To The Manager At The Theatre………from a fellow autism parent

I know I haven’t written a blog for a while, but I honestly haven’t felt moved by anything autism related…………until today.

My life has been quite the typical humdrum autism parent life lately, you know, being the chauffeur, cook, alarm clock, maid, and mind-reader that requires about 90% of my time. The other 9% goes to my sleep, and I guess the 1% goes to my “me” time, whatever the hell that is.

So my hubby had to work this whole weekend, which usually means park time, or just playing outside with Keegan. Unfortunately it won’t stop raining, so the fun had to stay indoors. After being stuck in the house all day and night Saturday, I decided to join my friends and their 2 kids (one with autism and one neurotypical) at the movie theatre Sunday afternoon. Now, we have gone to the movies a handful of times since Keegan was born, and was only slightly successful at the sensory-friendly one. All others were an epic fail. I wasn’t sure if I was up for the challenge, but I was fully equipped with a purse full of goodies. You know the goody bag—skittles, oreos, goldfish, etc. And to make it even better, my friends already ordered our popcorn and french fries, which arrived right after we sat down.

I thought we had it covered……until we didn’t.

We were seeing a special screening of Fantasia, the old Disney movie, celebrating it’s 75th Anniversary. I didn’t realize that the first 10-15 minutes of the screening was going to be a ‘behind-the-scenes’ look at the Philadelphia Orchestra’s rehearsals, along with a discussion by the conductor. I also forgot that typical screenings are very loud to the autistic ear.

So, as Keegan sat there with his hands over his ears and his eyes wide-open trying to figure it all out, I was trying to shove popcorn and fries in his face to distract him, knowing he was starting to “get there”, if you know what I mean. I even broke out the skittles and the stim toy, but they were also a no-go. We were already getting the ‘stares’ because of his vocal stimming sounds, and as I looked around, I noticed there were very few kids in the theatre. The youngest ones were teenagers, so I figured the adults just wanted to go to re-live memories of when they saw it as a kid, and bring their older kids with them.

After a few minutes of squirming and trying to get out of his seat, and me blocking him, Keegan looks right at me and says “go outside!” Coming from a child of VERY few words, both literally and figuratively, this translates to “let’s get the f*#& out of here now, mom!”

I grabbed my purse and goodies so quick, scooped up Keegan, and stomped past approximately 12 people in the isle on my way out, saying “Sorry, don’t worry, we are NOT coming back…….Sorry, don’t worry, we are NOT coming back,” over and over again.

Once we got out and into the lobby, I put Keegan in a chair and sat down beside him. I thought maybe if he chilled out, we could go back and sit in chairs closer to the exit door for an easier escape. Now, if only I could talk him into staying quiet and in his seat. This task is obviously close to impossible for an autistic child with very little verbal speech and even less receptive language. My motivation was to get back in there and finish those yummy fries (and they were still warm 😦 ).

As I got up to attempt another try, I realized that I left the tickets on the table next to the popcorn. Luckily the lady at the counter remembered me and told me it was fine to go back in. I then asked her if I could sit somewhere else closer to the exit, since the theatre was assigned seats only, and she told me to check with the front desk because she didn’t know. As we were talking, a gentleman that obviously worked there, and who must have sensed that “look” on my face, came up and asked what was wrong. I explained the situation and told him that my son was autistic, and that we were going to go back and try again in a different seat, if that was OK.

This nice man kindly said, “Here, follow me and we can get you guys a good seat.” As we approached the door to that particular theatre, Keegan’s anxiety became more apparent, and he began whining again. It was quite obvious at that moment that he did NOT want to go anywhere near that place again, so I said “You know what, it looks like it’s not going to work, but thanks anyway.” The man then looked at me and said, “I have a 25-year-old daughter who is also autistic, so I understand.”

I knew at that moment that he DID in fact understand, and that meant the world to me. I always hear people say, “Oh my neighbor is autistic, so I understand”, or “my cousins’ nephew has autism, so I get it.” But trust me, you don’t, and I completely respect that you don’t. But this was a parent who had been doing this for 25 years, and he DID get it. He was even doing it before autism was the cool thing to do (LOL), and when there was even LESS services than there are now. In fact, he probably “got it” more than I did.

This man then completely amazed me and said, “wait here, I’ll go get you some free passes.” As I’m standing in the dark hallway waiting for him to return, I am hoping that the staff walking up and down can’t see the gleam of tears in my eyes. When he returns, he hands me a pile of free passes, along with his business card. On the back of his card he had written his cell phone number. He then said, “Please call me if you need anything, passes, resources, advice………whatever you need.”

I was at a loss for words, and just told him thanks, and that the kind gesture meant more to me than he will ever know. I then carried Keegan to the car, strapped him in, got into the front seat, and cried for a good 10 minutes. Thank God it was raining so nobody could walk by and see me.

I don’t really know exactly why I cried, because it wasn’t ‘that time of the month’ for me, or anything. I think it was a mixture of the extreme emotions of disappointment and gratitude at the same time, of frustration and empathy at the same time, and of being unable to change the situation and accepting that I can’t change it at the same time. It can get very frustrating to see how easy things are for others when it is such a hard struggle for those with autism and their parents. And, it’s hard when you get another slap in the face that an attempted outing was once again a failure. But then again, it is so rewarding when you meet someone with a compassion that is so familiar, and an understanding that you can only feel with very few people………and free movie tickets to boot!

So, to Mr. Subko, thank you for making a hard time a little less hard. Thank you for telling me that it does get easier. Thank you for saying ‘hi’ to Keegan, and telling me that your daughter also responded with echolalia after Keegan said ‘hi,hi,hi,hi’ back to you (and thank you for knowing what echolalia even is). But most of all, thank you for actually understanding when you said, “I understand.”

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