Editor’s Note: We’ve updated this story to reflect the views of the woman accused.
(NEWS CENTER) A video posted on Facebook has touched off a firestorm of comments, opening up a heated conversation over how children with autism should be treated.
The video was taken and posted by a Maine woman, the mother of a young girl who is on the spectrum. It followed, what Shawna Lynn she said, was a verbal attack on her daughter.
The video, shot by Shawna Lynn at Range Pond, of a woman, alleged to have used profanity toward an 8-year-old girl with autism.
In the cell phone video, Shawna's voice can be heard speaking with the woman.
Mom: "This is my kid. We're at a place where kids are…”
Mom: "I'm putting you right online for saying that to a special needs little girl."
Woman: "I did not use those words."
Mom: "You did use those words."
Woman: "I absolutely did not."
Mom: "What did you say then?"
Woman: "I said, ‘Please shut up.’"
The woman shown in the video told NEWS CENTER the video clip captures only part of what happened and that without more context, portrays her in a negative way. She said she was enjoying a swim when the girl began screaming in the water and that the screaming continued. She admits she was annoyed and could have been polite with her remark, but says she didn’t think she was within earshot of the child and that she had no way of knowing the noise was coming from a child with special needs.
The woman shown in the video said when she got out of the water, the mother came at her with her cell phone camera on, yelling and taping the confrontation. Since the video was posted on Facebook, the woman said she’s been cyberbullied. Thousands of people have commented. Some messaged her privately on Facebook saying they would have hurt or killed her if they were the mom.
We are not showing the woman's face, but several sources, including the superintendent of schools in SAD 17 in Oxford Hills, confirm she is a speech therapist, working with students with disabilities in several schools there.
"I didn't want to believe that actually, I found it very unbelievable that that was true," said Jennifer Brooking, "and when it had become that it was verified - that she did, in fact, work with this population - it was horrifying."
Brooking has three children, two of them are on the spectrum. "For kiddos that are on a similar profile that my daughter is - and Shawna's daughter - oftentimes they will jump up and down and shriek and flap their hands" -- and that's a sign that? -- "that they're very happy."
According to Shawna, her daughter was making those shrieking sounds as she was swimming. We asked Suzanne Sylvester, clinical director at Scarborough Neurodevelopment Center to watch the video. "Ah, that was completely inappropriate."
Sylvester said even if the words weren't profane, the woman's tone was. She describes it as angry, and in the case of kids on the spectrum, quite possibly injurious.
"This is an adult speaking to the 8-year-old little girl, and it's traumatic. And trauma isn't something that's easily brushed off," she explained, warning that, "one wrong person in a child's life can really profoundly affect the rest of that kid's life."
Which is something that Brooking understands, too well. "I've had people in the community make rude comments towards my children, even threatening comments about their behavior and what they would do if my child was their child." Brooking continues, "I had one gentleman, and I use that term loosely, say that if my son was his child he would give him a smack up against the head."
The Range Pond incident has fired up Facebook -- with nearly 15,000 shares and 4,000 comments as of Wednesday afternoon. It's a story that has struck a chord.
"I think these kids receive enough criticism from the general public. Because their norm - the way they act is out of our norm, so it calls attention. The last person they need to react that way is a clinician."
Late Wednesday afternoon, the accused released this statement to NEWS CENTER. And, although she included her name, we have decided to not reveal her identity:
To the News Director:
I’m writing in response to a report that I understand that WCSH is planning to run this evening in reference to an incident that occurred at Range Pond State Park 6/13/17.
The information provided on the internet by Shawna Lynn is false and deliberately false and made with malice.
I am demanding a retraction from Shawna Lynn. I am also demanding that she remove the defamatory, highly edited video immediately. The statements made by her are defamatory and untrue.
After returning from swimming out a good distance from the Range Pond State Park Beach afternoon of 6/13/17, a mother of a screaming 8 year old child that had screamed constantly in the water unattended, stormed up to me with her light on her cellphone camera, making it clear that she planned to confront me and video the confrontation. She yelled something to the effect of don’t tell my special needs child to Shut to F--- up. I told her I did not use that language. She preceded in yelling at me and it appeared that she might strike me.
