About 2 weeks ago, my friend, Brenda sent me a message on facebook that we were invited to an event at the Birmingham Barons game. The event was hosted by Kulturecity and it was an iPad giveaway where 14 kids with autism were set to receive an iPad. They had made an agreement with KC that for every game they won this year, a kid would get an iPad. I was shocked and surprised. My son is 18, and something I’ve learned in our journey is that when they reach a certain age, sometimes doors start closing. I’m still unsure why that is, except maybe because there is so much focus on early intervention that we forget that these kids who are grown and have had sometimes a lifetime of therapy services and hours upon hours of work and effort put into them by doctors, counselors, teachers, therapists, their parents and siblings and scores of loved ones and last but not least, themselves, they still need people to help them keep their foundation strong. Autistic kids grow up to become autistic adults, and sometimes even though they are working and getting out in the community, they still need quite a bit of support even though they often age out of being able to get that.
So! I’ll get off my soapbox. I was surprised that the boy got picked to receive an iPad. I got prettied up and got him moving and getting ready to go. There were quite a bit of dramatics over the fact that he was having a non-scheduled Sunday event, though I had been telling him for a week to be prepared for it. To take the sting out of it, I went into the hidden Christmas gifts and picked out a new shirt for him to wear, and that worked quite well. He got ready and we left.
I had never been to a pro baseball game, so for me, this was just as much fun as anything. We drove downtown and found a parking spot pretty easily, right next to this post.
The boy has always taken great delight in off-color humor, which really got him in a lot of trouble in elementary school. Leave it to me, though, to park us right next to the post that said “SO DRUNK” with a backwards N…he immediately burst into laughter. And so it began.
We walked a few blocks down to Regions Field and found the gate where our names were on a list, got our tickets, and went inside. Wow! It was so big. I took a pano pic with my phone.
Because we arrived early, we got to get two free T-shirts, which was cool. We found a concession stand that sold Coke Zero, got him a drink and found a place to sit, looking at the ballpark, listening to the announcer, just getting used to being there. He has never transitioned well, so I try to always give him a little extra time to get settled. Then, I got a message from Brenda, saying it was time to meet up with our group and get ready to do the presentation. We headed over.
Within just a few minutes, he was telling me he was feeling overwhelmed from the crowd. I kept him distracted. I introduced him to everyone I could, introduced him to Julian, talked about getting another drink, how we would go out on the field soon, etc. And we did. A sweet man came over and took us as a group to the elevator. Everyone got on. Oh man, does he hate a crowded elevator. Talk about stretching! I stretched him that day. We got on the elevator with 15 people and he was giving me the stink eye the whole time while I pretended not to notice. Then, we went out onto the baseball field, in front of the crowd. Insta-hot = insta-issues. The slightest bit of sweat and he becomes overwhelmed. I am thankful that he is verbal and able to tell me when he needs help.
“Mama? Can we go? Mama, can we go? Can we go? Can we go? I’m hot. I’m hot, Mama. I can’t do this.”
“Just be patient, Son.”
“Can we go? I’m hot.”
“I’ll buy you a drink and we will go to Michael’s.”
“I’m hot, Mama. I don’t want an iPad. I just want to be in the air again.”
“I’ll let you run the air on high all the way home.”
Keep him distracted.
The announcer was going on about autism on the loudspeaker, but I didn’t hear any of it. The boy was handed his iPad. The whole thing seemed pretty chaotic, but maybe the chaos was just what was happening in our bubble. He had sweat rolling down his face and was sopping it up with the T-shirt he got for being early. I got him to walk with me to say hi and thank you to Julian. In this pic, he was completely overwhelmed but you can’t tell by looking at him. It has taken years of therapy to get to that point with his coping skills. Words cannot begin to convey how proud I am of this young man.
I grabbed that pic and we beat it for the exit. Right then, we were approached by a young woman with WIAT, TV 42 in Birmingham who was lugging around what looked like a thousand pounds of camera equipment. She wanted to do a short interview for the news. I told her it would be fine, but we needed a cool place to sit if she was going to get anything out of him. As we waited for the elevator to come for us, we had a lot of the same conversation as before.
“I’m hot, Mama. I don’t want to be on the news.”
“You will be glad you did it after you cool off, Son.”
“I’m hot, Mama. News is for old people.”
“Five bucks and you can pick dinner.”
Right then, a player for the other team came up and did some stretches beside us where he was swinging his legs like a pendulum and I looked at the boy and his lips were twitching where he was trying not to laugh about it. The elevator opened and the sweet man who was helping us took us up to the second floor, where it is enclosed and there are couches and AC. The seats up there are probably expensive. He became better very quickly, she mic’ed us up and got her equipment set up. Here she is. Don’t laugh. I’m not a professional, well, anything, but certainly not a photographer. IDK what went wrong with this pic. OK, you can laugh. I did.
The man who helped us started to walk off and he turned around and came back and said “You know what? When you’re done, just have a seat and enjoy the game from up here.”
What a blessing! We would have had to leave otherwise. He did so well, I couldn’t make him go back into that heat.
We did our interview. They were very interested in his ear covers. He uses those to filter noise when we are in a high stimulation place, the grocery store, a waiting room full of kids, some restaurants, baseball games, etc. They can be bought online or in gun shops or any store that sells sporting goods, even Wal-Mart. By the time we were done, he had decided to give watching the game in the air a chance (which I knew would happen if he would just hang in there, and he did) and we said our goodbyes. We had a seat by the windows and he went and ordered a drink. The guys at the snack bar told him how much they liked his shirt and wanted to know where he got it. I made sure he knew to leave a tip in the tip jar.
The view of the field from the fancy seats is fantastic!
At one point, the ball went crazy and flew up and hit the window right in front of us. According to the boy, watching sports in real life is way better than watching sports on TV, and maybe he is a Barons fan.
We sat and had our drinks and watched the game and started setting up the iPad using the park’s free WIFI. I sent texts to tell all of our friends and his doctors that we were going to be on the news, and to make sure they tuned in. The husband recorded it from home. My little one said it was awesome.
Something I learned about the Birmingham Barons is that they are starting to have what they are calling “Autism Friendly” games at Regions Field. These are games with special seats (I’m not sure what that means), reduced noise, low stimulation and lower lighting. If you have an autistic child who may enjoy a game, that may be the right game for you to look into attending.
All in all, it was a great day. We got to attend the game, spend the day together, he received an iPad, we got to be on the news (and it wasn’t even a mugshot!) which, I knew he would love and he did, and maybe we can make some new friends.
Please don’t forget, Kulturecity is small and makes a huge impact. They can always use donations to help kids just like mine. Check them out at www.kulturecity.org
The iPad is loaded with apps he likes, like calculator, the calendar (so I never forget to tell him there’s a doctor’s appointment…his words, not mine), he’s using it really a lot. There’s some Angry Birds RPG, too.
And all it cost me was
He got to pick dinner
A trip to the craft store
Ran the AC on high all the way home
$3 drink at the snack bar
But what we really took away from it was priceless.