One of my favorite events with the Autism Society of Greater Orlando is our annual staycation at Gaylord Palms. This is a 2-day event where many families socialize and interact with other families facing autism. It begins with a kick-off party on Friday evening and entails a rigorous, on-the-go, action-packed schedule for the entire day on Saturday.
In the weeks and months leading up to the event, I was perplexed and debated back in forth about taking Justin by myself. Would he get aggressive with me? Would I be able to manage both of my children on my own? Would he be able to handle the rigor and busyness that the day entailed? How could Justin attend without having to sleep at the hotel or me having to drive back and forth? How could I go and enjoy the event with my daughter and leave my son when the event was designed for autistic people? I couldn’t.
Finally, I reached out to Justin’s group home to share my dilemma. To my surprise, they offered to have a behavior therapist accompany Justin to the event! Great! I would have someone to help, just in case. The problem was, I had not registered anyone else for the event, so I only had enough tickets for my family to enter. What would the aide do for three or more hours? I also didn’t have the bright, yellow, Adventures in Autism t-shirt that the group would be wearing for her either. I told her what I was worried about, and being the sweet friend she is, she was still willing to come.
Justin had been taking the disability version of our public transit system to school up to this point, so I arranged for them to pick the duo up from the group home at 6:45 am so my friend would not need to drive the 30+ miles or pay Gaylord’s overpriced $30 parking fee. I was excited that God had made way for Justin to come with assistance and was confident that all would go smoothly.
At 7:00 am, I got a call from my friend. I was sure she was calling to tell me that they were on the way. Instead, she called to say that the bus arrived early at 6:30, the group home had put Justin on the bus, and he was on the way all by himself! She was just around the corner from the house when they left. I was in disbelief. How could this be? Why? I could feel myself getting anxious, so I had to pray to remain calm and trust that he would arrive safely.
Sure enough, right when everyone was gathering in the lobby at 8:00 to begin the day, I got a call that I needed to come outside to meet Mr. Justin O’Reilly. I ran as if I was Forest Gump. I was so happy he was there. My mind flashed back ten years ago to when he was in fifth grade, and his teacher had told me that one day Justin would be able to take public transit by himself. I had thought she was crazy. How could someone who is non-verbal with no awareness of danger or where to get off take a bus by himself? Yet, here he was. He was dressed very nicely and was calm. I took him to join the group. He went through the Elf exhibit, enjoyed snow tubing, watched shows, and even scavenger hunts. By 12:00, when his ride was scheduled to take him back, I couldn’t let him go. I canceled his ride, and we enjoyed a big, gourmet buffet lunch in a huge banquet hall. Justin ate and ate till his heart’s content.
According to the schedule, we were to go to the resort’s waterpark in the afternoon. All Justin had was the clothes he was wearing. I went to the shops on the property to find some swim trunks for him. $94.00!! Nope. I quickly realized swimming would not be part of the plan. We watched more shows into the evening and the dramatic light show at the grand Christmas tree.
That day I realized the value of trust. We have to trust that things will turn out the way they are supposed to. God has a master plan. If my friend had come, Justin would have left much earlier, and she would have had nothing to do the whole time we were in ticketed areas. I know it can be extremely challenging to take our special needs children out in public because we don’t know what to expect, and they can be very unpredictable. Have faith in your capabilities. You can handle more than you think. Finally, trust God. He knows what’s best.