Stage Presence: The Spectacle of Autism

Every year, families of elementary school students are transported to a fantasy world via the annual school play. My son, Ben, has been practicing for weeks in anticipation of his debut as a rain drop in his first grade production of Spring Starts Here.

Ben has been in numerous productions throughout his academic career. In previous years, Ben has been more of a stage prop, than a participant.  As a child with Asperger’s Syndrome, Ben is often overwhelmed by loud noises and excessively stimulated by an audience.

Before every student theatrical creation, my anxiety begins to build. Historically, Ben has always taken the stage with his classmates, but his focus has never been on the show. Ben withdraws into a world of his own. A world I want to see, but I can’t.

On the day of this year’s performance, Ben was excited. I was nervous. As a parent, I always hope for the best. As a realist, I know wishes don’t always come true.

My rain drop bounded on stage enthusiastically. Ben recited every word on cue.  He sang every lyric of “Springtime” with zeal. As he stood on stage, for the first time, Ben seamlessly blended with his peers. My heart swelled with pride.

As the play neared its conclusion, with mere minutes left, Ben began vigorously flapping his hands. He stood in the front row clearly visible to the assemblage.

Tears welled in my eyes. Not because my pride had waned. For forty minutes, Ben had the performance of his lifetime. Unfortunately, no one in the audience will recognize or appreciate the accomplishments Ben displayed throughout the majority of the play. When they look at Ben, they’ll only remember those last few moments.

I’ll never forget this appearance . I know the progress Ben has made. I recall every obstacle he has overcome. If only everyone could see that my rain drop was miscast. Ben is actually a ray of sunshine.

April is National Autism Awareness Month. My desire is that others will learn to look past the unusual ticks and sounds of autism. Although we can’t see inside the world of those afflicted with autism spectrum disorders, we have had glimpses. Allow a child on the autism spectrum into your world. You won’t regret it. Everyone enjoys the sunshine.


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