The mother of an autistic 8-year-old boy was upset on July 4 when she says she was refused service at Altoona sports bar because her child brought a McDonald's Happy Meal with him.
Champs Sports Grill at 205 Charlotte Drive has a policy, she was told, that no outside food is permitted on the premisis, but the mother, Barbara J. Ross of 1515 Second St., saw the issue from a different viewpoint.
"This is discrimination against those with special needs and will not be tolerated," wrote Ross in a statement she posted on The Cove Community Online Yard Sales' Facebook page.
The posting created a storm of comment from nearly 400 individuals, and Ross said her public stand was accomplishing what she had in mind - bringing this issue of what parents with special needs children sometimes have to endure.
An attorney representing Camps, Jeffrey W. Stover, issued a statement over the weekend on behalf of Champs stating that the woman who informed Ross of the policy, described as a "partial owner" of the bar, had no idea the the child was autistic.
"Had [Ross] explained the child's inability to eat most food items, an accommodation would have been made. It is not the policy of Champs Sports Grill to discriminate against anyone," according to the Champs' statement.
The incident began rather innocuously, with Ross arriving a Champs for a July 4 lunch with her 8-year-old boy and 5-year-old girl.
As Ross explained in a telephone interview, her son is very selective in what he will eat.
He will eat a McDonald's hamburger and accompanying fries, but will not eat a hamburger at Champs. It looks different. It smells different.
So before going to Champs, she went to McDonalds and obtained a hamburger, which he prefers in one bag and fries, which he wanted in another bag.
As the trio was going into Champs, the younger sister said her brother was carrying a bag with the hamburger, and she asked to carry the bag with the fries.
Ross said the Champs' employee who was seating the family spotted the two bags and related Champs did not permit outside food and drinks.
Ross said she explained her son was autistic and food sensitive to the point he will eat only 15 types of food.
Champs says Ross did not explain the situation but said, "That's ridiculous, so we'll just leave."
The statement by Champs said Ross then returned without the children and called the policy "disgusting," and, only as she was leaving did she explain her child's sensitivity to food.
Ross summed up the situation by saying she and her daughter were going to eat at Champs and her son intended to have dessert there. He will eat chocolate, she said.
She said her purpose in talking about the Champs encounter was so people will understand the problems of a special needs child.
For instance, her son can eat only a certain type of cereal. He will eat bread but not toast. Pizza has to look a certain way.
"People don't understand what we (a parent of a special needs child) go through," Ross said.
She said that she takes her children to restaurants throughout the city and they have never before been refused service.
"I just want to spread the message. ... Be a little forgiving. I was ready to spend $30, $40, $50 (at Champs)," she said.