Last Wednesday, Richard Mosel was taking a trip along the metro's Green Line, an excursion he regularly enjoys. Richard, aged 29, was accompanied by his shadow, an individual tasked with guiding Richard through his daily activities.
Richard has autism; he is a neuro-atypical Montrealer, with special needs, epilepsy, and behaviours that many may not regard as “normal.” And Richard's uniqueness seems to have angered a fellow passenger on the metro that day.
As Richard's sister, Caroline Mosel, related to me, a male individual became aggressive towards Richard while he and his shadow rode along the Green Line towards Angrignon metro.
Maintaining a non-confrontational attitude, Richard's shadow directed them both off the train once they pulled into Angrignon station.
The seemingly drunk man decided to follow the pair, yelling and screaming at Richard as they journeyed up through the station. Once they reached the top of the stairs, the man in question grew more aggressive, eventually punching Richard in the head, violently forcing him to fall to the ground.
Fortunately, Richard was wearing his seizure helmet, and was not seriously injured. But Richard was still in danger, as the disgruntled man continued to attack and harass Richard without any reasonable cause.
The shadow, now vehemently warding off the attacker, called for help. With no security personnel in the station, it was Montrealers around him that responded. The brave and kind-hearted citizens formed a human wall around Richard, protecting him from any further harm.
The police would arrive ten minutes later, apprehending Richard's attacker.
And while the cops were quite kind to Richard and his shadow, Caroline noted the strangers who protected Richard were far more sympathetic.
But in truth, sympathy from the general Montreal public is something of a rare occurrence for adults with autism. In reality, they are generally ignored, or kept out of sight.
Living With A Disability In Montreal
After relating the distressing course of events, both Richard's mother, JoAnne Mosel, and sister Caroline, spoke to me more about the greater issue.
Personally, I was quite ignorant on the topic, believing autism to be a rather well-known condition with plenty of popular support.
But as the Mosels pointed out, that might be true of young children, but once an individual with autism turns eighteen, “so much falls off the cliff.”
In other words, a large amount of volunteer help (many would rather help cute kids with autism than an adult), and specialists with adequate expertise become quite hard to find.
The Mosel family regularly experience this in their daily lives. Montreal, and certainly many other cities, lack adequate support for adults with autism.
For one, the metro system itself (which Richard loves to ride) is entirely biased towards those who are completely physically capable.
Not only is there a distinct lack of elevators across Montreal's network, but the poor lighting makes it difficult for anyone with mobility impairment (as is the case for Richard) to make their way up or down a set of stairs housed within a station.
Not Enough Support & Opportunities
Mosel also notes how Montreal, as a city, lacks many of the tools that could make those living with disabilities far easier.
Of the few that do exist, “Caroline's Cart” is a shopping cart designed with an integrated adult-sized seat to accommodate those with disabilities (including seniors), enabling them to participate in shopping activities and engage socially.
Support is expensive, and next to no funding (from the government or otherwise) is available to help acquire such devices, but small changes, such as adult-sized changing areas added to Montreal stores, would go a long way.
Even hospitals aren't suitably equipped to help adults with autism. Children's hospitals are generally knowledgeable about the disorder, but services cannot be offered to someone over the age of 18. Mosel comments how many other medical facilities (both private & public) lack even a basic understanding of the condition.
A Need For More Autism Awareness
While the Mosel's are incredibly appreciative of all those who protected Richard during last week's incident (in fact, it was the first thing JoAnne said to me during our interview), family members noted that despite a lot of “hype” surrounding autism, most truly don't understand the disorder.
Contrary to what many may believe, autism isn't a disorder with a set amount of features or conditions. Rather, it is a “spectrum” disorder, and a wide one at that. Those with autism exhibit varying levels of independent functioning and speech.
Behaviours and mannerisms are also quite varied among those with autism. Mosel explains that while there are many similarities (repetitive speech, latency, atypical vocalization and gestures, sensory disorders leading to anxiety and distress, etc.) none are "set in stone," so to speak.
These behaviours, however, do share one commonality: they look different from those one would see in a neurotypical person.
And it is this kind of basic, but altogether crucial awareness, the Mosel family would like to see spread across Montreal.
JoAnne Mosel admits that she would likely know next to nothing about autism if it wasn't a large part of her life. She hopes that through more awareness, people's fear and confusion about the disorder will turn into understanding those with autism are a diverse group, deserving of the same safety, respect and support as everyone else, no matter their age.