As part of Annie's training, she and her trainer, Christa Rodriguez, Founder of All Star Paws for Autism joined us for a Sensory-Friendly Performance of A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings at The PlayGround Theatre in Miami Shores, Florida.
Annie was so relaxed, she fell asleep during the performance. The theater thoughtfully provided noise cancelling headphones for those with autism, however, Eric is very sensitive to sound and the performance was too much for him, even with the headphones and Annie's calming presence. Fortunately, the theater had created a "quiet room" for just this possibility, stocked with gluten-free snacks, bean bag chairs, and quiet activities. A wonderful therapist who works with children on the autism spectrum was on hand in the quiet room to engage the children and help out. Eric was a happy camper there. Annie and Christa joined Eric and the other children who needed a sensory break. The children all loved Annie!
The story, brilliantly adapted by Stephanie Ansin and Nilo Cruz from a short story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, had special meaning for me and the other autism parents in attendance. In the story, an angel falls to earth and is discovered on the beach of a Caribbean island by two children. The angel cannot speak using his voice, but communicates with his eyes to those who are open to him and the children can understand him. The children name him "Afar" since he came to them from a far. Sadly, their father sees Afar as a sort of side-show curiosity and puts him on display in a cage. Villagers pay for a chance to have their prayers answered. Trapped in the cage, Afar becomes very ill. The children are moved to nurse him back to health and teach him to fly again. The final scene of Afar returning to the heavens, then granting the prayers of the villagers is incredibly moving, with a message of hope and redemption.
One of my autism mom friends and I found ourselves in tears. In a way, I think Afar reminded us of our boys. We are guides to children who are strangers in a strange land, sort of like Afar. They sometimes feel trapped by their experience of the world around them, but like Afar, they have so much to offer any one who learns how to communicate with them on their own level. Watching this play on Mother's Day weekend made the message all the more poignant. All of us hope we can teach our children to spread their wings and fly, and that flight would answer all our prayers.