"These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world." - John 16:33

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Finding hope where you least expect it.

Yesterday we took the kids to Yorks Wild Animal Kingdom .  I had gone last year with my mother and the 2 kids and things went fairly well.  This year my husband was able to come with us.  He was a tad bit nervous about having our two in a large amusement park.  For those who don't know him, he tends to "hover" around our children when he's with them.  People joke around and give him a hard time about it but knowing the safety difficulties our children have, I don't blame him.  We started the morning off slower than we had planned and left the house an hour latter.  I had re-arranged our therapies to give us the whole day off so we didn't have any stress trying to get home at any specific time.  We figured we would "go with the flow" and really go with whatever our children would tolerate.

I want to start by saying we love this park.  I found it pretty clean for a zoo and amusement park.  The pricing was fair.  All of the employees were very courteous and kind.  They always smiled and wished you a fun day when you exited a ride.  We never once encountered an attitude from anyone and they seemed happy to help you out in any way you needed.  I will recommend this park to anyone looking for a fun place for a family day.  (I'd also love to take the kids back when we do our zoo unit I have planned!)

The day went much better than expected.  The kids were so excited to get there they didn't seem to be bothered by the drastic change in schedule.  We got there in time for lunch (we had a cooler and a large bag full of food, drinks and snacks for the kids.  When you have kids on such a limited diet, you never know if you'll be able to find food they can eat!)  We went into the park and paid and then sat to eat lunch.  We decided to go to the zoo first and then we would make our way to the rides once we had a child (or two) in some type of sensory overload.  It was crowded, loud and hot, but they made it through.

Peanut lasted about  1 1/2 hours in the zoo.  I was very proud of him.  They both showed slowly worsening signs of sensory issues but held it together well. 
Peanut and Sassy with their daddy.
The zoo was pretty impressive.  We saw an elephant, monkeys, lions, a tiger, deer, bears, camel, I really could keep going and going.  The animals seemed well cared for and happy.  Sassy has an obsession with animals and bugs of all kinds and she was in absolute heaven for sure.  We stopped once for a snack and a drink and then made our way to the butterfly sanctuary.  We lasted about 5 minutes (if that) and then we were off to the rides to try to calm their sensory systems.

Sassy got to ride her first roller coaster with her daddy.  They also rode the train, boats, swings, and carousel.  Peanut was fascinated with trying to figure out all of the clips and locks on the seat belts on all the rides.  Although I like to see him trying to figure things out (nice critical thinking) but not when you can fall off a ride once you figure it out.  Needless to say, we were the annoying, seemingly overprotective parents yelling to their child to "hold on".  What people may not have realized is that the purpose of this was to distract his hands from the clips and locks.

Chooo chooo!!!

Peanut and Sassy on the boats

Sassy and Peanut on the swings

Sassy and Peanut waving to the camera!
We really had a great day and I know my husband and I will never forget it.  So where's that hope you ask?  Is it because we had a great day despite our family's difference? No.  Is it because we made it an entire day with two toddlers with Autism without one tantrum or meltdown from either child? (A miracle in itself!) No.  It was actually because of a short and quiet encounter I had with an employee at the park.

We were at a kiddie ride.  As I have mentioned, Peanut was obsessed with trying to unlatch every clip and lock he encountered.  I had noticed the man operating the ride was quieter and less bubbly than the rest of the other ride operators we had met up til then, but thought nothing of it.  As the ride started up I saw Peanut start to fidget with the clip on his seat belt.  Sassy just sat back with a stone faced look as she had on every other ride (This is her relaxed look.  As soon as any ride ended she would beg to go on it again).  My husband and I began to take turns yelling (we had to yell because of the noise in the park) to Peanut the various prompts we had found worked on the other rides, but the swing seemed to help him to keep his focus on this little clip.  Suddenly I heard the man operating the ride loudly yell for Peanut to stop playing with the clip.  Peanut looked up and actually stopped playing with the clip (for only about 10 seconds, but it was longer than we were able to get him to stop!).  I don't typically make it a habit of revealing my children's diagnosis unless I feel I really have to.  For some reason I felt this was one of those occasions.  I got closer to the man and shortly explained that my son was fascinated with the lock because he had Autism. 

The man turned his head towards me and looking at the ground and said, "So do I." 

I was shocked by the response and looked over to him, realizing he never really had made eye contact with anyone and I said, "Oh, really?" 

 "Yeah" he said. 

I stood there in silence not knowing what else to say.  I just had never expected to hear that sentence, especially at a noisy, busy amusement park.  I could tell he was feeling the same awkwardness, searching his social repertoire for what he is supposed to say next, and honestly, I was doing the same.  I've never had the opportunity to speak with an adult with Autism.  I'm sure we will have more opportunities in the future, but this was a first. 

He then turned to me and said (again, looking at the ground and I wasn't going to push the eye contact so I also didn't look right at him), "I know exactly how he feels right now." 

"Really?" I said, again shocked by what he said. 

He sighed and in a more relaxed tone stated, "Yeah, I really do." 

I looked right at him, "If I could know for just five minutes what it felt like for him, it would mean the world to me." 

He then acknowledged what I said with the quickest attempt at fleeting eye contact and a small smile, and then he turned back to the control for the ride.  Our conversation was over.  I was so tempted to ask him more about what his life was like, but I was afraid of being rude, and honestly didn't want to distract him from operating the ride my two angels were on.  All I can say is I was honored.  I was honored that he chose me to share his diagnosis with, and even more honored that he attempted to give me the eye contact that is just so difficult for people on the spectrum. 

I was caught of guard for sure, but most of all I was filled with hope.  Here was a man in his early twenties, with Autism working on his own. I now liked Yorks Wild Animal Kingdom even more for giving this man his job.  Families with children on the spectrum will understand.  This is not just a job, it is a chance at making a future for himself.  Any parent with a young child will tell you that the uncertainty of your child's future is terrifying.  Will they be able to live on their own?  Hold a job? Have friends? A marriage and children?  For some the answer is yes, and others the answer is no.  Seeing this man gave us hope.  I told my husband of my encounter.  About 30 minutes latter he said, "You know, seeing that man operate the ride makes me feel...." He paused.  "Hope?" I asked.  "Yeah....hope."

A big thanks to Yorks Wild Animal Kingdom for a fun filled family day and thank-you to the man who reminded me what hope feels like, I'll hold it with me forever.

"...but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."  Isaiah 40:31

God Bless.

Mommy Provost

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