McDonald's Went 'Above and Beyond' After a Boy With Autism Lost His Happy Meal Toys

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One Irish mother is calling her nonverbal son with autism “the happiest boy in Ireland” after receiving a surprise shipment in the mail.

Nicole Duggan, 27, is mom to Riley, a 2-year-old who has a penchant for Angry Birds-themed Happy Meal toys from McDonald’s.

So when Riley misplaced several of his favorite toys — and an hour-long search for them turned up empty — mother and son were both devastated.

Duggan decided to email McDonald’s to ask if she could buy any extra of the toys for her son, but was pleasantly surprised by what happened next.

The next morning, she and Riley woke up to a package from McDonald’s containing the burger chain’s entire Angry Birds toy collection.

“He couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw them,” Duggan told The Mighty.

 

LOVELY GESTURE – We’re speaking to Cork mum Nicole who was overwhelmed by this lovely gesture from McDonald’s for her…

Posted by Corks RedFM 104-106 on Wednesday, July 20, 2016

 

Duggan was so touched by the gesture that she reached out to local Cork radio station RedFM to share Riley’s story:

Anyone who has a child with autism knows how hard it is for them to take to new toys and it is very rare for them to find something they love,” Duggan told the station. “To most people this would be a stupid delivery to get, for my little boy it was like Christmas morning!!! McDonald’s went above and beyond for my small man and I can’t thank them enough.

For Riley, the gesture was especially meaningful, Duggan said.

“Being nonverbal, he cannot get his feelings across, so he couldn’t tell me why he was upset and it just built up and he was so frustrated,” Duggan said of her son losing his toys. “It just shows how something so small can make such a difference to a child with autism.”

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Learning to Drive as Someone on the Autism Spectrum

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I was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum when I was 15 years old. Back then, I really didn’t know what that meant. So I focused on other (seemingly more important) things. My biggest focus was getting ready to learn how to drive!

Like most people who want to get their driver’s license, I was so excited when I finally turned 16. But when I asked my parents about it, they were very hesitant at first. Of course, I didn’t understand at the time. I just wanted to drive. My parents needed to figure out the best way to teach me, though. So it took another full year before the process began.

I started off with a typical driver’s education class, but I couldn’t handle the class itself. The workload was stressful, and there were so many other kids in the class that I just couldn’t focus on anything. My mom found a special mail-in course I could take instead. I read over a large book and had to take a test after each chapter with a licensed teacher watching. It worked. I passed the course and eventually got my learner’s permit.

Then the real work began. I will never forget that first day my dad took me out to practice. We arrived at an empty parking lot. My dad told me to get out of the car, and he brought me to the front of it. He instructed me to simply feel the hood of the car, and then to imagine it hitting something at 35, 45, or even 55 miles per hour. I truly began to understand and respect the power of the vehicle.

It was time to learn how to drive the car, and I realized it was a lot harder than I thought. As someone on the autism spectrum, I felt overwhelmed getting on the road with other cars. I started off in a business corporate center that had a road looping around, and it was probably another six months before I was ready to venture out onto an actual road. Then I would drive around outside the corporate center in a slightly larger loop, ending by going back into the corporate center where I was comfortable.

After about a year of practice, I passed my driver’s test. I’m so happy I learned how to drive. I actually found out later that my parents didn’t know if it would be possible, but they decided to let me try. I’m glad they did. Even though I’m limited on the places I can drive to, at least I have a little bit more independence.

I struggle with areas of construction and large highways. If there is a detour, I get extremely nervous. And since the GPS is distracting to me, I need to know exactly where I’m going before I leave. But I’m able to drive locally, and my loop has gotten larger over time. My autism diagnosis might have slowed me down at first, but I’m still moving forward!

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When You and Your Autistic Child Need 'Roadside Assistance'

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Imagine your body is a car engine.

Sometimes it ticks along quite nicely, cruising down the smooth road with no bumps, potholes or distractions. When your engine is purring like this you can relax and take in the view, enjoying the ride as you go.

For my autistic son, this smooth road is his comfort zone. On this road he is at his most independent and communicative. He knows where he is, it’s safe, familiar and predictable. He needs nothing more from me than simply knowing I am there in the background should he need me, like a roadside assistance card in his back pocket. He knows I’m there to fall back on.

Now imagine you didn’t sleep well at all last night and you’ve been awake for hours worrying about something, so your engine is running a little sluggish today. The road has become harder to maneuver, and see you’re way past any obstacles. The bright sun could be dazzling your vision or the traffic may be building up around you, and you can’t see your way through. Your engine begins to overheat, and you need help.

