I'm a single mom of adult children having forms of autism, and have custody of my 3 year old granddaughter, so not surprisingly I was assessed earlier this year as having stress levels on par with a front line soldier. It was suggested I find ways to reduce my stress (HA!). I am very lucky to have an extraordinary man in my life ( from here-on-in named 'Handsome Man' in all blog posts ). He invited me down to Sarasota Florida for a week of R&R. This sounded too good to be true, and it nearly was. My 19 year old, 200+lb son Eric is severely autistic, and he has been in and out of crisis for the last 2 years. This means Eric's anxiety levels have been so high that he would go several days without sleep, has been hospitalized twice, developed agoraphobia and separation anxiety, and when overwhelmed, could become extremely violent. Although his anxiety was being managed, I was not sure I'd be able to take advantage of the wonderful battery recharger called a 'vacation'.
Several agencies became involved to ensure we could make it happen, and in conjunction with a behaviour therapist from CAMH I developed a social story for Eric. Basically a social story is a tool in the autism toolbox used to help prep someone for a change in routine. It was a story to be read repeatedly to help Eric understand Mommy was going away for a short while, that I would come back, and when I came home I would bring him Mickey Mouse Ears. Eric is OBSESSED with all things Disney. In particular Mickey Mouse. Well- it worked!! Eric's anxiety levels reduced and he seemed to grasp the idea that this was a temporary break and everything would be fine. I was able to leave with My Handsome Man for Florida without any problems. Every time I checked in at home, all was going well!!!!
THENMidway through our trip Handsome Man drove me to a mall in Brandon Florida, to go to The Disney Store. I wandered around the store, intent on getting those ears, and maybe some white mickey mouse gloves. A woman approached us, one of The Disney Store employees. Warmest smile I have ever seen in my life. "How y'all doing? Can I help you find anything?". I told her what I was looking for. Then my world crashed. "Those are only sold on-line or at Disneyworld". There would be no time for either. How could I break the promise that helped my son accept a week's separation from me. I felt the floor cave in below me. Handsome Man wrapped his arms tightly around me. The Disney Store woman tried so hard to find SOMETHING for me, but I explained to her that my son was actually 19, that he was autistic, and told her about the social story. She told me to wait, and she disappeared into the back for what seemed like an eternity while I buried my face in Handsome Man's chest to hide my sobs. When she finally emerged she told me her niece was autistic. She had gone into the storage room and found a box from 2 years before that still held promotional Mickey Mouse Ears celebrating the anniversary of DisneyWorld. She also found stickers, fans, buttons, etc etc etc, and GAVE them all to me, as a gift for my son. This woman, standing in front of me covered in dust bunnies, was my saviour, my son's guardian angel. We cried some happy tears together in the store, and I will never forget her, or the effort she made to make a strangers son happy.
Brandon Mall Disney Store Lady in Brandon Florida, I never got your name, but I will remember you always! My thoughts drift to you often, and inspire me to go to the extra effort. Because it may seem like you're just making someone's day,when in fact you are actually be making a huge impact on their life.