DC and I attend many events, activities and parties. Many related to his autism or specifically geared to special needs children and adults, many are not. Although I do write about some of these events or trips, I certainly do not write about all of them as, in most cases, there is nothing significantly related to DC and his autism to write about. This event was not going to become the subject of one of my posts; it had nothing to do with Autism, there would be no princesses, no wizard, no costumes, no bookstore – just DC, my mother and I attending a fundraising event hosted by an old friend of mine.
After attending, I do feel the need to write about it, and write about it from the perspective of DC and his autism and how, at times people really do go out of their way to make DC comfortable.
An old friend of mine invited us to his annual fundraising event. We could not make it last year, I can not remember why, but we were available to attend this year. We invited my mother to go along with us. Knowing full well that a sit-down-dinner at a table with probably 6 to 8 other people would be tough for him (and me), I tried, as I always do, to relate* the event to something of interest to him.
Tony Orlando, The Honorary Chairperson, would in attendance. Now, I am old enough to know who Tony Orlando is, but I didn’t know how to relate him to something in DC’s world. There have been many times where I am surprised by who DC does know. Usually I find out that they are “the voice” of a character in one of his movies. I checked on-line to see if Tony Orlando might have been the “voice of” anyone DC might relate to. He was not. But then I realized that whenever we hear “Knock three times” on the radio, I make DC sing along with me. We’ve done it enough times that he does now recognize the song. It is also one of the few songs that DC does not say, “Mom, please STOP singing!”
First hurdle, relating this event to something in his world – check!
The event was being held in the midst of our Halloween party season. We had already attended one party and we had a few more on the schedule in the next few days. The event’s description indicated that it would be a 40’s style gala. I did not know what that really meant but I went out and purchased a 40’s style men’s hat to go with DC’s suit.
Second hurdle, turning the event into a “costume party” – check!
My greatest concern was the seating arrangements. As I talked about in an earlier post, there are not many things that we avoid because of DC’s autism, but we do try to avoid situations where we will be seated at a crowded table with strangers. There are times when it can not be avoided, and we get through it, but if I can avoid it, I will.
I am usually not a big fan of eating in the dining room with DC. The tables are crowded with strangers. I get anxious because DC, although pretty well-behaved in restaurants, can get a little bit loud and chewing with his mouth closed does not come naturally to him, he has to be reminded continuously. When he does remember on his own, he feels the need to point it out to me throughout the entire dinner. He likes to bring a book with him whenever we go out to eat, but at these crowded tables, it is not always possible, there just isn’t enough room.
I was never of the mind that other people should be made to just accept DC’s behavior. Yes, if I am trying to manage the situation I can live without the stares and comments – but letting him do whatever he wants in the name of awareness, is not something I ever subscribed to. I do not believe that every behavior can or should be blamed on his autism – it is never used as an excuse.
I was told that I had to e-mail someone for reservations before purchasing tickets. I am not one that ever asks for special treatment or accommodations for DC, but since I had to send an e-mail, I decided I would just mention that DC tends to get a little bit anxious in crowds and if they happened to have a table that was not full; would it be possible to be seated there? I didn’t want them to go out of their way or change anything around, I just thought that if there was already such a table available, I would appreciate it if we could be seated there. It wasn’t a deal-breaker, we were going either way, but since I had someone’s ear I thought it could not hurt to ask.
DC has issues with many types of clothing, more-so now than when he was younger, but there is nothing better, in DC’s eyes, than wearing a suit. I suspect the fact that people tell him how handsome he looks is the number one reason – if you neglect to tell him just how handsome he looks, believe me he will bring it to your attention. Add the hat “costume” to his already handsome apparel and he was over the moon.
The very first thing DC noticed upon arrival was the sign for the “Grand Ballroom”. I had not thought of this aspect when looking for things relatable for DC. Not only was he going to see the ‘voice of’ “Knock Three Times”, while looking handsome in costume, but we were going to the “Ball”! How did I miss that one?
