Penrose to gain autism awareness

An unfortunate incident will result in sensitivity trainings for a Packer Park eatery’s employees.

By Joseph Myers
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 6 | Posted Feb. 23, 2012

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Melissa Bressi, right, and son Christopher demonstrated their intense bond by playing a board game Monday afternoon. The mother and her husband Tom hope last month’s tense situation leads to enhanced community awareness of autism.

Photo by Greg Bezanis

Diners do not often yield teachable moments, but Melissa Bressi and the Penrose Diner, 2016 Penrose Ave., are hoping to transform an unpleasant experience into an exercise on appreciating differences.

The two became unlikely partners Jan. 28, when a misunderstanding involving her 7-year-old autistic son Christopher Bressi led the mother to depart the establishment.

“Christopher is an extremely intelligent, high functioning boy,” Bressi said Monday of the first-grader at Epiphany of Our Lord School, 1248 Jackson St.

Courtesy of the Germantown-based Green Tree School, which empowers special-needs individuals through various measures, the diner will begin to better its interaction with autistic individuals by participating in a March 19 training session.

At home, family members have no problem interacting with one another. Christopher eagerly played a board game with his mother, sister Samantha, 9, and brother Louis, 3, in their home on the 2600 block of South Chadwick Street before meeting friends for outside activities. His day may sound customary for someone similarly aged, but it marked another triumph in his wrestling with a form of autism spectrum disorder.

“Christopher was diagnosed in the fall of 2008,” Bressi said, noting his status prompted her to pursue a career in offering assistance to parents of special-needs children.

As she had associated autism with poor or limited speaking skills, she had not expected her offspring to receive that classification because he has always possessed deft language abilities. Expressive language sometimes troubles Christopher as he contends with a sensory processing disorder, with occasional declines in attention and focus and bouts with frustration stemming from desires for order also presenting challenges, though Epiphany’s assistance has aided him greatly.

As no uniformity marks children on the spectrum, his mother stressed practicing patience and intensifying awareness when spending time with autistic children. Her clan’s late January visit to the Penrose gave her proof of the work that must occur for acceptance to be persistent, though Bressi had foreseen a typically enjoyable Saturday evening in its confines.

“We had enjoyed many meals there,” she said.

The aforementioned date brought no such comfort, as management belittled her by voicing gripes about the condition of a menu that Christopher had handled, she said.

“It was poor judgment on their part in reacting to a menial situation,” Bressi said.

Christopher profusely apologized, with his mother announcing her son’s condition as a way to have the employees understand his action, which involved adjusting the order guide’s spiral holder. When matters intensified, she decided to leave yet had to compensate the diner for the menu.

“I was mortified,” Bressi said. “I just did not understand why it had to escalate into something so hurtful.”

Penrose owner Dimitri Kolovos, who was not present at the time of the incident, issued a televised apology that Bressi let her children view to facilitate forgiveness. As his staff is sizeable, his location will require at least one more consultation. For next month’s gathering and whatever future assistance he receives, he is happy and sees such guidance as mandatory for similar establishments.

“Everyone in the service industry needs to be aware of different situations,” he said.


Louie Berman cannot surmise why the Bressis’ situation exploded either, but he wants no equivalent dilemma ever to outrage another family. A resident of the 100 block of McClellan Street, he has an autistic son and serves on the board of Green Tree School. The head of Louie’s Voice, which provides guidance through its “Speaking up for Autism” mantra, he learned of the Penrose incident and saw an opportunity to convey knowledge.

“I knew I had to find the means to secure some sense of resolution,” the Pennsport dweller said.

As one out of every 110 U.S. children faces autism, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he knew his idea would need to be capable of being replicated.

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Comments 1 - 6 of 6
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1. Breakfast with Brady the Bozo said... on Feb 23, 2012 at 08:48AM

“It would be nice just for one time that Congressman Brady would go to at least one diner in his district, But yet he goes out of his way to "another" district every first of the month to North Philly and dine with non-constituants and kisses ther ass on the radio to no end, you fools should wake up and stop the "stupid" vote.”

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2. Proud Parent of an Autistic Boy said... on Feb 23, 2012 at 10:10AM

“I had a very similar experience at the Melrose Diner with my autistic son, who, at the time was 4 years old. I have not been back there since. When the subject of the Melrose comes up in any conversation, I make sure that I tell whoever is listening, the story of the horrendous treatment my son received there.

As part of my son's social training, trips to stores and restaurants were, and still are, part of his overall treatment to integrate him into society and reinforce appropriate behavior skills. We had been going to the Melrose once a week for about six months before this incident. At the time the Melrose was a favorite place of his.

We were seated at the counter, which was very crowded, when my son burped somewhat loudly. A man sitting next to him began to tell anyone who would listen about what a rude, spoiled kid he was and what a rotten mother I must be to have raised him.

I told my son to wait in the vestibule so that he would be out of hearing range and alerted the manager what was happening, as I planned to return to the counter to tell this customer what the situation was. The manager and cashier would not assist me, nor would they wait with my son while I talked to him. Between the two of them, there was much snickering and sneering.

Needless to say, the customer and I had words, where I explained to him my son's disability and asserted his right to be there. By this time, the entire diner was silent and staring.

I took my son and left, but not before telling the manager that his handling of the situation was unacceptable. His response was to tell me not to bring my son back.

That was 15 years ago. My son was at the beginning of the tidal wave of autistic youngsters that have since joined his ranks. All of them will be making up a sizable group of adults in our society and have the right to be respected, understood and treated with dignity.

There is not enough room in this comment space for me to describe the ill treatment, bullying and ostracism that my son has had to endure over the years here in South Philly. What kind of a world have we created where we cannot accept their's or anyone's differences?

Autistic people are fascinating, loving people, free of artifice and pretentions. They have the ability to change the lives of people who work with them. It's time the rest of society gave them their due.”

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3. Anonymous said... on Feb 23, 2012 at 03:04PM

“I think it very admirable that the Penrose has reached out to this family considering their bad experience at the diner. I assume its partly due to bad press for the Penrose but whatever it is important to have more awareness for autism and all other disorders and disabilities. Hope they have learned from this and will move forward. .”

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4. Anonymous said... on Feb 27, 2012 at 05:13PM

“The Penrose Diner is a run of the mill, mediocre, below average diner with terrible service.”

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5. Henry J said... on Mar 1, 2012 at 08:21AM

“Although I admire parents that have children with disabilities you cannot expect everyone to be disturbed because your child has a diasability. If this child cannot behave in public perhaps u should not take them to a public place, the last thing people want when they go out to put up with this behavior and why would you even put your child in that sort of situation. No way am i saying that autistic children are not fasinating and caring individuals, but you should also have the same consideration for others as you are expecting those to have for your child.”

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6. down south said... on Dec 3, 2012 at 02:17AM

“To Henry J.,
Sir, the only way the child will learn is to put them in society and let them realize what unacceptable behavior is”


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