The mother accosted me, ripping my towel off me, storming at me with her camera on her phone and yelling. I had made a comment which I thought was out of earshot (400-500 feet away while swimming in the lake off shore) that had no profanity in it.) I said “please shut up” but not very loudly. While not an ideal comment, it was simply a comment regarding my patience level regarding the screaming that had been nonstop since my arrival at the beach. At no time was I any nearer to this child than 70 or 80 feet and that was when I was on the beach. The 8 year old screamed for 30 mins constantly with no parent getting in the water to soothe her or distract her to break up the constancy of the noise , nor to play with her in the water. There was no engagement in the water from her parents at all. Her father or male of the couple yelled at her because she had drifted about 15-20 feet to the right of the beach chairs parents were sitting in and the girl was 10-20 feet alone in the water from the beach edge.
I was not at work so do not feel this is linked to my professionalism in any way. I deal very positively with children with a wide range of needs in the work place. I did not feel my comment was loud enough to be heard on shore. The post has been reported to FB but they will likely not respond promptly. The damage to my reputation has been done by a carefully edited video posted by an angry mother, leaving out her most volatile and loudest angry shouting. The posting also conveniently left out the mother ripping my towel off me. And for the record, I thought the child was in distress but was never close enough to see her well nor visually observe much beyond that she was left alone in the water. In the mother’s FB post, she states the 8 year old daughter was making happy sounds. That was not my interpretation but the sounds were the same as screaming and constant. Even so, why didn’t the parents engage with her in the water. She was by herself screaming. Some playing, distraction or engagement could have reduced or broken up the screaming that went on so long. The adults stayed on shore and others on the beach heard this for a long time.
The only time the child was nearer to me than the distance we were sitting apart (greater than 70-80 feet to the parents, the child was another 10-20 feet further away from parents) was when the family passed in front of me departing and making nasty remarks to me.
At some point, I started a sentence beginning with “I’m sorry you have a special needs daughter but...” I didn’t finish the statement due to the level of mother’s agitation and interruptions. I believe I was trying to, despite feeling attacked by mother’s aggressive stance, ripping off my towel(yes touching me), to diffuse the situation by saying there are plenty of ways to break up the screaming so it doesn’t last so long. I had no idea the child was special needs; just that she appeared in distress and parents were clearly not attending to her.
The mother has posted a character assassination leaving out some critical information and misquoting me. Could I have more politely put out my request? Sure, not a great choice of words but not profane nor abusive language either. Did this occur at a work setting; absolutely not. Does this have anything to do with how I deal with clients? no. Did the mother physically touch me which I consider assault? yes. If someone said, “please shut up” in a non work setting, would this make the news? No. Far worse things are said and done. This is being made a big issue because parent is claiming her child has special needs and because of a remark made by a professional in a non work setting. I am only human and not perfect; I was overtired, hoping to revive and relax at the beach only to be near screaming that went on for 30 minutes that parents were not addressing. I expected it would settle down so didn’t move. When I made my unfortunate less than perfect remark, I was met with aggression and assault by an angry mother who is defaming my character. After returning from swimming out a good distance from the Range Pond State Park Beach afternoon of 6/13/17, a mother of a screaming 8 year old child that had screamed constantly in the water unattended, stormed up to me with her light on her cellphone camera, making it clear that she planned to confront me and video the confrontation. She yelled something to the effect of don’t tell my special needs child to Shut to F--- up. I told her I did not use that language. She preceded in yelling at me and it appeared that she might strike me.
The statements made by Shawna Lynn are causing me immediate harm and injury. I have received numerous and continuing death threats and threats of violence. She has wrongfully tried to put me in a false public light. She was an aggressor with a child that was in distress and unattended. She attacked me physically and has used false information on facebook to attack my reputation. She has contacted my worksite.
WCSH Channel 6 should show the entire video including her assault on me to avoid knowing participation in a false public statement.
Thank you for your review of these facts.