We were in the lobby with quite a few others who had arrived a few minutes early. We were told that we had to wait a few minutes as the staff was still in the process of setting up. DC was having the normal anxiety he has upon arriving anywhere. I always know it is coming, he just needs a little time to shake it off. The woman at the door noticed he was having a difficult time, and shuffled us into the ballroom. We were away from the crowd and he didn’t have to ‘wait”. He would have been alright waiting with everyone else, but it would have taken him longer to shake his ‘arrival anxiety’, so I was very appreciative that she let us in.
We found our table. It was the very last table all the way in the corner. It was perfect. DC, who generally is not aware of anything around him in terms of pushing his chair out, getting up from the table without looking to see if anyone is coming or putting his coat on, arms flying outward to accidentally hit anyone that might be in range, had room behind him so he would not bump into anyone else’s’ chair or knock anyone over when he got up from the table. There was no one behind us to bother if he felt the need to get up and dance. We were the only people in the ballroom other than the staff and a few people I assume were with the organization, for quite some time. Not long after, Tony Orlando came down the stairs. I do not like to bother people. DC has had his picture taken with many people over the years but it was almost always as a photo op. I just do not feel right asking people that are not there for that reason, to take a picture. My mother, had other ideas. She reached into her box of ammunition and pulled out the ‘Mom Guilt’….. “Oh you have to!” , “He won’t mind, he’s used to it” (that went on for awhile), she stared at me for awhile and then resorted to the sideways glance, “Now, Vickie” in a tone I hadn’t heard in years, I finally gave in, only under the condition that SHE had to do the asking.
She went over and asked him and of course he said yes. I don’t know what else she said to him, but he was happy to do it.
First, he told DC that he looked like a movie star. You know that won DC over completely. I told him that his friend BB and Mrs. H will be so jealous. (That is usually DC’s line when we go somewhere that he is excited to be, but I decided to use it just as an added incentive to help move him out of his anxiety). Mr. Orlando was very good to DC. They had a little chat and he told DC that they would be “friends forever”, and DC certainly believes they will.
I am officially adding Tony Orlando to the list of people I will always hold in high regard for not only taking the photo with him, but taking the time to actually try to have a conversation with him and making him feel special.
When they began letting all of the other attendees into the ballroom we realized that we were the only people that would be sitting at our table. One of the women that I had e-mailed before we purchased the tickets stopped by to be sure we didn’t feel as if we were being isolated. It was a perfect table and we did not feel isolated at all. We didn’t expect them to go that much out of their way to give us our own table, but I was so glad they did. DC had room for his ever-present book, he was able to get up and dance behind the table when he wanted to. There was a window right there that helped to keep him occupied; he loves to stand and just look out the window. When it got dark outside, the window then served as his own personal mirror. There is no one that loves looking at himself in a mirror or any reflective surface more than DC does, especially that night , while wearing his new hat.
Third hurdle – Not siting at a crowded table – check!
He enjoyed watching the ballroom dancers they had performing. At one point I did take him out closer to the dance floor where he could watch them (and follow along, pretty well, I might add) from the sidelines. He sang along with “Knock Three Times” and they even had pizza bites as one of the appetizers! What could be better!
Forth hurdle – DC’s very limited food list- check!
He had a
wonderful (oops) ‘terrific’** time. Fortunately the ‘drop the chocolate, frosted, cupcake strategically down the opening of his jacket’ incident occurred toward the end of the evening; the smeared chocolate all over his shirt, tie and the inside of his jacket did not ruin the entire evening.
I did contact my friend, Joe the following day to thank him and to let him know how much his people went out of their way to make DC comfortable. I appreciated everything they had done.
They have also been added to my list.
*(That “Everything is Related” post I keep threatening to write IS now in progress and will be posted at a later date)
** “terrific” DC’s latest word, replacing “wonderful”.
At every step, I could fully relate to the “check!” you needed to do in your head. The intensity might be different, but the needs are the same!
There are many times that I can’t get the “checks”, it doesn’t keep us from attending but it is certainly much easier when I can hit the checks on the list – so much easier.
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