I'm really proud of our little girl, Sasha. Despite her autism and the struggles she faces, she is still generally a happy, polite and curious child. Whilst we haven't really spoken directly with her about her autism, it's not a secret and is discussed in our house quite openly. She is just not quite at the stage where she would fully understand the condition and its implications. Recently though, I've noticed a change in her. She is definitely maturing and becoming more aware of her own struggles. She tries hard to keep her 'upsets' under control and seems to now understand how some situations are not good for her.
I was extremely happy today when we were able to attend the panto as a family for the second year running. Of course that's not as easy as it sounds, and it has taken some careful planning along the way. Last year Sasha did leave the theatre a few times during the performance to take a break - it was clear to see when all the noise and excitement were getting too much for her. We always need to make sure we can have seats with easy access for leaving (getting other people up mid-show is bad enough once but slightly more than embarassing if you turn into human yo-yos!). Making sure she will have a good view so there's a chance her attention will be held is also key, and I'm sure that covering both of these things last year meant that she was happy and willing to give it another go this year, despite knowing how loud and noisy it can be. I was also well prepared with a bag full of distractions in case it didn't prove to be as appealing to her as she was hoping. There's so few things we can enjoy as a family due to Sasha's PDA and sensory issues (she often refuses to leave the house and doesn't have the attention span to sit through a film at the cinema), so this day out is all the more special for us.
Before I go any further I'd like to let you all know that it was an amazing production at the Alban Arena. We had enjoyed the previous years performance and had tears running down our cheeks back then; we knew a couple of the same stars (Bob Golding and Sam Rabone, brilliant guys) were appearing this year along with Gareth Gates and Andy from CBeebies, and so we were sure we were in for a treat.
We all thoroughly enjoyed the first half and it was such a pleasure to see Sasha laughing out loud at the jokes (not that she could get the innuendos, but they tickled her anyway). She did resort to the ear defenders to block out the noise when Gareth Gates started singing, but that was definitely due to volume and not quality (he's amazing folks, I'd pay to see him in concert!). She bounced up and down in her seat and enjoyed joining in the shouts of 'hello Buttons' and 'he's behind you' etc, but every time the audience clapped she would push her hands over her ears and bow her head down. The ear defenders were used several times, but there were plenty of good and happy times too. At the end of the first half, two real miniature white ponies came on pulling Cinderella's carriage (oops, sorry for spoiling the surprise folks!) and whilst everyone else cooed at them, Sasha beamed and told me she LOVED the carriage.
Just after the second half started, Sasha tapped me on the leg. She didn't look at me, which I thought was a bit odd, but when I looked more closely, I could see that her hair was over the back of her seatback, and that the woman behind her had her handbag placed on her knee, pushed right up against Sasha's hair and the seat. When I tapped the woman's bag politely to let her know that Sasha was unable to move, she hissed at me that she had had to put the bag there to 'protect herself from Sasha's hair'. I was gobsmacked. I was aware that Sasha had swept her hair over the seat back a couple of times in the first half, as her bobble had come loose, but I hadn't realised that it was a problem. The woman's attitude was certainly a problem though, and sadly it did spoil the second half of the show for me. Why on earth would you feel you had to 'protect' yourself from hair?! It's not as if it was dirty, or swarming with headlice. The woman could have just moved her knees to one side slightly and the hair wouldn't have touched them. Equally she could have mentioned it during the interval or tapped me on the shoulder and pointed it out, but instead she chose to trap my girl's hair with her bag. Unbelievable. Maybe she was just feeling piqued because she was being distracted by the amount of times I had to put Sasha's ear defenders on and off - but believe me, Sasha wasn't doing that for the fun of it. Sasha was really trying to enjoy today but her senses were obviously getting a right battering.
After that I did have to stop Sasha from swishing her hair back once again, and from that point on Sasha got more and more distressed. Slightly scary music and scenery tipped her over the edge and she then started crying and saying loudly that she wanted to leave. I had to try and console her (which is extremely difficult in that sort of situation, as anything you say and any options you offer tend to just inflame Sasha more) and as a final resort I pulled the mini ipad and 'normal' headphones out of the bag so that Sasha could be distracted by that. She began to play Minecraft, rather unhappily, but at least she did agree to stay in the theatre for the rest of the performance, so I could try to get back to enjoying it (and avoid the embarrassment for Tamsin of Mummy having to leave with little autistic sister again).
Sadly this did just highlight to me the fact that Sasha will have to cope with ignorant people on her journey through life. I'm just hoping that the kind, supportive ones like my dear friends and her current classmates will outnumber those oddballs.