We went to our first Autism Action Partnership event last night, an evening at the zoo. I was so excited to take J for several different reasons that other autism/special needs parents can definitely relate to. All of my excitement was well-placed as we had such a good time.
J was able to run amok if he so chose to. It wasn’t crowded at all and we really got to enjoy our time together without worrying about everything and everyone around us. It not being crowded also truly helped J not have any of the negative effects of over stimulation that usually occur with a day at the zoo from all the people and the noises. The quietness really helped him stay calm and focused versus an assault of elements that can and usually do overcome him during a typical zoo visit.
J was able to look at the things he wanted to for as long as he liked; whether it was the fish and stingray in the aquarium tunnel or the high ceiling and speakers in the dessert dome. There was no feeling of being pushed along by the crowd or being bumped into time and time again to allow J to enjoy what he wanted. We got to flow along with his agenda without interference.
J was able to be himself completely. He flapped, he screeched and yelped a few times, he pointed constantly at everything he was excited about sharing with us, he dictated where we went in the exhibits even if it was to something we had already seen twice. We were able to be and just hang out, soaking it all in.
Being there with other autism families was the best, there was no staring when J flapped or when he let out a high pitched yelp because of how excited he was. There were no looks of distaste or criticism for parents with kiddos having meltdowns or sensory issues. There were lots of smiles, and laughter, and looks of understanding between all the families there, an enjoyable time for all.
One of the things I noticed was the way parents talked to their kiddos. I could definitely tell I was around other autism parents. The slow, patient and soft voices of parents engaging, instructing and coaxing their child or children to see all that the zoo was offering was by far the biggest difference from a normal zoo day.
It was such a great experience, even for only the hour and a half we were there. J signed home and we were able to casually make an exit with no meltdowns of our own. Just a few backwards glances by J longing to go back already. I can’t wait to go back too.