An assault on her young brother upset a Te Awamutu woman so much she wrote to her local newspaper urging the community to show some understanding of people with autism.
Rhiannon Venk says neighbours threw rocks and hosed nine-year-old Ronan Cavanagh, who is hooked on collecting wheelie bins from up and down Frontier Road.
In a letter to the Te Awamutu Courier late last year, she described how Ronan had come home crying with large bruises on his legs, and then in a separate incident had water squirted at him as though he was a stray dog.
“Due to his disability and due to his behaviour and due to his own little world, I am 100 percent confident that he will never ever understand why grown men and women, who should be role models and trusted, would throw rocks at him or blast water when he enters their property to touch their bin,” she wrote.
“You hurt my little brother’s heart today. And he doesn’t understand what he did wrong.”
Rhiannon says she wants people to realise that Ronan is not being naughty when he collects the bins.
“He absolutely loves wheelie bins,” says Mum Nicole. “He will go for miles to find a kind we don’t have. He likes to rearrange them and make sure that the neighbours have the correct stuff in their recycling bins.”
Two years ago, the family did a letterbox drop to neighbours to explain that Ronan has autism and to ask them to be patient if they found their bins were missing. They asked them to put their street numbers on the bins so the family could return them.
“We did that straightaway when it started becoming quite an issue. Some mornings I would wake up and have 20 bins on my property and I would have to try to find out where the bins came from. He has been playing with the bins since he was about two. But tolerance is wearing thin with quite a few of the neighbours.”
Rhiannon says Ronan was able to identify the houses where he had been assaulted, but enquiries by Police had not got to the bottom of what happened.
Ronan hasn’t stopped collecting bins on recycling days, but now avoids the area where he was assaulted and collects them from the opposite side of the road. He has also shifted his focus to the man who collects the rubbish bags.
“Wednesday is a huge day for us,” Rhiannon says. “He was outside this Wednesday from daybreak to sunset waiting for Matt.”
She hopes that 2020 will bring more understanding of Ronan and people with autism.
Photo caption: Rhiannon Venk and her brother Ronan Cavanagh with a few of his favourite things – the Frontier Road wheelie bins.
This story was published in Community Moves. The magazine is posted free to all IHC members.