Tommy was terrified to travel to Columbus. He was scheduled to compete in the Special Olympics that weekend. Tommy has anxiety disorder, ADHD and autism, and anything out of the ordinary such as a road trip to a place he’d never been before threw him way off. “Talk to Daddy,” he kept telling me. “I don’t want to go. Can you tell him I don’t want to go?”
Steve was not surprised at Tommy’s resistance to going to a new place and doing a new activity. It was the story of our lives.
We made it clear that he didn’t have a choice.
“Well, let me see a schedule,” Tommy said.
Autistic kids love schedules. They need to know what’s going to be happening minute by minute. It’s as if they have to live life in their head before they actually live it in the real world.
Steve had a schedule that Dan, the organizer of the trip, had made up.
He showed it to Tommy. “OK. We get to Columbus around dinner time. Then, we eat dinner.”
“Well, have to find a place. Maybe Applebee’s or Fridays.” These were two restaurants that Tommy tolerated. “After that is the Opening Ceremony.”
“What’s that?” Tommy asked.
“It’s like a big parade,” I said.
“I hate parades. I don’t want to go.”
Tommy didn’t like crowds, chaos and loud noise.
“We won’t go then,” Steve said. “Now you compete in the 100-meter race at 9:30 on Saturday. After that we have the whole day free. We can go swimming and watch television, and you can play on the laptop.”
Tommy liked this. Autistic kids like a lot of free time.
“At 6:00, there’s a pizza party. After that we’re going to Magic Mountain, where you can go to the video arcade.”
“Hurray!” Tommy said.
“On Sunday, you compete in the long jump competition at 9:30. Then, we pack up and come home.”
Tommy seemed more at ease.
To bring him further peace about the trip, I showed him pictures of the hotel on the computer. The hotel was a nice one. It was beautifully decorated, and it had an indoor pool, a business center and a fully-equipped little workout room.
“It looks just like the hotel we stay at in Rhode Island.”
Great, he’d made a connection.
To sweeten the deal even more, I gave him $10 for the Magic Mountain Video Arcade.
By this time, Tommy not only wanted to go to Columbus, he was raring to go.
“And you can bring all your stuffed bananas,” Steve told him. Tommy collected stuffed banana plush toys.
This made Tommy very happy.
Well, Steve, Tommy and Uncle Mike left for Columbus around 3:00 on Friday afternoon. I got a phone call around 5:30. It was Steve; they were at Dave and Buster’s. Tommy had spotted this restaurant off the highway. Tommy loved Dave and Buster’s.
“Tommy won a big stuffed donut that says “Dave and Buster’s” on it. It’s yellow like a banana. He spent fourteen dollars in the video games.”
Good. I was glad I’d given him the ten dollars. I couldn’t be happier. They were having a great time.
The next morning, Tommy won fourth place in his running race.
I was ecstatic.
The evening went well. Tommy won an alien plush toy out of a claw machine. He’s usually unlucky with the claw machine (as everyone is), so he was incredibly happy at his good fortune.
On Sunday, at 9:30, Tommy competed in the long jump competition. And guess what? He won a gold medal.
Tommy called to tell me the good news. “Mommy, I won a gold medal in the long jump. Uncle Mike taught me two jumping songs, and that helped me win.”
I found out later that the songs were “Jump,” by the Pointer Sisters and “Jump,” by Van Halen.
Leave it to Mike.
I couldn’t be happier. To think, Tommy almost didn’t go on this trip.
“God helped me, too,” Tommy added.
If you have a special needs child, you often have to coax them out of their comfort zone. This must be done if you want to see them grow. It can be a painful process, but you must do it. Sending him to the Special Olympics is a good way to accomplish this.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver had a great idea when she came up with the Special Olympics in the 1960s.
It’s a terrific way to boost special needs kids’ confidence levels.
Ironically, the first thing Tommy showed me when he returned home from his trip were his two new plush toys. I had to ask to see his gold medal.
It was a beautiful medal — shiny gold, with a red, white and blue ribbon.
“It was nothing,” Tommy seemed to say, with the air of a truly confident individual.
What a blessing!
The Special Olympics does great things.