I recently took a road trip to Sesame Place with my good friend Jen and her son Jakob, a young man on the autism spectrum that I have been working with for the past 12 years.
I have learned many lessons over the years from my friends on the autism spectrum in my profession as a play therapist. So after our weekend at Sesame Place, I reflected on our experience and realized I took away three important lessons.
I can’t think of a better place to learn new life lessons then the place I learned so much from in my own childhood, Sesame Street!
It’s such an amazing place. Walking the streets brought back a flood of memories. The neighborhood and all my favorite characters hanging out ready to meet us. Big Bird sits in his nest. Bert and Ernie hanging out. My personal favorite, Super Grover, patrolling the streets!
Sesame Place Lesson 1: Just Be Nice!
Sesame Place was the first theme park in the world to be designated as Certified Autism Center. The staff is so engaging and wonderful with all the kids there, especially those with challenges.
As someone who loves people with autism I can’t tell you how wonderful it feels to see other people treating your friends with respect and care instead of giving them a weird sideways look. (Although, to be fair, with those googly eyes it really was hard to see where the characters were really looking.)
Sesame Place Lesson 2: Love What You Love and Don’t Worry About What Anyone Else Thinks!
We spend so much time in our lives trying hard to fit in and be like everyone else, worrying about whether or not we’re cool enough, or if other people will think what we like is weird. What a colossal waste of time.
Jakob is 17. He loves Sesame Street! He thinks Elmo is great and he still gets so excited about the letter of the day! It is refreshing that he can enjoy this place without hesitation. We didn’t waste a single second of our time at Sesame Place worrying about what anyone else thought. We soaked up every last bit of fun we could!
“Oh my God there’s Snuffaluffagus!!! Hurry up let’s go meet him!” That may or may not have been a direct quote from me, or it could have been Jen, we both love Snuffy!
I think Jakob could have cared less about meeting Snuffy but he’s such a good friend he went and got his picture taken with him for me and his Mom.
Sesame Place Lesson 3: Go With The Flow!
Just stop resisting and enjoy the ride! So many moments in our life we resist what’s happening right now, or wish we were somewhere else, it just makes the ride less enjoyable.
Jen and I were taught this valuable life lesson in Elmo World. We were on a water slide ride. As we waited in line Jen began to get more nervous, she hadn’t been on a water ride in a while and wasn’t sure she was going to like it. Jakob had never been on a water slide so we really had no idea how he might respond. I told them both how fun it would be!
I went down first. I sat on my inner tube and started down the slide. I headed into the tunnel and was plunged into darkness as I hurtled toward the pool at the bottom. I felt my body tense up as I braced for impact with the water. When I hit the water, the rigidity of my tense body caused my inner tube to flip. Into the water I went. I came up sputtering and laughing, but also aware that my friend Jakob was coming down next and I wanted to make sure he was going to be ok. Surprises like a nose full of water can be upsetting for kids on the spectrum. And for a 48 year old woman like myself!
Once I got out of the pool, I turned to watch Jakob. He was laughing, relaxed, and bouncing gently into the pool of water. He didn’t resist. He just accepted the moment and enjoyed the ride!
Jen still had to come down. I knew she was nervous so I wanted her to be prepared for possibly going under. She shot out of the tunnel and I have never seen a human body so stiff and rigid in my whole life. I don’t know how she came through the tunnel without snapping her legs in half.
I yelled, “Plug your nose, you’re going to go under!” She hit the water and sure enough under she goes. She came up sputtering and coughing looking just like I did on my ride.
We continued our day walking around Sesame Place with Jakob, who was smiling and laughing, not a hair on his head wet from his ride down the water slide. Then there was Jen and I, eyes red and bloodshot from the coughing and sputtering, hair wet and bedraggled looking, but we were smiling and laughing with Jakob. Because why not? It was a sunny day…
My trip with Jakob and Jen to Sesame Place gifted me with fun memories along with these lessons to treat people with kindness, enjoy life and all that it offers without worrying what others may think, and to be present and enjoy the ride. I am looking forward to next year’s trip.
About Susan Nelson
Susan has been working with children with autism for the past 26 years. She received her Bachelors in Social Work from Eastern Michigan University in 1992 and worked as a case manager with the local Community Mental Health Office providing services to families with children with special needs. When her own son was diagnosed with autism in 1998 she explored and learned many different treatment options, including The Son-Rise Program and dietary interventions. After his recovery Susan and her family moved to Massachusetts for several years so that Susan could complete the intensive training program at the Autism Treatment Center of America, and the home of the Son-Rise Program. Susan completed her training there and received her Certification as a Child Facilitator in 2005. She has been working with children and families as a Play Therapist since then. She is currently working on her Certification as an Aromatherapist through the Aromahead Institute.