“Wait, Philip.” Peter said. “Let Daddy get it started.”
I watched little fingers intertwined with big fingers as Philip "helped" put together the kit that would become a Tic-tac-toe game. Peter bravely held a nail as Philip hammered (with just a little guidance from Mommy). I smiled, thinking about how these Kids Workshops at Home Depot aren't just for kids. Philip's learning how to build things, I’m learning to accept his choices, and Peter is learning some patience.
Later, as Philip played with the game at home, Peter and I talked about his progress. We recalled our first workshop back in June. Philip looked everywhere but at the wood and nails that would become a pencil holder. I couldn't blame him. I found the scent of wood glue, the echo of hammers pounding and the trays of brightly colored paints distracting, too. Except for painting, Peter had done all of the assembly. This would hold true when we returned the first Saturday of the next month, and the month after that. Yet, with each passing month, Philip contributed more to each project.
I realize these workshops are a savvy marketing ploy: lure in families with a free activity to build brand loyalty with children while enticing adults to pick up a few items since they are already in the store. Peter and I rarely buy anything where we come for the workshops though.
That doesn't mean we're not Home Depot customers. While we frequent the locally owned hardware store, Home Depot offers longer hours and the lower prices one expects from a big-box store. Plus, the employees at our local Home Depot are just as friendly and helpful.
I especially like Donna and Carrie, the associates that manage the Kids Workshop. They greet Philip by name now, even when they can't see it on his orange apron. From the start, they have understood and responded to Philip's needs without patronizing him.
That's why my stomach sank the other day when I clicked on the Boycott Autism Speaks site. I was visiting the page because I don't believe in the goals of the non-profit that claims to be "the world's leading autism science and advocacy organization." Any lingering doubts about whether I should support Autism Speaks disappeared the moment I read the co-founders hurtful "call to action." I thought I would sign the petition without a second thought, but then I saw The Home Depot listed as a partner of and a donor to Autism Speaks.
I shouldn't have been surprised. I remembered that they offered blue lights for Autism Awareness Month. Even though I didn't agree with them, I didn't protest. I didn't talk to the manager, write a letter to the corporate offices or even send a Tweet. I continued to shop at the store and order items online. Then I began taking my autistic son to their workshops.
As guilty as I felt taking Philip to the workshop on Saturday, I didn't hesitate to take him. Over the summer we drove the extra twenty miles each way three times to give the workshops at Lowe's a try. Unlike the warm, welcoming environment created by Donna and Carrie, we encountered a long line of people waiting to check in, different employees manning the event on each visit, and kits that were more complicated than the projects offered by Home Depot.
So that's my predicament. The corporate entity that is Home Depot donates funds to an organization that uses hateful rhetoric about my son, does not include any autistic individuals in positions of leadership, and spends its money on research rather than on supporting families at a local level. My local Home Depot provides me with a welcoming environment for my autistic son, a free activity that my entire family can enjoy, and an opportunity for my son to develop his fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination in a real-world context rather than in a therapy setting. Not only that, the local store is cheaper and more convenient than the alternatives in my community.
That's why I'm pleading with Home Depot: please, please stop giving money to Autism Speaks. There are other organizations that could use your donations that support the needs of autistics without demonizing them . I know other people are going to try to persuade you to abandon Autism Speaks by spending their money elsewhere. I feel like I don't have that luxury. Please don't punish my son twice, first by supporting an organization that doesn't support him and second by giving me no choice but to stop taking him to your workshops. I want to continue as your customer. Please don't make me boycott you.