The United Way of Ashland County held its fifth annual “Ring in Spring” event. I checked out the online info, saw that there was a car show, petting zoo and kids’ activities and decided to give it a try. Of course, it all seemed like a better idea yesterday when it sunny and warm and not-so-exciting this morning when it was cold and damp. But cold and damp meant I wouldn’t be taking Philip to the park or letting him in the backyard, so I reconfirmed my decision to attend.
I got Philip ready, and we headed out in the car. The petting zoo wasn’t supposed to be available for another hour, so we first went to the grocery store and then the library. I figured we would stay at the library until Philip was done; if it was too late for us to go to the other event, so be it.
Philip definitely has a routine at the library now. He first makes a beeline to the aquarium. He pulled me along in the general direction. I let go of his hand when the fish tank was in sight and was secretly pleased that he walked the rest of the way. I was certain he would run.
After a once-over of the fish, he moved over to the children’s play area. He started with the toy barn and house. Then, again to my surprise, he spent the next thirty minutes playing with the puzzles. He briefly checked out that evil puzzle with the latches, but spent most of the time with other wooden puzzles.
When he finally stood and appeared to be ready to dash off, I made him clean up the puzzles. As he usually does, he tried to get me to do the work for him. I’m on to you, kid. I held up one puzzle at a time while he found the pieces that needed to be replaced. When they were all back on the shelf, we grabbed a few DVDs and headed on our way.
It hadn’t warmed up, but it wasn’t raining, so we headed to the fairgrounds. I parked, pulled up the hood on Philip’s sweatshirt and led him to the activities.
The petting zoo was easy to find, but Philip did not seem to be interested. I have to admit that I was too cold to try to show Philip how to pet the animals. He briefly glanced into the cages of a few of the animals, but wanted to move on.
We walked through the main concourse. The car show was set up near the main entrance where we drove in. The cold air discouraged me from dragging Philip all the way over to not look at cars. A horse show was taking place in the Coliseum, the Red Cross had an information table beside an ERV (Emergency Response Vehicle) outside the grandstand, and a flea market was being held outdoors beside one of the merchant buildings. I felt really bad for those vendors set up on this dampy and chilly day. Hope you sold some stuff!
We turned around and went into the old roller rink. I’m pretty sure this building has some other official fairground name, but it will always be the roller rink to me. Today, it was filled with tables for vendors, bleachers for the audience and people, lots of people. The people were filling the space with noise. They were talking, they were making announcements, they were playing games. We had to wait for a break in the crowds to make our way down the aisle. How did Philip feel about all of this?
I have no idea, but I hated it.
Back before they changed the format, my Facebook “About Me” statement read “I hate crowds.” And I do. There are many events that I don’t attend because I just don’t enjoy being surrounded by large groups of people. At this particular event, there were carnival-type games, included one those in which you throw a ball to knock over cans. I was standing fairly close to this game when a boy threw the ball with all his might, sending the cans clattering against each other until they fell with a loud, metallic clang.
It is in situations like this that I imagine that I have a glimpse into Philip’s world. If I, a neurotypical person, cringe at the unpleasant convergence of sights, sounds and people, how must it be for someone who’s brain prevents them from filtering all of this sensory input? If I, a so-called “normal” person, think being in a crowd sucks, how must someone with autism feel?
I wonder if Philip, enthralled by all the sights, can tune out the noise? He eagerly pulled me from table to table so he could look at the items displayed up close. There were limited options for him. Since the event is a fundraiser, the majority of the spaces are alloted to people selling wares, raffling items or advertising their services. This is not a critique, but an observation.
I was able to find the children’s activities that were advertised. Philip enjoyed playing with the science experiment on “What objects roll?” I swear it was the plastic Easter eggs that caught his eye. Sorry, kid-no candy. There was a miniature basketball that I quickly modeled to Philip was for rolling, not throwing. I viewed it a success when he only threw it once.
There was a young woman behind the table facilitating this activity. Bless her heart, she did everything that she had been trained to do. She cheerfully welcomed Philip to the table. She talked to him about the different textures of the boards (I touched his fingers on the boards so he could feel the smooth word versus sandpaper). She encouraged Philip to roll the objects, showing him how one of the cars wouldn’t roll on the sandpaper (I modeled using the different items supplied). When we finished, she asked Philip if he would like a bag with a free book. I finally told her, “Yes, please. He won’t answer you,” without further explanation.
We took a full lap around the facility. I realized that we should head out before the live auction began. If I was uncomfortable with the noise level as it was, the use of the PA might put me in a meltdown.
We passed the display for the “Crunch Out Obesity” program, complete with exercise balls. Of course Philip had to stop here. These fitness balls were the large size, so Philip couldn’t easily pick one up and throw it. But he wanted to. The woman at the display encouraged Philip to roll the ball to her, which he did. They did this back and forth several times before he grabbed the ring on which the ball had been resting and gave that a toss, knocking several papers off the table in the process. I retrieved the ring, and we made our way to the exit as the woman returned her handouts to the table.
Before we could leave, Philip spotted two balloons on the floor, those really long ones used to make balloon animals. The yellow and purple balloons were resting against the chair of a woman seated at a table for refreshments. To my horror, Philip grabbed the yellow balloon animal. I could not wrest it from his hands. I tried calling to the woman to alert her. She didn’t notice, but her husband did. “Oh, he can have them,” he assured me. “I got them for my wife, but she doesn’t want to keep them.” Philip had meanwhile made a grab for the purple balloon and that’s the one he carried with him to the car through the light drizzle. He looked so pleased, too.
Just when we got to the car, the balloon broke. Philip reluctantly handed over the deflated remains, but he didn’t make a fuss as he climbed into his car seat to leave. In other words, he probably handled the event better than his mom.