kids

"'Dear neighbours': A note slipped into our family's mailbox was a kick in the stomach."

Last week in the mail, the Newton family received a typed up letter in their mailbox complete with an unmarked envelope. 

Monica originally thought it might've been from her sister-in-law, who often left her return address off when she sent things via post. But when her husband Kevin started reading out the note, the shocked mother-of-two, and former primary school teacher, couldn't hold back the tears. 

"Dear neighbours,

"We reach out to you in the spirit of compassion, to address our concerns about the well-being of the neighourhood," it began.


"As you may or may not be aware, many of us are being affected by your daughters (sic) long periods of shrieking throughout the day.

“Please know we have empathy for your very difficult situation. Unfortunately, we are quite disturbed by this as it has a very real impact on our peace and quiet, as well as the enjoyment of our backyards.

"Many of us are working from home and are on video calls with our clients who can hear this distressing sound. We would be so appreciative if you could try to reduce the length of time and frequency of these episodes so that we may resume some periods of tranquility that we previously enjoyed.

"Most sincerely, your neighbours."

It's not the first time Monica and Kevin have received negative reactions to their six-year-old daughter Kayla who lives with non-verbal autism. 

They're often given dirty looks at restaurants and swimming pools when their child is making what others often perceive as 'noise' or when she's exhibiting behaviours others wrongly assume are the result of 'bad parenting.'

But this one particularly stung. 

Monica with her children Kayla and Ryan. Image: Facebook/Supplied. 

"We received this gem in the mail today. 2020 has been fun! I don’t think they realise how hurtful this was to receive," wrote Monica on Facebook, in a post that's since made headlines around the world. 

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"It made me cry to think someone would be so affected by our daughter to send this letter. It felt like it was a kick in the stomach," the 43-year-old told Mamamia.

"I was expecting a name or number to contact to discuss the letter - but there was no name or number. My direct neighbours all say it wasn't them," she added. 

So instead, Monica wrote her own letter, and posted it on a few local Facebook groups in the hope of reaching the disgruntled neighbour. 

It read as follows:

"Dear anonymous neighbours, 

We received your letter today and were truly upset about how you think you are showing us compassion by sending this anonymously. If you had told us your name, we could have spoken in person about our wonderful daughter and educated you about autism. 

"It felt like a punch in the stomach that someone would write these things to us about our child. That she is somehow diminishing your enjoyment in your yard and taking something from you; in essence ruining the neighbourhood. But since you didn’t attempt to talk to us, we can just do this on the internet hoping our words find you. 

"First of all, we wanted to teach you about our daughter’s 'long periods of shrieking'. Our daughter is playing outside and showing her happiness by vocalising. 

"While I know you think we can control her noise, we can’t. It’s like trying to tell a baby not to babble. So it feels like you are asking for her to not enjoy her childhood playing outside and be kept locked in our house so you can enjoy your 'tranquility'. 

"While I am sorry that her sounds disturb you, there isn’t much we can do about them. Surely, you don’t wish for children to be kept locked inside? I also welcome you to come spend the day with our special needs family to see what it really is like and to get to know our amazing daughter. Being stuck at home has been extremely hard on her. She flourishes on a routine and loves going places. She loves swinging, playing with water, and jumping on our trampoline. These activities are her chance to exercise and have fun. She is home more now because of the quarantine and will likely continue to make her happy noises. 

"While I can’t change the fact that she makes noise, I might offer a suggestion to you. You can step inside when you have important phone calls and close your windows. You could also educate your clients about autism and let them know that a happy child is playing near you. We sincerely hope that schools will fully reopen soon and you will have a peaceful backyard once again. We also would like for our lives to go back to 'normal' soon."

Monica and daughter Kayla, six. Image: Facebook/Supplied. 

An estimated one-third of people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder are considered nonverbal, meaning that they'll never learn to speak more than a few words.

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Kayla's 'sounds' are her way of communicating in a world where words fail her.

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'I'm tired of hearing the way people talk about children like my son.'

"I have never had a conversation with her," Monica told Mamamia. "Kayla has never on her own said simple thoughts to us like, 'I love you mummy.' When I hear my friends complaining about how their children never stop talking, I want to tell them they are blessed."

As for behaviour management, there have been more times than the Newtons can count where parents, or even relatives, have muttered things like 'all you need to do is say no' when Kayla does something that's 'naughty' in their eyes. But that's not how autism works.

"Kayla doesn’t connect a time-out for a misbehaviour as a punishment. It would be like punishing a baby," explained Monica. "All people with autism are different. It’s a spectrum - and often my friends with higher functioning kids really don’t understand what its like to be the parent of a lower functioning kid."

To her family, Kayla is a loving, sweet girl who "doesn’t have a mean bone in her body."

She loves to hug and receive squeezes from her family and teachers. She enjoys swimming, swinging, running around, watching songs on her iPad, and jumping on the trampoline. But she struggles with changing routines, and following instruction, and needs 24/7 support just to get through the day. 

Making 'noise' - often repetitively if she's happy, and often loudly if she's particularly excited - is one of her only ways to communicate. 

If only her neighbours took the time to get to know her, they might realise just how cruel it would be to silence that.

Feature image: Supplied/Monica Newton.

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