It was the day before Thanksgiving and our daughter’s elementary school was having a Turkey Trot, where the kids run a mile while chasing an older student dressed up in a turkey costume. Of course, I was there to cheer on our first grader, Joan, who has autism, as she did her best to keep up with the other children. As all of the students started crossing the finish line, I noticed Joan had barely made it through half of the course and was visibly upset. Her teacher went running out on the course to hold Joan’s hand and ran the rest of the course with her, but it didn’t do much good. She kept calling herself a failure because she lost. My heart was breaking as I remembered the sinking feeling I had as a child when I wasn’t as good of a runner as everyone else. In tears, she went back to her classroom to finish the school day.
After school, she was still upset when she came home and just wanted to hang out with her daddy. Then the phone rang. On the other end of the line, a lady asked to speak to the parents of Joan (having the majority of our calls begin like this, I was sure it was related to services or appointments of some sort). I explained I was her mother and asked what I could help her with. She told us she was calling from Bear Essentials Newspaper and had great news for Joan; she had won the holiday coloring contest for her age group and had won four tickets to the Snow Queen ballet performance. I ran into the living room with the phone and explained to Joan she had won. Her eyes lit up as she jumped and flapped her arms across the living room; it melted my heart. On a tough day when her emotions snowballed and left her feeling like she couldn’t do anything good enough, she was redeemed by a simple phone call and a coloring page of the nutcracker prince.
We told her we would take her younger cousin with us and took them both out to buy special outfits so they could dress up to go to the ballet. Although we were very nervous about Joan going into sensory overload, the performance was in a small theatre without a loud sound system. We made it through the entire show and we were able to celebrate her accomplishment and help her feel like a superstar. Before the show began, the director of the performance came out onto the floor and found us. She pulled Joan aside and told her how proud she was of Joan’s picture and that she had it hanging up backstage so all of the dancers could see it. A few days later we received an e-mail from the director, wanting to know what Joan’s favorite part of the performance was.
In a world where special children aren’t always included or recognized in a typical light, this time it seemed everyone went above and beyond make sure Joan was treated as anyone else would be. There were no discriminations or wayward glances; it was all in fun and freedom. Even though she didn’t do very well running the turkey trot, that same day she was blessed with someone else acknowledging that she did, indeed, do something well enough to receive an award.
This “In Their Own Words,” is written by Melissa Bocconcelli of Arizona.
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