    So WELCOME and enjoy the club…

  • Jeff Morrow

    It sounds to me as if this issue was the result of a big communication gap.

    My family joined ERCC nearly a decade ago and the staff has been nothing but accommodating to my family and its particular needs. When my son who is on the Autism spectrum as well needed special accommodations for his swim lessons, the Ellington Ridge staff was more than willing to adapt their lessons to his needs by placing him in smaller classes and ensuring that he was being taught by someone in his comfort zone. Through the years the staff and membership of ERCC has always accepted his autistic quirks and made him feel welcomed and comfortable. Neither my wife nor I ever doubted his safety or his well being around the pool. We never made an effort to request that he wear a life-vest, but I am confident that if we had it would have been addressed by the appropriate committee in a thoughtful manner.

    Recently our daughter was diagnosed with Celiac’s Disease and we recognized that her new dietary restrictions would mean that her food choices on the snack bar and restaurant menus would be extremely limited, my wife asked to meet with the chef. During our meeting, he asked the appropriate questions about what she is able to eat and more importantly what she likes to eat. As a result of that meeting, gluten free food items are now available in the snack bar and a new gluten free menu is being developed for the club restaurant. The chef has taken the time to check on her when he makes her something new. As we get accustomed to her new eating challenges, this has been a huge relief and a welcomed change over eating establishments.

    While I feel badly that you and your family felt unwelcomed when you inquired about a membership, my experience as a member has been completely different. My family enjoys all that the club has to offer – and we would be the first to recommend Ellington Ridge as a warm and welcoming place.


    Jeff Morrow

  • kate

    How about asking about ” special needs” on a birthday party registration from? This is from Kehler’s Gym in PA. A friend of mine recently had a bad experience there with their son on the spectrum. Is this legal?

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