Should the @YMCA be allowed to discriminate against kids with #Autism

I’m sharing this petition with all of you.  I didn’t write this and I have no first hand knowledge of this particular account.  I will say that this isn’t the first time I have heard of something like this happening.

It’s sad, that in this day and age we are dealing with this type of situation. 

Is it reasonable for the YMCA to provide services for every child, regardless of the challenges presented by that child?  I think that there needs to be a line drawn somewhere but at the same time, there needs to be transparency and a very clear set of guidelines. 

Parents need to know, going into the program, what the expectations will be and what will happen if a child presents with behaviors that they simply cannot or won’t accommodate.

To me, there’s a huge difference between can’t accommodate and won’t accommodate.

This appears to be a situation in which the YMCA simply won’t accommodate the needs of this particular child with #Autism.

I would love to hear their version of the story. I would like to know what their motivation is and how they can justify something like this.  The YMCA is a staple in American society and they have done a great deal of good. 

I for one would like to know where exactly they stand on this issue.


As a newly single mother reentering the workforce I was pleased to find out that Hall County Schools have after school care and that it is run by the Georgia Mountains YMCA.  My son Logan, who has autism, and my daughter had been attending the after school child care program at their school. 

Before the YMCA accepted my son into the child care program I told both the program director and on site staff about his condition and they were understanding.

I discussed with the YMCA staff as well as my child’s special education teacher that he exhibits elopement behaviors, a common symptom of autism. This simply means he will try to leave an enclosed space.

The YMCA staff member assured me they would not allow my child to leave and that they would provide an additional staff member (normally there are two adults; they would add a third) for supervision on the days my son was scheduled to attend. However, whenever they were picked up, whether by me or a close friend of mine, there was never another staff member there. 

On Wednesday, October 24th the staff at the YMCA called a meeting with me. I was first asked to pay extra to keep my son in the program, and then told that he was no longer allowed in the program. 

There were never any notes sent home about behavior incidents.  There were only two voicemails to me in one day alerting me to the fact that he had tried and failed to leave the building.  The director of the After School programs told me the reason for the decision was that he was a flight risk due to his autism.

Once outside the meeting room and in front of additional staff and YMCA patrons, staff members denied having kicked my son out.  They had been in the program for just over two weeks.  I had just started a new job and was scheduled to work that afternoon and had only two hours to find an alternative child care provider.

I was able to find a sitter, but the day took its toll on Logan, who spent the afternoon growling at the sitter’s house.  Logan has excellent receptive language skills, but very low expressive language. 

I had prepared him in a conversation that morning to spend the afternoon in the YMCA program, so when that wasn’t where he ended up he was pretty stressed out.  I have yet to find a suitable permanent child care solution. I have yet to receive a refund or a written explanation from the YMCA.When this first happened I was angry.

I wanted to sue the YMCA. But I realized that a lawsuit might help Logan but wouldn’t help kids who wanted to attend the YMCA in other communities. Instead of suing I started a petition on calling on the YMCA to provide all children with disabilities reasonable accommodations and an equal opportunity to participate.

I’m not the first parent of a child with autism to face discrimination by the YMCA. In 2001, the Greater Toledo YMCA was sued by the the mother of 8-year-old child with autism after her son was terminated from a YMCA day care program and the Greater Toledo YMCA was required to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act.

In 2007, the West End YMCA in California settled a case with the Department of Justice after the Y kicked a kid with autism out of their child care program.

These settlements dealt with the problem at a local YMCA but it’s time for the national office of YMCA of the USA to take action.

One in every 88 American children has a diagnosis on the autism spectrum.  Organizations that provide services to children need to prepare their caregivers and staff for the influx of children with autism, because they are greater than one percent of our children and rising. One percent of children can’t simply be turned away for basic services. 

Please sign my petition on and join me in telling the Georgia Mountains YMCA and the YMCA of the USA that discrimination against children with autism and other disabilities is unacceptable.

Thank you,

Sarah David

Rob Gorski

Full time, work from home single Dad to my 3 amazing boys. Oh...and creator fo this blog. :-)
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Kim Steele

I am currently going this situation with the YMCA and would like to connect with someone. My name is Kim and my email address is


rmagliozzi  that’s awesome.  Thanks for sharing that with us.


