WAITROSE has apologised to an autistic boy after staff members at a store “made fun of his mannerisms and looks” because the youngster was wearing a wig.
Twelve-year-old Paul Rowles was dressed as his favourite video game character to go shopping last Monday when the “disgusting” incident occurred.
His mum Nicole Rowles, 34, explained how Paul uses costumes to help him cope when out in public.
However, the wig he was wearing as part of the outfit made him a target for “bullying” staff at the store in Andover, Hampshire who made “cruel” jokes about his “mannerisms and looks”.
Waitrose has since apologised to the family and has launched an investigation into the incident.
Nicole took to social media to share the experience, posting a photo of Paul in the wig. She explained: “ Their obvious mockery was hard to ignore, they were laughing and making comments of someone they could both see.
“I didn’t have to wait long for the woman to say with a loud voice ‘what about that wig though?’ followed with delightful laughter.
“At this point I turned around and said to them ‘That’s my son you are making fun of! My 12-year-old autistic son!’’
She says she gave the pair an education on hidden disabilities, before a third store member who seemed “embarrassed” by her colleagues came over to comfort her.
She added: “I have never felt so emotionally beaten in all my life.
“After a poor apology from another manager and the details of an area manager who isn’t even available this week, I left to ensure my boy wouldn’t catch wind of what had just happened.
“Once I got to the bus station, I called my husband and again I broke down crying thinking I was safe to do so as my kids went ahead onto the bus already. Then I felt a strong hug and it was my son! He said ‘It’s okay mum it doesn’t matter what people say’.
“My 12-year-old-son, who struggles severely to fit in and often finds his own coping strategies to be able to manage situations, has more compassion and understanding than your employees. They mocked my boy when he was trying to just cope.”
Social media users were outraged by the post, which has since been shared thousands of times.
Lynne Groves commented: “Felt really choked at reading this. Nothing can justify adults doing this, they are the ones who need severe help. They are abnormal, cruel and twisted.”
Mel Owen added: “Crying reading this, absolutely disgusting behaviour from adults!”
And Andrea Rookes said: “What world do we live in in which working age adults have any excuse in mocking a child?”
Nicole says she was later contacted with a “rehearsed” apology and offered a £100 gift card.
However, she says the incident has had a deep impact on her family.
Speaking today, the sales assistant said: “Paul is very empowered by everyone’s support and wants to see change, but he is still affected by this.
“Paul has faced bullies all of his life, not only because of his additional needs, but Paul has received a lot of hate over his weight and now his sexuality.
“Despite being bullied, he has always remained kind, caring and loving towards anyone.
“People need to realise that the words they speak don’t just have the instant impact.
“They have long term effects and they can be the straw that breaks the camels back following previous events as it was in our case.
“This goes so much deeper then just public discrimination.
“To find out that ‘the partners’ receie no training whatsoever in regards to hidden disabilities is just outrageous.
“What we would like to come from this is changes in policies, a personal apology to my children and adequate compensation as well as letting the public know what changes they will be implementing in the future to prevent this kind of behaviour.”
A spokeswoman for Waitrose said on Thursday: “We are very sorry to Ms Rowles, her son and family for the distress this has caused – this is clearly not acceptable.
“We are taking this extremely seriously and are investigating as a matter of urgency.”