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Kindness and Community, a Positive Fair Experience for a Special Needs Child - by Tiffany Dwileski
My name is Tiffany Dwileski, and my son and I were fairgoers this past Sunday to this year's fair. He has Autism, and we had a very positive experience as a whole between the vendors and staff, the farm handlers, and the accessibility of the facilities at the fairgrounds. I wrote a short story about our experience, which I believe would make a great addition to the Columbia County Fair News section of your website. This story highlights positive attention to the awareness and inclusivity that the Columbia County Agricultural society has strived to achieve for those with special needs and disabilities.
His hand, and the strap to his safety harness, was held tightly while we walked down the fairground midway. Some stares could be felt. At six and Autistic, this was his first experience at the local fair; an adventure not thought possible in prior years. Sounds are too loud, too many lights. It was hot that day and there was little shade. He will attempt to elope. Everything that can make an Autism mom panic anticipating the needs of their child. “What is going to cause a meltdown next?” But he’s been working tirelessly for over a year on his ABA (Autism) therapy and doing wonderfully, he deserves a chance. Standing in line he’s being incredibly patient. Despite it being an unfavored activity, he’s all smiles as long as he’s engaged in babble with Mom. However, it is soon short lived and he starts to become restless, that’s when a kind man walks up. “Do you already have tickets?”, the answer was no. Suddenly a free pass was presented, compliments of one of the fair vendors, and we didn’t have to wait in line any longer.
At six he had a passion for flightless birds, and over an hour was spent in the poultry section of the fair. He flapped and danced, jumped and squealed in front of two white ducks. Running away and coming back. Bending over and staring, smiling ear to ear, saying “Quack! Quack!”. Moving onto sheep, he bent over and stared at their faces, made noise and danced. There were onlookers who smiled, but he didn’t seem to notice as he was thrilled to be with the animals. Getting to the cows meant leaving the shade and walking to another barn. His eyes were sun sensitive and he often couldn’t tolerate a hat, walking took time and patience. Lots of crying and saying “NO”. It was time to visit the “sensory space”, an adaptive lowly lit quiet space that is air conditioned for people to come who need some time for desensitization or calming. He enjoyed this very much, got time to relax, and was soon ready to see some more! Once reaching the cow barn, he walked right in and sat in an open chair along a row of farm handlers. They smiled at him, he smiled back and put his arm around one woman, his head on her shoulder. They babbled back and forth. They all knew and understood he had special needs and welcomed his friendliness.
While walking back he unexpectedly pointed to the shaded picnic bench. It is hard not to automatically do everything for him, and it is heart melting to see him sit on the end on his own. Of course he signed for “fish”, and the bag was left on the counter at home. The next sign, “hungry”. Cheeseburgers are his favorite…we’ll start there; signing to him “good boy waiting” and he’s pleased. He however is not pleased with waiting for it to cool down. Cries and shrieks emanate from behind his tablet. Panicking inside, trying to keep a poker face, and trying to blow on a split apart steaming fry all while signing “wait”. “Wait. Please wait”. A French fry suddenly was present in the air, being held by a gentle, wrinkled hand. Attached to that hand was a kind, older gentleman across from us who then whispers, “here’s a cold one” with a smile. Kindly thanking the gentleman for saving the day, the fry exchanges hands to the little boy who stares at it with relief, gobbles it up, and quiets down. After this exchange, a conversation struck and we learned about Sensory Day. Day one of the fair on Wednesday there is Sensory time between 12 and 4 with no lights or sounds so sensory sensitive fairgoers can enjoy all aspects of the fair. We will be sure to come next year during Sensory Day.
Random acts of kindness helped make this fair experience a pleasant one for our family. The level of appreciation for increased public awareness and inclusivity of Autism and other special needs here at this local fair is vast. Having community support for your child to be able to participate in the same activities as other neurotypical children makes all the difference when it comes to growth and development of the child and the family as a whole.