The mother’s hand trembled as she dialed the phone number. “What if they don’t understand? or, even worse, what if they don’t care?” she tried not to think of it. She knew that if the answer was no, she would feel the (all too familiar) sadness of being turned away. She would bandage her bruised heart, but she would survive. Her mission: to find a way for her daughter, who experiences autism, to be able to attend one of the traditional events of the holiday season: a performance of “The Nutcracker” ballet.
She had heard about a special performance by Ballet Des Moines at Hoyt Sherman Auditorium specifically designed for school children and was hoping that maybe- just maybe -the auditorium or the ballet company would feel compassion or empathy and allow their family to attend. She couldn’t possibly take her daughter to the general public performances… the crowds would be too overwhelming, the lights: too bright, and the music: too loud.
Families who experience autism understand this situation all too well. Autism can be an isolating and lonely thing to experience, as most public venues don’t appreciate the volatility that comes with catering to a child, who, at the slightest sensory trigger, could have a meltdown (something that looks very much like a tantrum) of epic proportions.
Their family had experienced this public rejection just recently when they took their 4 year old to see the new Disney movie: “Tangled”. The preschooler, in her excitement, would kick the seat in front of her with her little foot and the patron would turn around in an angry huff and glare at her. While the mother certainly understood the frustration of the patron, and tried to teach her daughter to stay still when excited, It felt horrible to be the object of such angry emotional displays. She felt so… small, so insignificant. Would their family ever feel “wanted”? Would the public ever make an effort to overlook or even attempt to understand the autism?
She held her breath as Allison (from the Hoyt Sherman Auditorium box office) answered the phone. Feeling timid and shy, she explained her situation and then crossed her fingers and whispered a prayer that they would at least give her request consideration. How she wanted this “typical little girl experience” for her daughter, who had already missed out on so much.
Allison took the information and said she would look into the request, talk with Ballet Des Moines, and call back. It was already after 4pm, and the mother was sure that her quest was over. She prepared herself to watch the phone that she knew would never ring. With a sigh (and heavy heart), she went back to the many tasks on her to-do list. In her mind, she just knew that the performance was for school children only, or that the tickets were sold out, or that they were concerned about a possible disruption…
It takes time and work (and sometimes lost revenue) for businesses and patrons to reach out to (and fully include) a child with special needs. The mother realized this, but if they said yes… oh, did she dare to dream that the box office and ballet company would say yes? IF they said yes, she would be so grateful!! Her arms tingled and she felt her eyes well up with tears just thinking about it.
The mother had waited so very long for a little girl and, in those years of waiting, she had allowed herself to dream of all the things she wanted to be and do for a daughter. Sharing special holiday events and traditions were high on the list followed closely by memory making of every kind. How the diagnosis of autism had thrown a wrench into those plans and dreams. While the family was determined that autism would not rule their life, it sure made a difference. To avoid being consumed, they knew they would need support from the people and community around them.
The minutes ticked by, and then… the phone rang, the mother steeled herself for the “no” that she was sure would follow. She answered the phone and was greeting by the smiling voice of Allison. The mother’s heart fluttered.
What happened next was more than the mother had ever hoped to imagine or dared to dream…The answer was yes! Not only was it a yes, but they actually WANTED the family and in the greatest act of generosity, assigned them the best seats in the auditorium! The cost: FREE!
When the family arrived at the performance, they were greeted by Allison (now, their angel) at the front door and, like royalty, were taken directly to their… BOX SEATS!! Their daughter was not put in the back or in the wings, she was put front and center in their BEST. There was a place for their daughter. There was a place for a little girl with autism. Not just a “place”, but a special place- a place of honor!
As the lights dimmed, the crowd of school children hushed and the ballet began. The mother found herself gazing down on her precious child, who was completely enraptured with the story of Clara and the Nutcracker Prince. She allowed the beauty of the moment to fill all her senses and she let the tears flow freely. She would remember this day for the rest of her life and her daughter would re-enact the beautiful holiday story for days-even years- to come. She would remember the kindness of these strangers. The strangers who, through their sacrificial actions, reached out, embraced and loved on her little girl.
The mother’s dream was realized because Ballet Des Moines and Hoyt Sherman Auditorium came together in a demonstration of GREAT compassion and generosity to ensure that a local Des Moines resident, and preschooler with autism, had a “Nutcracker Suite day.”