Today, April 2, is World Autism Day. (The United Nations designated April 2 World Autism Day in November 2007.) While there are plenty of "Autism experts" willing to discuss Autism, I just wanted to share a personal story...
Along with the anime obsession, my eldest, Allie (who has Aspergers), is a huge theatre nut. First it was musicals, but it's slowly broadening to encompass all performing arts (as well as set, tech and costume etc.). She's been auditioning and frustrated with not getting any roles, which is rather like most kids in pursuit of the stage; but it's more difficult for her to face rejection in general, and constructive criticism is less than 'constructive' for, as you can imagine, when it comes to acting as emotions and the subtleties of acting them, she's a bit handicapped.
Hubby and I have often made jokes, amongst ourselves, that we should open Austism Theatre simply for the complexities and comedy involved in the very idea. (This prior to Autism the Musical.)
It's not that we don't support her (or others), or believe it "impossible"; but as there are so many occasions in daily life where she's lost in translation that the very notion of acting seems preposterous -- to me, anyway. And wouldn't it be fun to see what an audience does before a performing troupe of autistic actors? We both imagine some sort of Emperor's New Clothes, where critics call it "avant-garde" because they don't know what else to say when they don't get it.
Anyway, Allie joined an improv club at school, and last Saturday, participated in an improv show.
Sitting in the audience, I was anxious. I've spent years noting just who does ad doesn't interact with her (from day care on up, I've witnessed the social ostracization), and this was a social setting -- with a performance. I felt her vulnerability, even if Allie was unaware of it.
Plus, the leaders of the group or club were not teachers, but college kids. What did they know of her special situation, her special needs? With laws the way they are, I'm sure these college kids didn't have access to her file or anything...
But here we were, at show time.
In the first 'round', Allie's team went first in a game of "freeze". Allie didn't tag herself in. But as the evening continued, she jumped in. At times, she was clearly nervous. And awkward. But then she seemed to settle in.
It was a good thing too, because during the second half, she got a doozy of an assignment.
This game was called Party Quirks, and just as on Who's Line Is It Anyway?, Allie and two others on her team were guests with specific quirks that the fourth member had to guess. The first guest was a pyromaniac, the second a human devolving into a monkey. Allie's quirk? She eats seahorses.
Now, unless you've got a fish tank with seahorses, or a bowl of plastic seahorses, what on earth are you supposed to do?
But Allie did a good job. As the third to enter 'the party', she immediately asked where the seafood was. A nice clue.
The 'party host' went on to correctly guess the first two guests, leaving only Allie. He says something about her being a shark. Nope. So Allie, desperate to give him some other clue, yelps out, "I eat horse babies!"
The whole joint cracked-up with laughter.
I felt a bit uncomfortable. It's difficult as the mom who has always heard unkind snickers from others who don't know her, to suddenly hear people laughing at her & the situation for all the right reasons. I laughed along, marveling at the feeling.
Later, in one of the last performances, Allie's team did the old "move genre" game, just like on Who's Line. They act out a skit, and change acting to suit the new movie genre given to them.
It was sufficiently silly, with Allie a bit less vocal and less animated than some of the other performers -- but still in it. Then another movie genre is given, "B Movie".
The other actors remain still, unsure how to act "B Movie" -- but Allie immediately puts her pointer fingers up, one on each side of her head, like antennae, and starts to buzz around the other performers. She thought they meant Bee Movie.
Everyone was laughing -- even the performers. One of the college kids leading the show (in an umpire's uniform, of course), had to get off his chair and exit stage right he was laughing so hard.
I was laughing and crying.
And hubby's got it on video tape to prove it -- audio at least.
One of the rules in improv is that you can't ask for clarification, or say, "I don't know what that is," or "How do I do that?" Allie knew that, so she did what she could -- be the bee in Bee Movie. Again, while the 'regular' performers stood, unsure of what to do (until they themselves were laughing).
Again, a flood of mixed emotions from me, Mom.
How absurd, how wonderful, how delightful to have my daughter the Auspie be the intended comic, worthy of applause and approval! How charming that her misunderstanding could be accepted in the spirit of improv!
How strange to be joining others (non-family, non-friends) in laughing at Allie! How odd it felt, to not bristle, to not want to grab people by the throat and shame them for their cruel laughter (laughter she often believes to be genuine laughter among friends).
How cathartic to laugh away the pain of the normal non-social acceptance of her.
I laughed til I cried; cried while I laughed.
How mind-snapping to be so proud of Allie in that moment -- & realize that often even I underestimate her. Sometimes my momma worry gets in the way.
After the performance, several of the 'cool theatre kids' ran up to Allie and applauded her performance and humor. "'I eat horse babies,' is the best line ever!" one said. And it was all I could do not to cry some more.