I just returned from a very fun trip with my Mom and my sister, Lindey, to Branson which I will probably post more about later. But the point of this post is to tell of an experience I had while at a water ride at Silver Dollar City.
I was waiting in line with Lindey and her friend, Shelby, when I saw one of the logs being loaded with a boy, probably around 8 years old, his little brother and his Mom. I immediately thought that the boy looked like he had autism. I've worked as a music therapist with children with autism for 4 years now and I sometimes can pick them out of a crowd. I remember being pretty impressed that this boy wasn't freaking out. Soon it was our turn to get into our log and while we were sitting waiting for the log to start out of the gate, we heard one of the ride attendants start shouting and a commotion behind us. I looked and saw that the log with the boy was returning and he was in crisis mode. He was yelling about wanting to get out and he was trying to exit the log before it got into the dock. His mom was having a hard time holding on to his flailing body. The power to the ride was quickly shut off and we were told to exit the log and wait on the landing. All the while, the ride attendant was freaking out. I think he was trying to figure out why the boy was trying to get out of the log even while being shouted at to sit down.
The boy ended up getting out of the log prematurely and walking along a side railing to the exit. The boy's mother was very distraught and apologetic and the little brother was very upset and crying, probably out of fear and because his head had been pushed down in the melee. Since we were standing on the exit platform I helped the little brother calm down while the mom went to gather the older boy who had already exited. The attendants were working on getting the other passengers off the logs coming into the dock since the power was shut off and one of them ran after the mom because a manager was coming down to talk to her. I knew she was upset and I wanted to make sure that she didn't need any help. So many people don't know anything about autism and it's hard for a parent to explain. I went and talked to her, explaining that I worked with children with autism and she was so relieved. She said that her son had gone to Disney World and Six Flags and had been on several rides. For some reason, something on this one had set him off. It could have been the heat, the water, the time of day, or several things combined. Who knows? She felt so bad about everything and I just wanted to reassure her that things would be OK. Luckily the manager was very nice and understanding. He just wanted to make sure that the boy was OK. The mom left to return to her family and I waited on the platform for the ride to start again, although I was too shaken to actually ride. I just waited for Shelby and Lindey :)
With the number of children with autism on the rise, for whatever reason (that's a whole different post), the chances of you encountering somebody with autism in public is very great. If you work in a field that work with children with special needs such as a therapy or special education, you should be looking for ways you can advocate for the parents and the children. If you don't know anything about autism, I urge you to educate yourself. Autismspeaks.org is a great website with good information, or you could find a family with a child with autism or a professional who works with them. The ride attendant might have been better prepared for the shock of seeing a boy trying to get out of the log if he had known that there was a special need. I was able to talk with several people waiting outside of the ride about autism and the types of challenges they have. None of these people knew anything about autism, just there were people who existed that had this condition.
My advocacy moment is not done. I am actually going to write to the amusement park, asking if they will consider making a special needs pass for families. These passes don't have to necessarily mean that the child skips to the front of the line (although at Disney World they do) but at least if you had a special needs pass you could show it to the attendant to give them a heads-up.
OK, I am going to get off my soap box now.