Matilda and Being Different
June 8th, 2013.
A couple of weeks ago, Celebrate the Children school, (my boys', Tal and Gil, school), decided to take the high-school classes to a Broadway show - Matilda. Matilda is a show about young and very talented girl, which lives with abusive and neglecting parents, going to school that looks like prison. Regardless, she is fighting back to a happy ending, just like a Broadway show should be, but funnier, since it’s written by Danny De Vito...
Anyway, I was asked to join the group and help the school team.
Now, going to Broadway on Wednesday after noon (matinée) is always a "special" experience. However, going with about 30 teens with Autism, will require a new definition of what "special" is.
The school team organized it like a Black Special Op's - perfect!
Bused from Dover to mid-Manhattan at Wednesday mid-morning, walking with the millions New Yorkers and tourists to one of the best Pizza places in NY for a delicious lunch, with a group of happy, fashionably dressed ‘New York style’ and perfectly behaved 30 kids with Autism.
At the time for the show, the group got organized and walked through 42nd St. to the theater. I believe that anyone who walked on 42nd St. at noon on a beautiful spring day with a child, will begin to understand the Autism Experience..... Let’s just say that despite the cool temp, the school staff and helpers (like me), were sweating and on the high spectrum of stress. But the kids were just perfect and enjoyed every moment (and of course, I must say it , defy science again.....)
The theater staff , after a few back and force, understood that we are a special group (what would you expect, they are "normal"), cut the lines and led us to our seats which were at the first and second rows in the Mezzanine. The school team, cool, efficient and organized sat the group in order (child, adult etc.). I was seated on the Mezzanine’s first raw beside Tal, in the middle of the CTC group.
As most other show goers were schools as well, you could immediately notice that CTC is very “special”. Quiet, polite, and happy (and have Autism).
Lights went off and the show began. As the boys and I have been to many shows before, I immediately converted into my usual role of bodyguard, but the boys and the rest of their classmates were busy enjoying the show, clapping, standing and having fun, like the rest of the kids in the theater.
Intermission time arrived and I expected the usual routine: bathroom, food etc., but that’s where the story changes without a warning:
One of the teachers came to me and told me that the theater security officer ask that "Tal and I will leave the theater." "Why?" I asked. "I don't really understand" she said "but that what the security officer wants". Well, as a father to two boys with Autism, you stop asking why, you just automatically change your mode to protect your boys (The Bodyguard effect). "Tal was perfect", I told the teacher, and added “we are not leaving".
She was confused and concerned for all the right reasons: 30 Autistic kids in the theater and all she needs is more headache in the form of a "crazy dad". I tried to help her and suggested that she will l ask the security officer to come to us.
A 6' guy, dresses with black “I am the security guy” suit, and with "white ding" in his ear (so no one "will see it") came to me and said: "you two, out, now!". Remember, I am in the first raw of the Mezzanine, Tal is seating on my left. But even when he seats you can see that he is 6'2 and strong.
"Why" I asked? "Cause your son didn't behave" he replied. I look at him and said "he was perfect, what did he done wrong?" "Two people told me that he wasn't behaving right" he replies, "get out now or.."
There is a point that I and any other parent for child with any special need, move from defensive to offensive mode, and I have to admit that I get to this point very fast.
"You are discriminating and harassing a child with autism, and his teachers and friends. We will not leave, call the police if you have a problem or I will call the police and report a child abuse and harassment", I said to the security guy.
He was surprised. The only thing he was able to say was "do you want to do it the hard way?"
"Call the police now" I said, while my tone of voice automatically sounds as an order. (the bodyguard effect again…). He left.
All the teachers came to me and said: “We will all go out with you". I replied: “It is OK, Tal and the entire group were perfectly behaved, so let’s calm down as we are staying for the rest of show".
A few minutes went by and an NYPD cop, dressed in uniforms and well-armed (after all it is autistic boy and its crazy dad he is dealing with) showed up and got close to us.
"Sir, you have to leave", he said.
"This group and my son have done nothing wrong. This is a discrimination act by the security officer", I replied quietly.
"You have to leave now. The show won't start until you leave", the officer insisted.
I took Tal hands and held them straight toward the officer and told him: "In that case, you will have to arrest us, because we are going to watch the show until the end. And if that what you are going to do, you will have to handcuff us first".
A woman that set to my right, not from our group, suddenly stood up and said to the officer: "This boy done nothing wrong".
The NYPD cop looked at me and asked me: "Do you want to do it the hard way?"
I looked straight to his eyes and said: "Sometimes when you are different you have to do things the hard way". He looked at me for a few seconds and left.
The teachers came back, nervous and confused, "They won't start the show. Let’s all leave".
"We are staying to the end of the show, so let’s have fun", I said.
5 minutes later the lights dimmed and the main actress came to the stage reading from a paper: "Boys and girls, this is just a show, in real life you should respect each other and don't behave like us, in the show. Cause this is just a show and life is about respect”.
I looked around trying to find the security guy, to verify that he heard this message. (but all I could see was a group of 30 perfect children with Autism, including my Tal and Gil, with their super dedicated and professional staff, smiling and clapping while on the stage Matilda found her loving and respectful soul mate .