Whether it be an event, Dr's appointment, store, etc. We walk into the situation and instantly scan the room and everyone in it. Then the wheels turn rapidly and our minds begin to race. Things run through our head like, the noise will hurt her ears, this crowd will overwhelm him, Oh dear there are a lot of breakable things in here, there are a lot of young children who will stare at him when he makes his noises, where can we sit, if we have to leave quickly what's the best route out, please God let her stay calm, give him the ipad now, where can we stand so she can jump and pace, please don't let her hit anyone, oh there are a lot of people I don't feel like apologizing to all of them or having to explain today.
Those are just a handful of thoughts that run through our minds. As a result of this a lot of families who have children with autism avoid events because the stress of just entering a room can be so painful and energy depleting. I can not count how many times I have left birthday parties, shows, family gatherings in tears. You feel battered and so alone as the world watches your child struggle through their Autism.
While being a parent of autism is so rewarding and fulfilling, this part I am talking about is so isolating. Everywhere we take our children, if we are brave enough, we are working to keep the environment all around us stable and subtly hush our kids from being themselves.
I won tickets to a Disney Jr Live performance from a lovely theater group named, TDF (Theatre Development Fund). These were tickets I didn't cringe at. My mind was at ease. These were tickets I could celebrate and be excited to take my daughter Grace . Why, you ask? Because the show we were going to attend was referred to as an "Autism Friendly" show sponsored by TDF.
I didn't know the details but I knew "Autism Friendly" meant we could go and she would be amongst an audience filled with families like us. There would be no explaining, no apologizing, no worrying. Just a show we could bring our daughter to, like everyone else in the mainstream world gets to do.
From the moment we entered the doors, it was like we stepped out of reality into this magical place where we were all accepted. I watched as a girl spun in circles and a boy toe- walked to the line. No one stared. No one reacted. Every adult had big warm smiles on their faces as well as the kids. There was such a positive energy that engulfed us all. As we proceeded to our seats there were tons of red-shirted Mickey eared volunteers. They were so kind and friendly. Every child they interacted with they knelt down to eye level and engaged in as much conversation as they could get. They were so helpful and put a great vibe for the entering process. They were carrying around bags of sensory toys and ear plugs and graciously handing them out to every kid they could. Grace loved the little "fidget" she received. (we call them fidgets, because it helps keep our kid's hands busy so they can remain calm and/or seated in a stressful situation). They also had advertisement cards of a list of restaurants that were going to be "Autism Friendly" that families could go to after the show.
We quickly got to our seats as Grace and her friend dragged us through the calm crowd of people. As we got them settled and fed them their snacks, I closed my eyes and listened to all that was around me. I heard parents speaking in "ABA language" (ABA is a behavioral therapy widely used on those with Autism) to their little ones, I heard stimming, I heard laughter, I heard high pitched vocalizations, I heard low pitched vocalizations, I heard a room full of vibrant children with Autism. I heard a room full of acceptance, empathy, and compassion. Mostly I heard happiness and fun.
As I opened my eyes I saw Grace in a way I haven't seen her in a long time. She was relaxed and organized. The show began and she jumped from her chair and her smile lit up the room. The lights stayed on so everyone felt secure. The sound was lower than a typical show so our kids felt safe. There was another little girl standing as tall as could be on her chair, no one said a thing. I think we were proud her parents could be at ease and let her get her chair standing out of her system. The little girl behind me was kicking my chair, and as the mother went to apologize, I looked at her and said "Not today, you don't have to be sorry today!" Her eyes smiled at me and she nodded. There were kids with their hands over their ears and silencer head phones on, no one stared or even questioned it. We knew why.
For 90 minutes the world was ours. It was a world strategically designed for all with Autism Spectrum Disorder and special needs. It was how I wished the actual world could really be. I never saw so many people in our situation or a similar one, all together in a room at ease. When you have Autism or any special need in your life, you become apart of this community, of accepting people. It's a community where you can look at another smile and know exactly how they feel or what they are thinking.
As we all walked out of the Madison Square Garden, it was as if no one wanted to leave. A lot of families lingered and were just getting a fill of their last moments in our bubble away from society.
I am so thankful to Disney Jr live and all of the staff and volunteers at TDF, who went above and beyond for our families. They planned everything so perfectly and I saw huge successes amongst many families. They made it easy for us to go somewhere and just simply not have to worry. This event was not only about Disney Jr, it was a family outing I will remember always and cherish in my heart. It was an outing that I cried happy tears on our way home, instead of tears of pain and feeling like I have failed as a parent.
Groups like TDF give us more than a show, event, or an experience. TDF gave me hope and acceptance, with no questions asked. The entire day was more than I could have ever asked for my daughter and our family. I felt so honored and so blessed we were able to be a part of it and I was picked to write about it. We need more of this in society, more events and more groups. Events like these are so important to families like mine. We need an "Autism Friendly" world!
Thank you TDF I will keep this memory and great experience tucked in my heart forever.
**SIDE NOTE not only were there coping tools for our kids on site, on their website they had links to social stories and ways to help our kids prepare for the show!! Genius**
*AS STATED FROM THEIR SITE
TDF is a national not-for-profit performing arts service organization that serves both individual productions and their potential audiences. For more info visit: www.tdf.org
MissionTheatre Development Fund, a not-for-profit organization, was created with the conviction that the live theatrical arts afford a unique expression of the human condition that must be sustained and nurtured. TDF’s twofold mission is to identify and provide support, including financial assistance, to theatrical works of artistic merit, and to encourage and enable diverse audiences to attend live theatre and dance in all their venues.
Company OverviewCreated in 1968 to help an ailing New York theatre industry, TDF has grown into the nation's largest not-for-profit performing arts service organization. Our discount ticket services -- TDF Membership and TKTS Discount Booths help make theatre, music and dance accessible to more than 2 million New Yorkers and visitors each year. TDF's Education programs introduce theatre to thousand of students each year. TDF Accessibility Program (TAP) makes theatre accessible to those with physical disabilities*
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