My son’s school takes part in a gala each year to raise funds. The gala itself is not run by his school, or located at his school; it’s part of a different (and extraordinarily popular) school fair. I hadn’t been to it before, but I thought this year I’d make the effort, in order to show my support for the fundraising effort. My autistic son and I headed off across the city to find the school and the gala.
Everything was worse than I expected, and went better than I’d ever thought possible.
Best case scenario would have been close parking, no queues, easy to find the fundraising stall for my son’s school, in and out in time to get my son to his afternoon soccer club.
What actually happened:
The parking situation was the sort of insanity that made me want to turn the car around and drive the 20 minutes back home. I eventually found a park three streets away from the gala, and asked my son a few times whether he was absolutely sure he wanted to walk the distance to the gala, otherwise we could just go back home then and there. He was sure, so we did the (thankfully only) ten minute walk to the school gates, and stepped into a noisy world of crowds and queues that made my own anxiety levels rise to distinctly uncomfortable levels.
We weaved our way around the place, hand-in-hand so I wouldn’t lose him within the shuffling masses. Despite doing a circuit of the school twice, we never located his school’s fundraising stall. Lines to even get food and drink were too long for my taste, and it looked like the entire outing was going to end up being pointless. Except my son wasn’t going to let it go down that way.
He wanted very much to ride the small cars, set up within a large rink, $6 a ride. The line was long, so I’d said no earlier when he’d first spotted it. But he’d asked again so nicely, and he assured me he could handle waiting in line, so I wanted to award his patience and politeness by giving it a go.
He was happy the whole time we stood in that line, stimming his happy dance off to the side in an endless expression of his anticipation. When it was finally our turn, he didn’t argue about the fact I had to be in control of the wheel and accelerator, despite how very much he wanted to do it himself (it was just too hard for him unfortunately). As we did the circuits I took so much joy from his own joy, that my stress over not being able to find the school’s stall and over having to wait in line for so long, melted away into laughter. Riding with him in that car, just going round and round with four other cars on the circuit, was something remarkably special.
Even though he’d told me earlier that he never wanted to get off, he didn’t make a fuss when the time was up. We left that rink tantrum-free, both of us still smiling. I was so impressed with his waiting ability that I decided to risk waiting in yet another line in order to get ice-creams for us to eat on the way back to the car. Again, he impressed me with his calm patience and lovely manners. Two (ridiculously expensive) sherbet covered ice-creams later, we were leaving the gala.
Just to put a cheery on top of the experience, he managed to eat not just the ice-cream but the entire cone too; in the past he’s refused to eat the cone. He was proud of his little achievement and it felt good to see him taking pride in extending his own experiences. Unfortunately by the time we’d made it to the car, we were well behind my schedule for the time needed to get home for his soccer club. Throw in a few traffic jams and road works, and near-misses, and I was counting the seconds by the time I got him in the door and into his soccer uniform. Straight back out the door with his dad, and I got my breather.
To truly understand the magnitude of this experience, you need to know that we hadn’t planned to go to the gala that morning, my son had just mentioned it in passing, and expressed a desire to go along. There was no extended pre-discussion, no social story or visuals to prepare him, he made a spontaneous decision and when the plans kept going wrong (parking, can’t find the stall, queues), he took each in its stride. The next morning I happened upon the fact that the local SPCA was having a fundraising event that involved hot-rods. On a whim, he decided to attend that too, and had a great time there with his dad.
My son has changed so much in what he can handle and how well he can handle it, it’s like having a different child. He’s gone from being violent, mostly non-verbal, withdrawn, hyper-anxious and obsessive about strict predictability, to a gentle, non-stop-chattering, social child who enjoys unannounced outings, all in the space of about two and a half years.
I set out to survive a gala, and ended up enjoying it with my son instead.