Dear Universal Studios,
When parents like me bring their child with autism and ADHD to big theme parks, we never quite know what to expect. So much about theme parks, in general – the crowds, the noise, the waits, and the unpredictable nature of how rides will go – make it difficult for my son, Quentin. But you never know when a special moment will occur. Which is exactly what happened for us last Friday.
My daughter, Fiona, does not have a disability. We were there mainly for her to enjoy her obsession of all things Harry Potter. (Needless to say, you came through for her on this.) Since Quentin has zero interest in Harry Potter, this left me and my husband to split up most of the time, each taking one child and meeting up for lunch or a group ride together.
When we hit Seuss Landing at the Islands of Adventure, I knew we found the right area for Quentin. As an almost 9-year-old, he still has a passion for the Seuss books. In particular, he is in love with the Lorax Movie. He often “scripts” – repeats at random times – one line from that film that the Lorax says in his opening monologue: “Cue the music – Let’s see!”
I rode on a few Seuss-themed rides with Quentin, but he eventually found the “All the Books You Can Read” bookstore in the middle of that area. The store was a lovely refuge, and I think Quentin really needed it to calm down from the crowds and take in the air conditioning. As a word-loving child, he could surround himself with books, which comforted him. He could sit and read quietly or color with crayons at a table. He found his favorite books and flipped through the pages.
All at once, he shot up from a seat and ran over to a video screen in the store. He heard – and recognized – the music coming from the TV screen in the bookstore. It was his favorite, the Lorax Movie! He got so excited that he ran a few laps around the store, coming back to the screen to watch the opening. I had the deflated feeling that I had brought my son all the way to Universal Studios Orlando just so he could watch the same DVD that we have at home in a Seuss-themed bookstore.
A few minutes later, I heard some amplified voices just outside the bookstore. It was the “Oh! The Stories You’ll Hear” performance! I had this idea: Perhaps I could lure him away from the screen with a live show, featuring live characters? I had no idea what the show was, and he had already met (and hugged) most of them along the way – but hey, it was worth a try.
As I brought Quentin out of the store, I saw that the set up was not exactly Quentin-friendly. The “stage” was denoted by a roped off area on the ground, and people were encouraged to sit just outside that roped area. In other words, not much of a barrier between stage and audience.
Sure enough, the moment that the Lorax came out (with great fanfare), Quentin got so excited that he made a bee line straight for that character. The dancing characters became flustered, missing a few steps. The security guards next to the stage told him to move back, and I pulled him away… but not without a fight from my determined boy.
In essence, I had to body-block my son from attacking the Lorax in the middle of a song-and-dance number. I told him, “First watch the show, then hug” because this “first-then” statement structure has worked in the past. (In truth, I had no idea if he would be able to meet the Lorax after the show, but it was the only thing I could think of at the time.) People were staring and giggling. Quentin is not a small child – he is big for his age. Who was this big kid trying to tackle the Lorax? Who is that crazy Mom trying to stop him? “First show! Then hug!” I became that fierce mom, ignoring the stares, repeating as the song-and-dance continued. “First show! Then hug!” It’s not the first time I’ve had to endure stares like this for my child, and it won’t be the last.
Eventually, it clicked with Quentin. He calmed down and agreed to sit on the ground near the characters. I kept one arm on him. The show soon ended and the characters quickly disappeared, which made Quentin upset. “Hug!” he said. He thought he had missed his chance.
But then, the magic began. Amy, the main “human” performer of this act, came right over to us and put her arm around Quentin. “I bet you’d like to meet the Lorax,” she told him.
“Okay, we’re going to make that happen.”
Within a few minutes, we were escorted to a backstage area. Quentin read the name tags of everyone who was helping us: Nancy and Julius and Ron. (I think it was Ron… Ron, I apologize if I didn’t remember your name correctly!) Quentin loves reading and asking people their names so this allowed us to wait for the Lorax to get ready.
And then – the moment arrived! Quentin was introduced to the Lorax and he hugged and hugged. We were taken to a quieter area, behind the crowds. They told us to take all the time that we needed.
Quentin poked and prodded the Lorax, did strange interpretive dances around him, kissed his nose, and gave multiple hugs. The Lorax stayed silent, but showed his love and caring through it all, allowing Quentin to express his love in his own non-verbal way. I just stood and stared. It was all a little unreal.
Universal Studios Orlando, it is difficult for me to express my gratitude for this moment. What your employees did that day will be forever remembered by me and my child. You showed kindness and inclusion without any judgment. You allowed my child to be himself and celebrated his love for the Lorax with him. In many ways, your employees expressed the same principles that the Once-ler, in the Lorax Movie explained: “Unless someone like you cares an awful lot, things aren’t going to get better. They’re not.”
Today, your employees cared. For that, I am forever grateful.
Melissa (Quentin’s mom)