Mom Says Son, Who Has Autism, Turned Away From Therapy Because He Can't Wear Mask

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A Chicago mother says that her 2-year-old son, who is on the autism spectrum, was forced to leave in-person therapy sessions at a Chicago clinic because he refused to wear a facial covering, and she is seeking changes in the facility’s policies.

“It is not for a weak mom. You have to be strong,” she said.

Regina Howard says that her son Willie was diagnosed with autism last year. Willie is non-verbal, and his pediatrician recommended speech therapy. Originally, Howard and her son tried tele-health visits because of the coronavirus pandemic, but her son wasn’t able to sit through the virtual sessions.

“The sessions were 45 minutes to an hour, and he would roughly sit there for two-to-three minutes and then take off,” she said.

Regina then asked for an in-person referral. On May 19, she and her son had their first appointment at Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital, but she says they were turned away because Willie couldn’t keep his mask on.

“The receptionist said ‘would you like a mask for him?’ I said ‘unfortunately he will not keep it on,’” Regina recalled.

Howard and her son were asked to leave. She tried talking to security, along with several other individuals at the hospital, but all of them gave her the same message.

“’We won’t be able to see him if he does not have a mask on,’” she said. “I emailed our pediatrician, and she was outraged.”

The CDC’s current guidelines recommend that children two years of age and older wear masks. Regina says that is not an option for her son, and says she was told to try tele-health again instead.

“It was hurtful. I cried that day. I still cry,” she said.

In a statement, Schwab told NBC 5 that their policies are in line with CDC recommendations.

“Facemasks are required for those age 2 years and older,” the hospital said. “Upon hearing her concerns, accommodations were discussed and offered.”

Illinois State Rep. LaShawn Ford is now involved, and says he hopes that accommodations can be made to get Willie the care he needs.

“The hospital policies, I think, are a little outdated to say the least,” he said. “They should reconsider them.”

Willie has two more appointments, set for June 1, but his mom says she’s still considering her options about what to do next.

“It has to stop happening immediately,” she said. “I would like them to revise them as soon as possible, (because) it’s not about me. It’s about him.”

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