When I first came across Broadway actor Kelvin Moon Loh’s recent Facebook post that started off – “I am angry and sad. Just got off stage from today’s matinee and yes, something happened. Someone brought their autistic child to the theater…” I was upset. Reading that first bit of the post, my heart just sank. I thought it was going to be a rant about how that child shouldn’t have been at the theater, likely calling out the family for being inconsiderate or something along those lines. Unfortunately, as we all well know, many of those types of posts exist. However, after reading on, I was pleased to see that the post was quite the opposite.
During a matinee performance of “The King and I” in NYC, Loh says that during an intense scene, a young boy with autism began making some loud noises, which drew some glares and unpleasant comments from other audience members. And, thankfully, Loh wasn’t going to take it. Following the performance, Loh posted a heartfelt request for empathy and understanding for the boy and his mother. In his post he wrote, “When did we as theater people, performers and audience members become so concerned with our own experiences that we lose compassion for others?”
Loh, who was a schoolteacher before Broadway, told TODAY.com that he felt he had to say something and to ask for people to try to understand what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes. He said “parents of autistic children sit there with such fear and terror that this episode could occur. I was watching a mother’s nightmare happen, and I just wanted to have her know that what she’s doing is right in trying to expose her child to the theater, and there are advocates supporting her.”
And while Loh may not have heard from that mom in the theater, his message has reached others – whether it gives families touched by autism encouragement to try new experiences, or if it gives people a bit more understanding so that they may think twice the next time before passing harsh judgment.
We are glad there are advocates like Loh out there stepping up because we could all benefit from his message of compassion.
Another amazing example of how peer support can make all the difference! Check out this video of Preston Lillis, a 5th grader in Grandville, Michigan, who has Asperger’s, get cheered on by his classmates during their annual Field Day. As shared here, Preston’s parents said Field Day usually made him anxious, so much so that last year Preston was so stressed it caused a migraine and he had to miss the event. So this year his teachers and classmates came up with a plan to let Preston win and make it a fun experience for him.
And it looks like it worked! It’s the little things and times of thoughtfulness that can really make a lasting impact.
As we begin a month dedicated to Autism Awareness, I came across this beautifully written piece by mom-of-four, Mary Hickey. Mary has three sons on the autism spectrum and she writes about how autism has not been a secret in her family – it’s something that has been embraced so that her sons not only get to understand themselves better, but that there’s a community of support surrounding them.
She also shares her perspective on how she discussed autism with her children, which is something many parents struggle with – how, and when, (and if) I discuss my child’s autism diagnosis with them. Mary’s sons came to some awareness on their own at different ages, asking questions – and it was at those moments that she discussed it with them. And for parents that may be facing a similar situation, she shares what those first conversations sounded like:
Many parents feel paralyzed by figuring out how to approach the initial discussion. I kept the first conversation simple, creating space and encouragement for questions and whatever feelings came up. It differed slightly for each boy, but the overall conversation went like this: “Every person has things that are easy for them and things that they are working on. Your brain works in a very special way that is called autism. It means that some things that are hard for other people, like remembering numbers and all the states and capitols, are easy for you. But it also means that some things, like understanding conversations or what people are trying to say, can be hard for you. It is why sometimes noises, smells and the feeling of things bother you too. But it also means that you are amazing for how hard you work to get through it all! There are a lot of strategies we can use to help make the things that are tough a bit easier. There are lots of people in the world with autism and so many of them have done amazing things. Would you like to learn about some of them?”
While this is a story of how one parent helped her children with their own self-awareness, we honor the broader idea of raising awareness for all, and ultimately, understanding and support. We hope the continued efforts of the autism community – and especially now during Autism Awareness month – will help do just that.