Families of autistic kids uninvited to special event at Georgia Aquarium

by: Carl Willis Updated:

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ATLANTA - A special event for autistic children at the Georgia Aquarium received an overwhelming response. 
 

The high interest in Autism Speaks Day caused the aquarium to take certain children off of the guest list.
 
"That's a hard thing to go through," said Melissa Finkenbinder, a mother of an autistic child. "It's heartbreaking not for me, but for my kids." 
 
A Georgia Aquarium spokesperson says the invites were only intended for members of autism awareness groups with whom they've partnered. 
 
However, word spread to families and children outside of those groups to parents like Finkenbinder.
 
She says it is a challenge to find activities that don't overwhelm and overstimulate her 9-year-old son, Drake.
 
"They're left out of a lot of things because they're different than other kids and they have issues that normal kids don't have, like loud noises," said Finkenbinder.
 
On Sunday, the Georgia Aquarium will open up two hours early, turn down the music and the lights, and host smaller groups.
 
Finkenbinder says she received complimentary tickets from the event, and her son has been looking forward to it for two months.
 
Then, she received an email Tuesday morning informing her that her family had been removed from the guest list.
 
"We have to explain to our kids why," she said. "How do you explain to an autistic kid who can barely understand anything the fact that they can't see this or be a part of this?" 
 
A Georgia Aquarium spokesperson wants to take back the messages sent out to parents, writing:
 
"...the aquarium will extend that complimentary admission to any guest who previously registered for the complimentary morning event and who previously received a confirmation via email." 
 
According to an aquarium spokesperson, guests can disregard emails telling them they have been uninvited to the event.
 
"You don't invite kids to a party and then say never mind," said Finkenbinder. "That's not what it's about. It's about these kids." 
 
This applies only to families that previously registered.
 
The Georgia Aquarium will contact each family that was taken off the list with instructions on how to get into the event from 8-10 a.m. Sunday.