As Normal As It Gets

All thirty teams in Major League Baseball are doing Autism Awareness Days.   The Orioles had theirs yesterday (which is why there wasn’t a post) and we got out to the game for a change.

We were there with the Baltimore-Chesapeake Chapter of the Autism Society of America, though there was also a large contingent from Autism Speaks and a school that had raised money for research as well.

Now, say what you will about Autism Speaks, they really do a good job of making themselves seen and raising the issue of Autism in public awareness.  As we meandered around the stadium pre-game, you could see plenty of folks with hats, shirts and various other attention-getting items that drew the eye and invited questions.

The Monster at Camden Yards, April 2013For us, taking both kids to a sporting event is a major undertaking, more so due to the Monster’s diagnosis and its effect on his behavior.  We could make it easier on ourselves in some ways as well.. but that’s never quite been our way.  Instead, we just try to make do and go through things the ‘normal’ way so that the Monster’s accustomed to it down the road.

“Normal”, in this case, meant driving down to the nearby light rail station and taking the train down to the ballpark.  Because it was a game day, the train was quite full, and we ended up standing for the entire trip down.  (I was wearing the baby in a backpack, since strollers are problematic in crowded terrain, and even worse when you’re talking about the train or a stadium.)  The Monster was well-behaved, and tolerated the walking from the light rail station to the gates of the ballpark, and then around the park while we meandered on Eutaw Street, ducked into a customer service center to get first-time-to-the-ballpark certificates for the two of them, and then around to look for a few things on the lower concourse.  This was followed by heading upstairs to our seats on the upper tier behind home plate, and settling in while the crowd was still very sparse.

Two things that always jump out at me when we’re at an event for families with Autism are the wide variance of severity of symptoms, and how parents handle that range.  In our case, we’re very fortunate – the Monster’s issues in public are actually fairly minimal, and for all intents and purposes, he just seems like a slightly “off” five year old.  There were a couple of occasions where it did get loud and he clamped his hands over his ears, but that was the exception more than the rule.  We had children in our section who were wearing noise-dampening headphones, or were wrapped in blankets or other clothes to apply pressure, or wearing t-shirts with contact information on them in case the kid got away in the crowd.  (We would have put a childIDCode sticker on him if we’d thought about it, for exactly that reason.)

One great thing about Oriole Park at Camden Yards – it has perhaps one of the most liberal “bring in to the park” policies in the entire league.  Literally, as long as it’s not alcohol, and it’s not a glass container, you can bring it in.  You want to bring in some bottles of water?  Great.  You want to bring in milk for your kids?  Super.  You want to bring in a pair of foot-long sandwiches from Subway?  Awesome.  You want to bring in the four things your child with Autism actually eats, so you don’t have to go roaming for an overpriced hot dog during the fourth inning and miss everything while you’re in line?  Super.

And afterwards, we took our time leaving the stadium so we wouldn’t have the same pressure on the train, meaning the Monster could sit for the ride back uptown to our car.  The baby was actually melting down more than he was.

I’m not saying that I’m chomping at the bit to go hit another ballgame in the near future, but…

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