Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Experimental Trip to the Symphony

I have a sense of humor about this. I probably should not have done it, but then I never would have known.

I took Lilli to the symphony.

It was just the two of us. We got all dressed up. Well, as dressy as possible for us. Lilli wore white running shoes with her black dress, but I didn't see the fashion police there so it was OK. Jasen took our picture together before we left.

I could tell Lilli was excited. She was in a great mood, kissing her hands, waving them in the air and making happy sounds as we rode in the car. I talked to her about what it would be like, and how she should act. This was a special night for us.

When we arrived, I took our time. I didn't want her to be overwhelmed by a crowd of people, so I thought it would be better to wait and go in a few minutes late. She sometimes gets anxious when a lot of people are around, and all the talking and noise could set her off crying and wanting to escape. She held my hand and bounced with happiness down the empty sidewalk in the dark. Lilli's happy walk is like a little dance. It's hard to describe but it's a whole-body-happy wiggle-shake kind of move.

We entered an empty lobby. Perfect. Well, you really should never show up to the symphony late. But you can see my reasoning. Since it had already started, we had to wait until they were finished with the first movement before we could go in and sit down. The sweet young girl handing out programs explained she did not want us to be a disruption.

"That's fine, we'll just take a little walk," I said. No problem, I thought. I was glad Lilli was in "quiet – happy mode." Just as long as she didn't turn the volume up to her "squeal-clap-happy mode," we would be just fine. My plan was to slip quickly into the last row as soon as we heard polite applause.

I'd had a little dilemma about whether or not to put her in a stroller. I decided to brave it without one, thinking Lilli could just sit in my lap. That way I could hug her arms and hopefully keep her from clapping when I felt her get the urge during inappropriate times. It turned out to be a good decision, because the old building was not handicap accessible. Hard to believe in this day and age in our country, but we encounter that problem a lot.

The beautiful carpeted staircases turned out to be our downfall. As we walked around the upstairs lobby outside the doors to the auditorium, Lilli spied the staircase to the balcony. It was roped off, and again the young girl at the door explained, sorry, the balcony was closed tonight. Lilli dropped to the floor as those words were still coming out of her mouth, and crawled under the velvet ropes. Lilli really loves steps. When she sees steps, she is compelled to go up them, no matter what. I got down and pulled her out and tried to make her stand up. Wow, is she strong.

"Listen, Lilli, do you hear the symphony? Listen to the different instruments!" I tried to distract her and led her away from the balcony staircase. We took a few laps back and forth and looked over the railing to the first floor lobby. Lilli's happy walk turned into happy stomping, which made a "neat" echo-y sound. It is difficult to keep a child from stomping, I discovered. Even harder to tell a child with autism to be quiet. There were staircases to the downstairs and balcony on both ends: four sets total. I was beginning to get a teeny bit tense.

Finally we heard applause! I scooped her up and carried her in. With one swift movement I sat down in the last row in the corner, with her on my lap. I breathed a sigh of relief and looked around. What? The performers were all getting up and walking off the stage! The house lights came up. I guess there was an intermission already. We sat and Lilli squirmed as I tried to keep her occupied. I pointed out some of the instruments on the stage. I whispered Twinkle Twinkle Little Star until she started giggling. I kissed her and told her that I was proud of her and she had to be super quiet when the music started again.

After what seemed like an endless intermission, the lights went down and everyone walked out on stage. As the audience clapped for the conductor, Lilli sat up straight and clapped with delight.

Here goes, I thought.

She was preoccupied with a loose thread on her sleeve for a few seconds, and then the music started. She popped up her head and looked at the stage. Instantly her hands flew up in the air and started flapping as the music swelled majestically. She loved it!

And then, she squealed.

It was a little squeal. I think she just could not help herself. I shushed her and hugged her into my lap. She made a kiss sound. Yikes, we've only been here for about twenty seconds, I thought.

As the music built to a powerful crescendo, she swayed back and forth and I relaxed a little. Abruptly, the music stopped. Silence. As the conductor froze his hands in the air, you could hear nothing, for about two beats. I held my breath. At that instant, Lilli quickly slipped her arms out of my grasp and clapped. Four quick claps.

The music started again. Instead of sliding down in our seat to the floor in embarassment, I swept her up and got out of there, fast. All in all, I think we indulged in about two minutes of the symphony. Possibly less.

Some people might think, who cares? You should have stayed. No, that would have been very disruptive and rude. It wasn't like we were in church with a baby making a little noise during the sermon. It was the symphony. I did not see any other children there. Certainly not any other children clapping and squealing. Others might think, you never should have taken her in the first place, what did you expect?

The reason I took her is because I had to know. I had to know how she would tolerate it. I knew she would love it. She loves classical music. But we are taking Chloe to see the Nutcracker in a few weeks, and I had been wrestling with the idea of taking Lilli too. Again with the mother guilt. Lilli loves the Nutcracker music. I knew she would be excited to be there with us, and would probably do fine sitting in our laps. But I wanted to know how she would act. I had a feeling she would not be able to contain herself and make disruptive sounds, but I had to try it. So I took her to the same exact place where we will be going to the Nutcracker in a few weeks. I thought, what better experiment than to slip in to a free admission symphony performance and see how she does for a few minutes? Well, now I know. She is not ready to go to the Nutcracker just yet. Maybe a minute or two of the performance, but not two hours. And that's OK. She did not have a meltdown, and she did not cry or run away from me. She was happy about the whole, brief experience.

Baby steps.

I understand why parents of children with autism yearn so much for "autism-friendly" shows. I hope to hear about one and take Lilli someday soon. I know she would love a first trip to the movies, a play, or a trip to the symphony where she could be free to let out the happy squeals and claps.

When we take Chloe to the Nutcracker in a few weeks, I will not feel guilty about leaving Lilli behind. Instead I will feel hope that someday I can either take her to an "autism-friendly" performance of the Nutcracker, or that she will eventually gain some self-control and be able to sit appropriately for the show.

For now, I will just have to play loud symphony music in our living room.

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