Kindness and Compassion at the Winter Formal

To look at this group photo, most people would think it’s just an average date for a group of teenagers.  It is so much more.

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The two boys in the photo are my fraternal twin sons Sean and William.  They were diagnosed with Autism at the age of 2 ½ years.  They are now 16 years old with limited social and verbal skills.  Sean still throws loud tantrums when he is frustrated and William will often only want to talk about food or Disney movies or food or Disney movies or food…  My husband and I never dreamed they would be able to do the same things as peers their own age.

We received an email from their teacher along with the photo below asking if they were available to go to the Winter Formal with a couple of peers, Jordan and Gabi.  The girls are part of a peer group at their school to help the boys socialize with others their age.   My sons process written and visual information better then verbal so, that’s why it’s written on the whiteboard.question

My husband and I went through the gambit of emotions.  We were so excited for our boys to be invited to do something that most teenagers take for granted.  But at the same time, we were so nervous.  They had never been out without my husband or me before. We talked about going to the dance with the boys and just kind of hanging around in the background in case something was to happen like a tantrum from loud music or something.  After a few conversations and some parental soul searching, we had decided to not go to the dance with the boys.  The girls would pick them up at our house and take them there themselves.  As hard it was, we felt it was best that they truly got the opportunity to be like everyone else their age, even if it was just for a night.  Besides, they were going to be at the high school with chaperones that are the teachers that know them really well.

The weekend before the dance, we took the boys out to get some new dress clothes. They live in shorts and tee shirts so, they needed to dress for the occasion.  A few days before the dance, I got a phone call from their teacher (who is one of the best teachers I have ever met.  I am so thankful she is in their life.) The Winter Formal was cancelled due to low ticket sales.  I instantly felt crushed for my sons because they had been talking about it for weeks.  Their teacher told me the girls still want to take the boys out for the night to maybe go bowling, out for pizza and to have the dance at one of their houses.    I am absolutely floored by this phone call.  On instinct, my immediate reaction was, “Of course, they can still go out.”

As soon as I hung up the phone, the worry started.  How are the boys going to react to the sudden change in plans?  They are at their best when everything is prearranged, scheduled and no surprises.  Especially our son William, every day we go through a list of things he wants to do or eat.  Example:  he has asked and I have agreed to make BBQ ribs and chicken this Friday for dinner and the next time we will be having McDonalds will be on the 15th and he wants to go tubing down the river June 25th. We only had a few days before the scheduled dance so, their teacher, my husband and I started talking to them about the changes in the Winter Formal plans in the hopes it was enough time for them to process the change in event.  We live in a small town, and I had one of the girl’s cell numbers as well as their teacher’s so at a moment’s notice, we could be there to pick them up.  Their teacher was also on standby, just in case, too.  By the way, have I already mentioned that she’s the best teacher?

Getting ready

The day of the dance arrived!  The boys woke us up by talking in the broken verbal speech that they were going out and wanted to get ready… it was 7am, the girls weren’t coming until 5pm.  My heart was full of joy but my stomach was in knots.  I don’t think I was even this nervous for my own first date, which was prom, on my 16th birthday (Yes, my first driver’s license I had huge prom hair.)  The girls arrived and we made them pose for photos.  Sean hates his photo taken so, after a few photos he grabs Jordan’s hand for a second to lead her down the driveway… Looks at her and give her this look like, “You are not my date.”  He then dropped Jordan’s hand and grabbed Gabi’s then walked to the truck. My eyes were misty as I watched my twins leave for a night out I thought they would never have.  I realized at that moment, I wasn’t emotionally prepared for this evening.

The rest of the story I have put together bits and pieces thanks to the photos sent by Jordan.  I may have the actual order of events wrong.  They tried to go bowling but the wait for the lanes was too long so, they went and got some pizza, and then went to walk around Target to get some items for the dance at Jordan’s house.  From what I heard, Sean wanted the lights off but William wanted the lights on during the dancing or vice versa, I can’t remember but they took turns being in darkness and light. Target

Two hours had passed.  At this point of the evening, my husband and I had been pacing pretty much non-stop since the boys left.  I wanted to call and check in on the boys but at the same time, I didn’t want to interrupt either.  So, I just sent a breezy text message asking if any photos were taken.  Within a few moments, I received back a bunch of photos that put a smile on my face and set my mind at ease.

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After another hour or so of dancing, the girls took the boys out for ice cream.  Like all sibling relationships, my sons are no different.  While getting ice cream, Sean didn’t want William to get the same kind.  I was told he got a little upset but it didn’t go full tantrum.  The girls were able to explain it was fine that they got the same kind of ice cream.

The boys arrive home, gave the girls a hug and Sean headed into the house.  We heard a little bit about the evening from the girls.  I guess William didn’t want me embarrassing him or something because after I teared up a bit, he insisted we stop talking to the girls and let them leave.   We told the girls if they ever want to do this again, the boys will be the ones who pay.  It must have been a very exciting night for them because they went straight to bed.

On the Monday after the date, I received an email from their teacher with a photo of the whiteboard.  It was a simple break down of everything that had happened on Saturday.  The boys were to circle everything they enjoyed most.  As you can see, they circled everything.  This made me laugh a bit.

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This blog post is my thank you to Gabi, Jordan, the girls’ parents and Sean and William’s teacher Ms. McCann.

These wonderful people looked beyond the disability my children have and found a friendship that before now, I didn’t think was possible for my sons.

Kelly Ammann

Project Manager

 

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