When this happens for my son, it becomes harder for him to be independent. His vital functions start to slip, and his ability to communicate steams away from him. His engine overheats, and the alarms set off telling me there is an unseen problem occurring. My role as his parent then becomes like the recovery truck that restarts his engine. I patch him up and follow him home to make sure he arrives safely. Or I become the onboard Sat-nav that talks him through the busy city center in a calm voice to get him home in one piece.

Finally imagine yourself speeding along an unknown road and your brakes won’t work.

You can’t stop yourself.

You’re no longer in control of what’s happening to you or your engine, and panic sets in. You feel like you could go over the edge of the cliff at any moment. Or your engine becomes so overheated that you can’t carry on anymore. You’re at crisis point, and all functions shut down.

For my son, this is where I become the emergency services that recover him and get him to safety. My tool kit of love, instinct, and resources enables him to scramble to safety and begin to recover. I carry him home and protect him from the glares of ignorance that pave the way on this road. I forward think, and helicopter around him ready for the explosion that could come at any second. On high alert (just in case) at all times, my adrenalin is pumping and I can feel his pain as if it were my own.

This is our daily life.

The road my son is on from minute to minute dictates how his engine will cope. The environment is the single biggest factor that controls his ability to function in our neurotypical world. He has good days and bad days, and so I float in between being the recovery contact card in his back pocket to being his blue flashing lights of recovery from hour to hour and day to day.

But sometimes as a family we step out of our comfort zone for more than a few hours — like we did this week on our family holiday.

A week on an unknown, unpredictable bumpy road.

So this meant my son’s engine was on overdrive for not a few moments, hours or even days, but for a whole week. His little engine was working really hard every second of the day to cope with every new smell, sound and sight he faced.

And as a result, I was on high alert too… 24/7.

Unlike when we are at home and he is in his comfort zone, on holiday I didn’t have time to build up my energy and recoup myself. So by day five, both my son and I were tired.

Tired on being on high alert all the time.

I became aware I was becoming snappy with him, and finding myself wanting to withdraw more and more. I got cross with myself for feeling like I needed a break. But simply put, I needed some roadside recovery. My engine was running low. I needed a top up too.

How could I be the recovery truck 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with no break and no top up of fuel?

Just as I recognize and meet my son’s needs day to day, I too need to learn to recognize my own engine a little better too, and do something about it before I overheat.

My advice to fellow parents is this: find something that can be your roadside assistance card. Whether it’s a coffee break, a TV program you can escape into, or family member who can babysit while you have a bath in peace.

We all need a little help sometimes. We’re all human, and the bumpy roads we all find ourselves on can take its toll at times if we don’t take the time to have our own recovery procedures in place every now and again.

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How Pokemon Go Is Making the World Larger for My Son With Autism

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We have gone to the same beach house rental every summer for the past six years. Every year, my now 10-year-old son Jack who has autism and anxiety hates to leave the house. He gets anxious when we do new things or go to places he hasn’t been. He could barely tolerate the beach. It is too hot, too sandy, too wet, too windy. It is sensory overload. If we can get him to go on the beach, it is short-lived and one of us has rushed to get him back to the house before or during a meltdown.

The last summer we were here, walking on the boardwalk was filled with anxiety and the fear of people looking at him and following him. I explained that everyone was just walking to the same place, they were not following him. It didn’t matter what I said; he was happiest when he was in the house. He has three older siblings, so we would take turns staying at the house with him.

This year, the day before we were to leave, my 17-year-old daughter showed him the Pokemon Go game. He was hooked. He asked to walk up to the library, the ball field, the school. My child who hates to leave the house is asking to not only to leave it, but to walk!  I was intrigued, so he explained the app to me. This is the best app ever! The next morning when we left for vacation, there was very little stressing. It was filled with excitement and anticipation of what Pokemon we could catch along the way.

Rest stops are no longer feared with people looking at him and food he won’t eat; they are potential Pokemon catching spots. The beach was where you could catch water Pokemon, so off to the beach he went. In the process, he had fun at the beach. He built sand castles with his sister. He laughed playing in the waves. I watched as he slowly began to trust holding onto his father as he went a little further into the water.

For six years I have watched other families play in the ocean with their kids. This was the first time I got to watch my son play in the waves, and scream with excitement. He would look to me for reassurance now and then, but mostly he was making sure I wasn’t missing what he accomplished.

Jack has asked to walk the boardwalk multiple times a day. On the first day of vacation, a teenager was stopped by a bench on the boardwalk. He looked up at my son and said “Did you catch the Pidgey?” I watched as my son almost made eye contact with this boy and said yes. Jack quickly looked away, back at his phone, but I could see the pride on his face. He was succeeding at something cool. He was just as good as this random teenager at catching Pokemon.