We used the YMCA this summer for my autistic son and he was nearly kicked out after losing his temper several times one day. Our saving grace was that the new Director understood he was in the throes of a PANDAS attack, and my husband volunteers his time at the YMCA twice a week to teach free Tae Kwon Do lessons. He’s brought the YMCA lots of money from that. I believe this woman also has a heart for special needs kids, which is wonderful. My son had a one week suspension during which my mother in law had to watch him (complaining the entire time), because I had started a new fulltime job to allow us to make progress on paying off our debt. The summer before there was a different director, who basically told me they don’t accommodate any special needs kid and it would not be the right place for my son. However, I was shocked by the compassion and willingness most of the daycamp staff and even a woman who worked at the front desk displayed. They really tried to work with him, and often said kind things about him. Overall, that summer was a pretty good experience.


I have not dealt with the Y…but when my son was younger, his daycare told me they could no longer accomodate him as his behaviors at that time needed 1:1 aide and they could not afford that…I did understand that and fought with CSPE who refused to give a 1:1 aide for daycare…I still don't understand this since he left daycare and went to an all day preschool and now kindergarten and has had a 1:1 aide since…


I have found that it is better to avoid places that aren't set up to deal with my child's issues than to force them to accommodate them. We were given a YMCA pass and honestly, it's the worst environment – bright lights, overly crowded and clueless staff. It's not a good place for our special need children.


YMCA was really frustrating to deal with for me, so even though they got good rates, I needed the day care after school when school started and not 6 months later (they had a huge waiting list for the school my daughter is in) and always do, but never add personal there.
However, we had similar experience with private daycare. My daughter was fine as long as she was with the director of the daycare, but would constantly throw tantrums when she was in the group with children. The director of that daycare was nice enough and kept her with her in her office for about a month while I was trying to find some stay home mom that will let my daughter just be herself and not to over push with activities that involved socializing as much. And it worked well for couple of years. 
It is tough and I never had a good feeling towards YMCA….


I agree with WendiMorris:  YMCA childcare is pretty minimal, mostly a holding pen.  I wouldn't put any kid there who would be bored or upset for whatever reason, whether it is autism that is the issue, or intelligence, or energy.  No point in forcing your way in there if they aren't set up well.  And to be fair, they don't try to be good, just *there*.


I think that this is spot-on. I used it once or twice, years ago, just so that I could exercise. It was a disaster, and my kids are much higher functioning than Logan appears to be. It is a pity that they are not equipped to handle much in the way of special needs children, but I honestly don't think that it's necessarily realistic to expect that from them. I also can see that if they had to hire an extra worker just in order to accommodate one child, that costs would go up and it wouldn't necessarily be fair to other parents for them to share the costs. Truly, for an autistic child, in home care with a well-trained and vetted caregiver is probably going to be a better option than most centers unless there are ones specifically for autistic kids. It would have been better all around for them to have been up-front about their limitations. I don't consider it to be discrimination for them to say, "We're sorry, but we are simply not equipped to handle your child," just as it would not be discriminatory for them to say that they weren't equipped to handle a deaf child or a blind child. They are not the public schools, mandated to work something out for everyone. They are a private organization.


Thank you all for taking a look at my story.  One of the solutions I would like to see come of this is for the YMCA to address the fact that they're programs are ill-suited to special needs children and implement some training and resources for the independent branches so that each branch and YMCA program nation wide would be better equipped to handle special needs children.  I have met and spoken with several other parents recently who also had negative experiences with YMCA programs and children with autism and other disabilities, both locally and in other states, and I think it is in the YMCA's best interest as a national brand to address what is clearly a wide-spread problem so there won't be any parents saying things like, "What if he runs out into the street?" and "If they're ill-equipped to handle him, I wouldn't want him there anyway."


I just used the wrong they're and I'm very embarrassed.  Please believe that I know it should be "their programs".


