When We Took Our Daughter to an Autism-Friendly Ballet Show

I have always enjoyed looking at the photos of my friends who are able to take their typically developing children to see and enjoy the performing arts, especially the ballet.

As much as my husband John and I try to enrich our daughter Samantha’s life with several different activities, this isn’t something we ever felt like we could do for her until last year when we took her to see the Houston Ballet Academy’s autism-friendly adaptive performance of “My First Ballet: Coppélia.”

Monica McDivitt’s daughter, Samantha, with ballet dancers.

Samantha is 15 years old and was born with a chromosome 18q deletion, severe hearing impairment, autism and severe cognitive and developmental delays. She loves costumes and tights, so I decided to dress her like a ballerina for this event. Plus, I knew this was a way she would recognize something special was about to happen.

We were running late (as usual), but we made it to the Houston Ballet Center for Dance, picked up our tickets at will call and then we were kindly escorted to the front row.

Shortly, thereafter, the stage lights dimmed and the ballet performance began. Samantha looked around, smiled, giggled, babbled, flapped her hands, blew raspberries and kicked her legs with much delight. I was at ease because I knew she could be herself and no one would judge her, stare rudely or feel bothered by her behaviors.

I hadn’t been to a Houston Ballet performance in a very long time, so as it began, I was overcome by emotion, and a tear rolled down my face. I was happy and grateful to have this much-needed outing, and I felt a deep admiration for the ballerinas who were dancing so beautifully on stage for Sam and the other children, young adults and their families.

Monica McDivitt’s daughter, Samantha, with ballet dancers.

Although there was a moment when I couldn’t help but selfishly wonder what it would be like to have my sweet Sam wear their gorgeous costumes and dance just like them, I overcame that feeling, held Sam’s hand, watched her smile and appreciated the fact she was able to enjoy the beauty and expressiveness of the ballet just like everyone else.

Of course, this wouldn’t have happened without knowing my sweet friend, Kim Stafford, a former Houston Ballet ballerina who helped to spearhead this event. You see, Kim’s 10-year-old son Jude has autism. After she took him to adaptive shows for “The Lion King” and the Rockettes and discovered his excitement and fondness for the performers, she began to think, “Why not create adapted performances that allow a judgment-free trip to the ballet?”

So she did!

To this day our family is still thankful for the lovely one-hour performance of the story of Swanhilde and Franz and the freedom for our Sam to joyfully babble, shriek, hand flap, kick and blow raspberries at her first ballet!

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