Trip to Wonderful

Monday, February 21, 2005

Handicapped parking permits

Even though we have two children with autism, we never really thought too much about obtaining a handicapped parking permit. Parking in and around Portland, except during the holiday shopping season, has never been particularly cumbersome, even with a moderately tantruming, forty-plus pound five-year old.

However, while planning about our upcoming trip, I began to rethink the issue. In our past travels, when we've visited areas with long treks to and from the parking area, we've had to convince handicapped area gatekeepers that, despite our not being in possession of a parking permit, our children's disabilities necessitated easy access to a quick getaway should a mondo-meltdown ensue. Fortunately, such interrogations were few and far between, mostly because we tend to avoid such venues, preferring instead quite campgrounds and beaches off the beaten path.

Generally, handicapped parking permits are restricted to individuals with mobility issues. Most children with autism don't obstensively appear to fit that criteria. However, I learned recently that permits are also meant to cover those instances where the distance between the parking lot and site entrance might put the individual in physical danger. Boy, did they have our number.

While Sam is pretty easygoing in most public situations, Jonah has "bolting issues." The doors on our home are now fitted with eardrum peircing alarms since the time we found Jonah dancing on the side of heavily trafficked Forest Ave., having figured out the locks and doorlatches on both the exterior and screen doors. Maine BDS has determined that Jonah's propensity to run entitles him to 25-35 hours of one-on-one support by a trained aide. I figured if one Maine agency felt that our son's safety issues were enough to shell out thousands of dollars per year, then another shouldn't have much problem with handing over a 4" x 9" placard to hang off our car's rearview mirror.

However, it's not as easy as that. Most states require a physician to approve the application. While many people with disabilities see their doctor more frequently than the average Joe, this isn't always the case with autistic children. For us, a trip to the doc is 1) an opportunity ripe for contact with infectious germs and virii, and 2) a painfully long period in the waiting room, followed by chasing down a boy as he negotiates the beehive of rooms and hallways. That's even before we make it onto the examination table.

The professionals most familiar with Jonah's "issues" are his case manager, teachers and therapists. So when I made an appointment for his annual physical, I brought up the handicapped parking application with the receptionist, to make sure we had all the supporting documentation when we came to the appointment. I figured we might have to sell the idea, despite the fact our ped herself has an autistic child.

This morning I got a call back from the receptionist. No problem whatsoever. Just bring the application, no need for letters from his school, case manager, in-home support agency, the clerk at the last store in which he had a meltdown, etc. We should have the placard in time for our trip.

Sometimes I think that parents with special needs kids are our own worst enemies. We imagine all kinds of obstacles, think that we'll have to spend hours explaining the most intimate details of our lives, just to get the services our kids need to have positive experiences out in the world. I think that this stems in part from our experiences with the public education system, which is currently set up to be antagonistic to special needs kids who request real accomodation. Surprisingly, however, in the non-education world, even government bureaucracies seem to go out of their way to help.

But that's a subject for another post.


  • Hi MB,

    In case you haven't seen this, I saw these two and was reminded of Wampum:

    1. The father (IT professional) talks about careful planning.
    2. The mother (writer) talks about emotional depth.

    By Blogger Peatey, at 8:12 PM  

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