Jake Goes To The Circus

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For several years now, the rule at our house is that Jake doesn’t have to go to the circus. They’re smelly and loud and chaotic – things Jake hates. We took him for a while because kids are supposed to like the circus, and we wanted this for him. We were young. Forgive us.

When we discovered the Cirque du Soleil was coming to town, we decided to take a chance. It’s been a few years since he’d tried, and this would be different, right? No animals, no popcorn, no flashing lights in the audience. So, with benefaction from Nona, we bought tickets for good seats.tickets cirque du soleil bigcalfguy autism varekai We had planned on being close enough to the stage to get the full experience, but still be far enough back to be safe. We began our prep work – we tried daily to get Jake to pre-view the show via Youtube clips. He refused.

We told him that it’d be just like when he saw the kids’ dance (he did a fair job at the dance recital this year). He got mad because he didn’t want to see the witch or hear the girl sing. The recital ballet was The Wizard of Oz; and the witch scared him, and the standing-ovation-garnering solo at the end sent him through the roof. So with a week or two of preparation, with little apparent success, we went to the show.

We got there a little early to allow for acclimation time. Jake spotted a giant escalator and insisted on a ride or three. Why not? This gave him a thrill and put him into a good mood. To our delight/dismay, we discovered that we had purchased better tickets than we thought. Instead of being in Section 2 in the bleachers, we were in Row 2 of section 2. We were 10’ from the stage. Jake immediately balked, and said he wanted to stay up in the chairs at the back of the auditorium – the ones reserved for those with special needs. We calmly assured him it would be OK.

We had researched online, and knew that the show would be presented in two parts, with a 20 minute intermission, for a total of 2 hours run time. Breaking all the rules, we let Jake use his Kindle Fire with the brightness turned all the way down. He vacillated between mauling Beth and sitting in her lap, to playing his Kindle, to staring in rapt awe at the tumblers and jugglers and dancers.

At intermission, he declared that this was “stupid” and he “hated” everything, and he was “going home.” He took off his glasses and cried loudly. As is usually the problem, it was the transition that was the hardest. I took him back to the outer perimeter, where we walked around, took a bathroom break, and rode the escalator for another 10 minutes. This helped.

At the beginning of the second act, one of the ushers noticed his Kindle and made us turn it off. Now he alternated between sitting on the floor between the rows, and again staring in wide-eyed amazement at the feats of strength and agility in front of him. The grand finale was indeed grand, and it of course prompted a mid-sized meltdown of tears, wailing, and assorted lamentations.

He was going to “destroy the building.”

Thank you, Lego Movie, for that little gem.  After some hugging, soothing, and gentle caresses, we had him calmed down, and had also allowed much of the crowd to make their way up the stairs and towards the parking lot. When we thought it was OK to leave, Jake bolted. He sprinted up the stairs and into the throng of people.

By the time I got up to the concourse, he was nowhere to be seen. I quickly checked the escalator, but he wasn’t there. I peeked into the men’s room. Nothing. I followed the crowd, scanning for Jake. He didn’t appear to be in the building. I turned around for guidance from Beth, who was trying to keep the other two from panicking, and she gave me the silent, but unmistakable “GO!” face. I ran out to the parking lot, where we had sprung for VIP parking, and there was Jake, loitering by the van, waiting for me to show up and let him in. Not a care in the world.

I grabbed/embraced him, pulled him in tight, and kissed him on the head. “You can’t just run off like that, Jake!” I whisper-yelled. “But I told the customers ‘excuse me’ Dad. I did.” was his reply. It took a little bit to explain that we weren’t upset that he hadn’t used his manners, but that he had left the group and run off into a lot of strangers.

Total time “missing”: 90 seconds. Total years shaved off my lifetime: I don’t dare guess.

At dinner after the show, as Beth, me, and the kids were rehashing our favorite performances, talk turned to Jake. We decided that it must be really hard to have such emotion bottled up inside with no clear way of letting it out. I’ve never seen Jake clap before. He can “clap,” but I’ve never seen him use it in its intended form. When things end and the audience applauds, Jake gets mad. It poses a new and interesting problem for us, but also hints at a solution for an existing one. If we can give him a way to show his pleasure at a performance, might we also find a way to help him get to attend more things involving applause? I don’t know the answer.

Does anyone know?

What has worked for you?

Is Jake the only kid out there with this problem?

I’d love your input and/or advice.    jake circus bigcalfguy cirque du soleil newpost

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1 comment

  1. Positives: You didn’t have to cart him off to the van mid performance. He DID in fact watch some of the performance (sensory overload at time) and he did go to the van, and knew where it was. It’s wonderful that you keep challenging him, Ryan (And Beth!) and he’ll keep on growing. 🙂
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