@sarrudav No worries. I always blame that on autocorrect. 🙂


I had talked with our local YMCA director also about having our 8 yr. old with autism stay there. I was basically told since they'd never had an autistic child in their program, they could not accomodate him at all. Staff has also targeted my son simply for sitting upstairs and watching me do situps on a workout mat. He was not even working out with me. Meanwhile, other people have had their children working out on the treadmill and they didn't get in trouble at all. Kids have to be at least 12 years old to use the adult workout machines. I actually had to go downstairs and tell this to the front office staff when there was 5 or 6 kids working out next to their parents one night, all way under age. The staff member only took action when I let her know that allowing them to break the rules and punishing only my autistic son was discrimination.


This is a huge problem. My daughter went to the YMCA after school and basically didn't feel included and was pushed aside. She had a couple of kids who stuck up for her. There were so many kids and not enough adults. The environment was overstimulating with no quiet time. I ended up taking her out but has a parent working that meant I could not work. There are no after school programs that are cost effective for children with Autism. It's ridiculous all that we go through with the public schools and then having to pay more than others for proper after school care. It makes me so sad. Does the public ever wonder what this huge population is going to be like in the future? Why are we not helping them now? 1 in 88 kids have Autism, it's no longer a select few but a population.  Maybe one day people will listen but I doubt it.


@AskTina4Advice well said. The number are becoming overwhelming and they are going to have to begin paying attention.


I have issues with this one…what if you force them to take him in and he escapes out the door and gets in the street? I am not saying kicking him out of the day care program was the right thing to do, but I can totally see YMCA's side on this one. However, if there had been several instances in which he did try to run Mom should have been notified. If there were no instances or maybe just one then I think they overreacted. Of course, in this sue happy world…again I can understand why they did…it was rash however. I really think if she has a chance at an appeal and can take an advocate with her this might be the best solution to the problem.


@RhondaCat I really think we need to hear the other side. I agree with Sarah though because this whole situation was not handled right.  Instead of open communication they seemed to have dropped the ball. Also, if they promised extra staff, I would expect him to have extra staff. 
I think the YMCA has a policy that needs to be clarified….. You can't just say something about not allowing a child to participate because of #Autism. 
This was not handled right by the staff in my opinion. However, I wouldn't want my child in an unsafe environment either. I think that Sarah is basically seeking answers.


I saw that.. and I'm torn. I once wrote about "the discrimination we should welcome" and basically, it goes like this: When people will not take my child because they KNOW that they're unable to take care of him and unable to meet his needs… I have two choices. Either force them to take my child because it's discrimination or accept that they are aware of their limitations and not put them into a position where I might be on the news having to deal with a person who let my child get hurt… or worse, hurt him themselves.
Yeah, they should be equipped to take in all children. But if they're not, and you force them too… worse could happen than just being left out.


@autismfather I completely agree with you. We had a similar situation when Elliott was no longer welcomed at his old school because of his Aspergers diagnosis. My issue with Elliott was more in the way it was handled. If they can't educate a child on the spectrum, I don't want to force them to try, Elliott would be the one paying the price for that. 
I don't think it's reasonable or responsible to expect any school or YMCA to be able to accommodate every single child. It's just not possible. At some point, there has to be a line. 
Having said that, how and where should that line be drawn?
Should they take things on a case by case basis or simply filter out kids by means of profiling for certain disorders?
Once again, I find myself agreeing with what you have to say. You put it quite well. 🙂
I think the issue in this case is more about how and why this happened and not so much that they couldn't accommodate the child. My impression is that they wouldn't accommodate him. To me, that's something entirely different. 
I don't believe the YMCA or any organization should be able to exclude a certain group of people, simply based on a diagnosis or disability. I believe that every reasonable effort should be made to meet the needs of the children, period. Reasonable is the key word and thats the word that Sarah used.


@lostandtired  @autismfather 
I worked for an after school program for many years. The Y provides a low cost program for typically developing children to attend after school. They are able to do this by having a 1/15 ratio of caregivers to children.  When a child who needs 1/1 care comes into the program, it becomes an issue.
Not every program is suited for every child.  Part of having a special needs child is seeing to their special needs. This is the parents' job, not a private organization's job.