One night I told Jack we were going to try walking a different way home from the boardwalk. He was not happy with me. I could tell he was getting stressed. It wasn’t the “normal” way we walked home, it was different. He began to talk rapidly, as he does when he is stressed. I almost suggested we turn back and go the “normal” way home, when an Ivysaur Pokemon appeared on his phone. We stopped walking, he caught it, and magically his anxiety started to dissipate. He was caught up in the excitement of catching that Pokemon; it no longer mattered that we were walking on a different street home.

My son has a very limited diet, and he has a hard time tolerating sitting at a table with unfamiliar food and smells. Going out to eat almost always ends with a meltdown. We would have someone stay back at the house with him, or take turns eating while someone sat in the car with him.

This year we all went to a restaurant that had outside dining. We were able to get a table and sit outside on a porch. My son was able to walk up and down in front of the restaurant where we could keep an eye on him catching Pokemon, while the rest of us leisurely ate our meal.

Tonight as Jack and I were walking back home from yet another trip to the boardwalk, a group of preteen kids on bikes stopped near us, shouting as they were trying to catch a Bulbasaur. Instead of turning away and hoping they wouldn’t notice him, Jack pulled out his phone and proceeded to catch the Bulbasaur too.  The kids rode off on their bikes, but Jack felt included, for he too was searching for Pokemon.

Jack asked me if people in Antarctica were looking for Pokemon. I didn’t know if they were, but what I do know is that Pokemon Go has made my son’s world larger… Thank you Pikachu!

The Mighty is asking the following: What was one moment you received help in an unexpected or unorthodox way related to disability, disease or mental illness? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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How Google Street View Helped My Driving as Person on the Autism Spectrum

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Learning to drive as someone on the autism spectrum was difficult enough. It took me years of practicing in familiar places before I could comfortably drive around my local area.

But then I wanted to be able to go further. People weren’t always around to be able to show me how to get to new places. I don’t remember street names very well, and GPS is extremely distracting to me. It’s hard to listen to the voice and process what it’s telling me to do. So I had to find a different way to expand my driving routes.

This is where Google comes in. More specifically, Google Street View. Some people may have used it as a way to virtually explore their favorite landmarks. But I used it to become more independent as a person on the spectrum.

Any time I wanted to go to a new place, I would pull it up on Google Maps. I’d look to see the furthest point on the map that I knew I could drive to. And then, I had to trust Street View to lead me to my destination. I’d slowly and virtually “drive” down the street, picking out my visual landmarks to help me know when I would turn or how far I was going. I could turn it nearly 360 degrees to see both sides of the street or what I had passed. I could even zoom in on some signs to read what they said.

All of this was so helpful for me in expanding my driving range. I’ve used Google Street View to get to sensory friendly movies, out of the county and even just out of the state!

I may be a bit limited by things like construction zones or large, multi-lane highways. But now I know how to get around without having to rely on another person to show me the way. And that kind of independence is the best thing that Google could give me.

What’s a part of your condition you live with every day that others might not see? Explain what that experience feels like. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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The Upside of Playing Pokemon Go as a Person on the Autism Spectrum

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I’ve never been a fan of Pokemon. I had one card when I was in elementary school (And for those who are wondering, it was only Diglett, which was given to me as a throwaway card.) I have always felt it was a bit weird and confusing. And to some extent, it still is a bit confusing to me.

But then suddenly, there was a lot of hype about a new app called Pokemon Go. It was all I saw on social media. I was really curious to see why it was so popular. So one night, when I was a bit bored, I decided to download it.

I guess I’d call myself a fan now. Of course, I heed the warnings and watch where I’m walking. And I never catch Pokemon while I’m driving. I really don’t like how the game has me so obsessed so much that I can barely focus on everyday life. But there has been a major upside to playing the game.

Not only have I gotten more physical exercise from walking around everywhere, but I’ve found a way to get past the social anxiety and social skill deficits I have as someone on the autism spectrum. I’m talking to people I would otherwise not know how to strike up a conversation with. Instead of smiling nervously and then simply continuing on, I’m finding the courage to speak up and say “Hey, have you found Pikachu yet?”

And while the game’s popularity will probably die down and my everyday life will eventually settle into my old routine, I’m hoping I’ve learned something from this experience. I’m hoping I’ve learned a few ways to meet new people. I may never find Pikachu. But perhaps the game will help me find a new human friend.

What’s a part of your condition you live with every day that others might not see? Explain what that experience feels like. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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