Sunday, May 26, 2013

Reminiscing @ The Lion King

I took my two girls to see The Lion King on stage over the weekend.

I wanted to take them several years ago, but was not sure I could handle the challenges of autism at a show an hour away in a city unfamiliar to me. My girls would have enjoyed it back then, but it would have been too much work for me.

What if my girl were having an 'off'' day? Dysregulated? What if she hadn't slept the night before? An 'off' day for her could ruin the event. I refused to spend money on tickets that might be wasted.

The most work, back then, was the compensation I would have to do for her deficit in attention. Not only did I have to be in charge of my own attention, but I also had to be hers, too. It was exhausting. She could not stay with us, attend to us. She wasn't attached. (See this blog post for explanation.) I remember the time before a developmental approach (RDI) when all of my attention had to be on her because she did not attend to, was not attached to me, did not keep up with me, did not recognize my intent or agenda. Crowded theaters were a lot of work for me and we mostly avoided them. The work of keeping up with her was exhausting and often cancelled out any positive. Keeping her with me in the same stall while I used the restroom was a particular challenge.

When I learned last year that The Lion King was coming to the big town near us, I watched for the time when I could buy tickets. I got three seats in the lower level. We marked the event on the calendar between my birthday and my twins' birthday and we looked forward to the event.

And we went.

I had flashbacks to the years where we had to keep up with her; where I had to have a painfully tight grip on her wrist to keep her from leaving our group. The contrast between that memory and what was happening before my eyes over the weekend was striking.

We dressed up. Instead of my picking out her clothes for her, she chose her own outfit and dressed herself.

We attended a packed (maybe sold out) show and she was with her sister and me the whole time. WeGo. Together. Something parents of typical kids take for granted. The feeling was beautiful, magnificent.

One of my nightmare situations actually happened. She was tired. For some reason, she was awake most of the night. I think she slept between two and three hours the night before. I was concerned she'd be grumpy. She stayed regulated despite the lack of sleep.

We'd never been to this particular venue before. That creates anxiety for me and I wanted to stay regulated, too. I left early enough to pad the clock for an unexpected traffic jam or my getting lost, which meant we arrived too early. I bought us a program (cha-ching!) and we walked around the venue before the doors opened and we were allowed to go in.

Once seated, she was not thrilled about having to wait so long, but she did manage to hang in there even when the show began a few minutes late. I could tell she was tired. I told her she'd wake up when the show began - and she did.

Our seats in the lower level near an aisle allowed us to be close to the cast; the characters come down the aisles to enter the stage - she was enthralled. All of us were.

Her laughter during the show was sheer joy for me.

At intermission, she needed to use the restroom, which presented another challenge. We had to find the restroom in this new-to-us venue. The restrooms required quite a walk. And when we got there, she went into one stall while I had to wait a moment for someone to exit another stall a few doors down from hers. No problem. She finished first and waited for me. We washed our hands together.

Story changes? Would she handle changes to the beloved storyline she knows so well? She knows the story; she's seen all the Lion King movies a gazillion times (slight exaggeration). A song from Lion King 2 was featured in the stage show  - she kept telling me that song was from Lion King 2. :) There were some new (unfamiliar to us) songs written for the stage production and there were additions to the story line fill in background. She rolled with it.

We used valet parking and had to wait a while for our car to be brought to us. And she rolled with that, too. She talked with us about the show, she read the actors' bios from the program, she waited like a pro.

This weekend, we were three girls out for a fun night. And fun we had! She recognized the intent of our night out together, she was able to come alongside and join us in this abstract idea, coordinating and co-regulating, seamlessly 'non-verbaling', responsible for her own attention in a big way. I am so grateful.

On the ride home from Lion King, my kid w/ autism even talked about when she was in a play for the first time - it was an opera (yes, an opera) in kindergarten or first grade. Oh, the things she remembers that she can finally tell us about now.

Yes, we still have a long way to go. (Yes, I was taking notes; I have a short list of things I want to work on that came from our night out.) But she has come soooooooooo far. Going back for the joint attention pieces, the co-regulating and coordinating, etc, has made such a difference.

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