When the hype first started on the TV about getting tickets for the Olympic Opening Ceremony, I gave little thought to the logistics. To be honest, I never thought I stood a chance to even GET a ticket. So when the news came that me and my son had been successful I was overjoyed - then the reality of getting there and watching the ceremony started to sink in!
I have Asperger syndrome and my ten-year-old son has autism, so it was no mean feat to work out how to get both him AND me from Lincolnshire to the Olympic Park. Moreover, to prepare my son - who cannot sit through an assembly of 80 children at his school for 20 minutes - to sit through an opening ceremony with 80,000 other people for four hours!
To look at the positives: I am no spring chicken at 51 and, with a lack of support, I have had to work out my own coping strategies over the years. This put me at a distinct advantage for the ceremony as I knew what difficulties my son might face. I can read him far better than someone who is not on the spectrum. We have also had a few trial runs with trips to theme parks and so on, so I know his strengths and weaknesses.
All in all, the preparation was easy. We had LOTS of pictures to look over in advance - thank heavens for Google Earth! It makes roads so much more accessible for us as all the buildings and paraphernalia are in view! Preparing for an 80,000 strong crowd was not so easy. We did look at images of groups of people and did multiplication and mathematics challenges (he loves maths) to prepare for the number of people. But there was one major issue I was concerned about: the queues.
The day came and we set off in good spirits. We were armed with plenty of good cueing cards, visual aids, ear defenders, space putty and his trusty Pac Man ball. I festooned him with warning signs explaining autism, an autism alert card and a badge which clearly stated he had trouble queuing and to please be patient. I admit I felt guilty and wondered why we should have to "advertise" our difficulties to the world. But for the sake of peace we took the easy option. All went well, the train journey was fine and the changes were fine. When we arrived we got on a London bus. THEN it broke down. I was absolutely furious when a person turned to Nathaniel and said "oh look, you broke the bus".
The atomic-scale meltdown that followed felt as though it was being witnessed by the whole of London as they stopped and stared at my poor little man, who was so sure he had broken the bus. He was devastated to hear that he would not make it to the Olympics and that it was all his fault. His head raced away with the worry he was now in trouble and would not be allowed in, and that he wouldn’t ever be allowed on another bus! Nothing was going to appease him as he melted down onto the pavement, resorting to head banging and self harming as he insisted that things were entirely his fault as he had broken the bus. No one and nothing could communicate anything different to him. 45 minutes later I thought we were heading for a record meltdown, but finally he was calm enough to communicate with again and so, assured he did NOT break the bus, he was NOT in trouble and WAS going to the Olympics, we headed off once more.
Arrival at the Olympic Stadium was met with shrieks of glee from my little man as we headed in. It is at this point I have to thank the wonderful volunteers at the site. They immediately identified us and sent us to a separate walkway where it was quiet, uncrowded and peaceful, so we were able to walk calmly up to the security checks. Once again we were welcomed and the staff and soldiers kept Nathaniel well entertained and happy - he did not even realise he was going through airport-style security. WELL DONE GUYS AND GALS!
From there we headed for food. Therein we hit a problem as there was not a single gluten-free food stall on site. Whilst there was a huge variety of food from around the world, I was thankful that we had been allowed to bring our own pre-packed food and snacks with us.
The time had come to enter the stadium. So far we had not been crowded or needed to queue, and as before we were ushered in quickly. Nathaniel had the task of finding the right number on the pillars to match our tickets, which he enjoyed doing. Our seats were at the back, with lots of space either side so we were not crowded in. He had light panels to play with which he waved and made pretty colours. And so we settled down for the show.
Drummers came and stood behind us and we got some lovely pictures of Nathaniel with them, but nothing could have prepared me for the feeling, let alone the noise, of 2000 drums, most of which were less than two feet away from us! Poor Nathaniel, ear defenders or not, he dived under the seat, hid under his blanket and wailed! I felt so helpless! But all was not lost. He came out, as they went to the centre of the stadium, pulled out his binoculars and started dancing! He later said the industrial section of the ceremony was his favourite part, especially the drums.
At no point was Nathaniel bored. I think the ceremony did Britain proud. We watched, we cried, we waved and danced. Nathaniel even waved all the flags he could when Team GB came in and shouted his head off, “GO GB! GO GB!” Then it was time to head off and although it was one o’clock in the morning, he was still full of life, singing and dancing.
I know autism covers a huge spectrum and sometimes it feels we are doing the right thing to protect our little ones from things as they may not accept it, or understand. However, they are resilient human beings and can surprise us as to what they can cope with. Given the right help and support, and especially the right amount of preparation work, they can enjoy a full and fruitful life and have wonderful experiences.
I am so glad I took Nathaniel to the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games. He has come home with a story to tell of a wonderful adventure, amazing sights and sounds and memories he will treasure for all time. Apart from the incident on the bus (which thankfully Nathaniel has forgotten), all went well and I was a very proud mum.
So do not be put off by any event. Just plan it and prepare for it and go for it! Your little ones will thank you! And the feeling you get is beyond description. I know the feeling I got when I saw my little man was so precious. Nathaniel can have the final word…
Standing in his best “Super Nathaniel Super Pose” in front of the Olympic Stadium: "I just saw the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony and it was SUPER EPIC!"