This week we had yet another “first” in our family, we all headed out to see a musical theater performance at a real deal theater! Being very big supporters of the arts, this was something dad and I had been looking forward to for quite some time, and what better show to see than our favorite Christmas movie on the stage - Elf!
Now with your extreme sensory issues being even a bit more escalated (I know who knew that was even possible?!) as of late, we knew this was probably an unobtainable vision under normal circumstances, but since it was an Autism-friendly performance, we scored!
You see Addie, autism or sensory- friendly performances are a fairly new (and awesome) concept. They are designed to create a genuine performing arts experience that is welcoming to all families with autistic children, or other disabilities with sensory sensitivities.
This particular event was sponsored by the autism society of NC and UNC Health Care, and if I do say so myself, this dynamic duo did an amazing job!
In our little autism world, just the thought of a new situation can cause great anxiety and distress. The more information we have to prepare ourselves ahead of time dramatically helps increase our odds of a successful outcome. It doesn’t guarantee success, there’s still that whole predictably unpredictable lifestyle you embrace, but it can help greatly.
So, you can imagine my delight after purchasing the tickets when I received an email with a guide to making our autism friendly performance the “best possible experience” for you and our family. Normally if I had purchased tickets for a show maybe daddy and I were going to see, I might get emailed a receipt. Here’s a thought, maybe they should start sending out “best possible experience” emails for each and every show! I can see it now - thank you for purchasing tickets! For your best possible experience, you should use Uber and enjoy a nice dinner with your spouse before the show. Ah yes great suggestion DPAC!
Anyway, back to my email.
This email contained a social narrative story for the day of the event, explaining the process with pictures from start to finish! Literally from driving to the theater to applauding at the end of the show. Super helpful for kids that have never been to a theater!
As if that wasn’t awesome enough, it also included a video guide of the theater, character guide of the musical, and the cast sound track. Preparation at its finest!
Let’s do this!
Dressed in our best fun, yet comfortable Christmas attire, backpack full of snacks, and no diapers or pull-ups (yes, I only realized this gem of information after we had arrived), we were off to the theater and eventually praying this one pull-up was going to last us through the whole show! Here goes nothing!
After an easy (well relatively easy, you still complained a bit because we had to enter the facility in one line and couldn’t just rush past everyone like you were some VIP celebrity and the bouncer knew your name) and quick check in, we were each handed a small bag with complimentary sensory friendly fidgets toys - Clara and Gabe were excited that they even scored a bag as well. I mean seriously ALL kids love fidget spinners right?!
So far, so good!
The whole theater was swarming with very calm and friendly staff as well as trained volunteers, many of whom were professional autism specialists assisting the event and house staff. As if that wasn’t already awesome in such an environment, the DPAC even went above and beyond and held sensitivity training sessions for the theater staff and the cast! How cool is that?!
Maybe we are VIP after all?!
Feeling like we had already climbed a mountain making it in the building, it was time to find our seats.
Ok now having been to the DPAC myself a few times I only noticed today how incredibly close the rows of seats were together. I think that was only the case because on this day I was with you and you were taking in all your surrounding, stimming with excitement, causing you to continuously jump up and down like a Mexican jumping bean - kicking the chair in front of you repeatedly.
As a side note: I honestly felt bad for the lady in front of us, but she never said anything. Perhaps she closed her eyes and envision she was in one of those vibrating pedicure massage chairs?! Or more likely, she just understood because clearly we were all at the same show for a reason.
At this point we decided to break open the bag of fidget toys to attempt calming some of your jumpiness. I reached in and pulled out the fidget spinner, held it in my fingers and gave it a good spin! Then I said “Look Addie! Spin! Spin! Spin!”
Let’s just say mission accomplished, we traded the jumping for spinning as you immediately popped up from your chair and began spinning in circles (shockingly well if I do say so myself, especially for such a cramped amount of space). I reached into my bag of tricks from home and pulled out a few pink squares (starburst) to redirect your attention to sitting again. Pink squares for the win!
We were finally seated and somewhat still just in time because the show was ready to start! Not like any other show, the lights were only just dimmed and there was a good amount of chatter and noises that could be heard all around.
As the opening scene began, a love/hate relationship was born with you and this experience. You wanted to hear all the music, but the speaking segments still presented a auditory distress when a singular voice was heard and nothing else. Unfortunately, not even headphones seem to be helping with this today. You made your displeasure very well-known and started kicking the chair in front of you again. Fully aware we were in a safe environment to work through such distress, there is also a fine line on how far to push before meltdown mode would commence. Daddy asked you if you wanted to go for a walk and you said “walk - yes” so out you went having only made it about 10 minutes and one song into the show. Hey, baby steps Addie, baby steps.
Now lucky for us, in the lobby there were numerous quiet activity areas set up for exactly this type of situation. Daddy said you guys hung out in those areas for a bit before asking for “Santa Clause” which meant you wanted to go back in. You came in and out a few more times (standing in the back by the door) and this was all very acceptable activity for this particular show.
We had made it to the intermission and so far, we labeled this a success. I mean we were still here so that was good, and your pull-up wasn't sagging between your knees - additionally positive!
Now speaking of that pull-up, it was time to use the potty! It’s funny sometimes the most random things remind us of how far you’ve come. Addie there was a time you wouldn’t dare use a public restroom because it was far too loud, and the flushes of the toilet would obviously come unpredictably. I mean seriously is it really too much to ask for synchronized flushing people?! Another life lesson here kiddo - the world doesn’t necessarily cater to your every need, so I’m glad we’re over that! Now if we could be over the pull-up thing sometime soon that’d be cool too Ad, just saying...
With using the potty behind us, it was time for washing our hands. Not to disappoint (predictably unpredictable) you decided - hey why not wash my face as well?! As you suds up your hands then proceeded to rub the soap all over your nose and cheeks. Ah yes, nothing like a quick bath at intermission. Isn’t that what the ladies mean when the say they are going to the ladies’ room to “freshen up a bit?” Clearly that’s code for take a tubby, right?!?
Ok so good news, now your super clean and the pull-up is still holding strong! Score! We were ready for the second half! Let’s try this again, round two!
Once we headed back in, we noticed the top row had a few extra empty seats. The significance to this? It seemed that the top row was handicap accessible and contained more room between the rows which, for us, could result in less seat kicking. I know it’s crazy to think not everyone is interested your version of a massage chair, but this seemed like an opportunity we shouldn’t pass up! So with confirmation that these seats were empty we relocated here for the second half.
With much of the same love/hate relationship in the second half you were in and out, but collectively stayed about 20 min. Another success in our book.
So, this week we conquered another first of seeing a musical theater performance, as a family, in some place other than a school auditorium. While it wasn’t without some challenges for you, everyone had a great time and without question we’d do this again! Christmas miracle? Perhaps. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.
Great job Addie!