Nearly three years ago, I wrote about how our spectrum son looked me square in the eye backstage at play practice, put his hands on my cheeks, and asked, “Mommy, can we please just go home?” https://thespectrumscene.wordpress.com/2013/09/23/oh-sweet-freedom/
I wrote about how defeated I felt by autism that it was stealing the joy our boy had flourished in on stage as a soldier boy just a year previous. I wrote about how disappointed I was to be giving up, to let autism win, to walk away from something I knew our boy had so completely enjoyed before.
In rereading that piece tonight, I realize now that hindsight really is 20/20, or at least a little closer to anything we can see in the heat of the moment. Reliving the emotion of walking out of rehearsal knowing that was the end of Ben’s show season, I failed to recognized something even more monumental in the life of an autistic child than performing on stage – I failed to recognize that he was his own advocate. He didn’t need me to speak for him, interpret for him, or seek help for him. All he needed me to do was to LISTEN to him. He needed me to listen and honor his request, and once I did, I had my boy back. My smiling, happy, laughing, joy-filled boy had returned to me.
I relive the moments of despair from that season three years ago every time I go backstage at the Opera House our other kids have come to know as another home. Tonight was no exception as tonight was audition night for the younger set (read: Ben & Ali).
Ali is very much like our bigs, ready to jump on stage and perform at a moment’s notice in any way, shape or form her director requests. She is clearly one of the happiest kids around when her feet hit that black platform. Ben is more of a depends on the day kind of kid. He absolutely LOVES to watch his siblings perform and he typically wants to have his moment in the spotlight as well after all is said and done, but it really just depends on the day as to whether he actually wants to be “in” a show. Fortunately, I have come to realize this is perfectly acceptable, even applause-worthy considering his placement on the autism spectrum, particularly if he is in fact able to articulate his desires as to whether or not he will participate.
And so it was, time to head to our beloved Opera House for Oliver Twist auditions. Kids were given a script and encouraged to read part of a scene and then sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Our director, Ms. M., gave me a script and suggested a few different parts for Ali to read. When I asked Ben if he’d like to read, too, he hopped right up and joined in. They took to the stage and read the scene with two older girls, smiled and giggled as they returned the books to Ms. M.
She then suggested they sing a song together. Ben took Ali by the hand, stepped forward and belted out the most flat rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star you’ve ever heard. I have no idea what it was that made him decide he was going to sing off-key, but I had asked him to sing loud, and loud he did. It took all I had not to belly laugh as I watched his eyes dance. Ali, bless her heart, just sang along, best she could, hand in hand with her best friend, BenBen.
I have no expectation of lead roles for these two or even lines for Ben as I realize his struggles can be exemplified on stage and that can start a downward spiral for the other kids, but I am so thankful that he wanted to participate, albeit on his terms. (Yes, I can still hear him in my mind and I am still smiling.)
And just as important, I am ever so thankful for a place like the Ellisville Opera House where everyone knows your name, everyone gets a chance, and everyone is loved. I can’t think of a greater gift to give our young people. If you’d like to contribute to that atmosphere, mark your calendar for September 30 – October 2 to attend a performance of Oliver Twist I’m sure won’t soon be forgotten.