After a long day yesterday - one that began when I stepped out into the dark, frigid morning at 5:30 to work out and continued through a full day of clients, one of those days when every break between clients involved a scheduled call - the best part of my day arrived. Date Night!
No, Matt and I didn't go out. In fact, I stayed at work. Matt and the boys had dinner, played games, and watched a video together back at the ranch.
Lorell (good friend, very talented colleague, and faithful Wonderwheel reader) and I hosted the first-ever Date Night at the clinic last night. This was an opportunity for the parents of our clients to drop their kids off and go out for about two and a half hours. For only $5 per family (just enough to cover the cost of the food), we did art projects, fed them pizza (we made a gluten-free casein-free one for the kids on that special diet, and ordered pizzas for the rest of us), showed a couple of videos, and generally let them run around and have fun. The mood was festive - they all love coming to our clinic during the week, and coming at night (and some of them in their pj's!) was a huge, exciting adventure. I wish I could show you the photos of these super stars from last night - so cute!
We took 10 kids (about half clients, half their siblings) and there were 7 adults volunteering our time. At times, we were really grateful to have that many adults! The children ranged in age from 5 months to 7 years old. As you might imagine, so many parents were interested that we have most of the 10 spots filled for the next one - and we haven't even set the date yet.
If you don't have a child with significant special needs, you may not realize what an enormous gap this would fill. While so many of us complain that it's difficult to find a great babysitter we can trust, and often impossible to afford the $12-15 hourly rates, parents with typically developing kids have got it easy. Imagine the difficulty involved in finding someone you can trust to care for a child with little to no language, a special diet, unusual sleep habits, and behavior that is often confusing for those who don't know him/her. Think about if your child had idiosyncratic communication habits and you knew what he wanted only by reading the most subtle cues - and not meeting his needs would result in a tantrum of massive proportions. Would you easily leave him to go out for a fun dinner with your partner? Now imagine that you pay an enormous sum out of pocket every month to cover therapies. Would you be able to rationalize spending the money on a sitter and that dinner or movie? I wouldn't. And neither can most of our clients' parents. Those without family support nearby reported that they hadn't been out together in a very long time. Some weren't even sure what they could do - we went so far as to suggest a great local restaurant and talked them through how it would work.
And yet. These parents are under more strain than anyone can imagine. Divorce rates are said to be higher among parents whose children have autism than in the rest of the population. They need a break, some fun, and time to connect with friends or their spouse - and they need it yesterday. Or maybe last year.
This is a win-win situation. We adults truly had a wonderful time with the kids. The children had a blast - our 7-year old (who walked in and said, "I'm ready to PAR-TAAAYY!") declared at the end, "This was the best party in the whole world!" The parents had a chance to catch their breath and reconnect, and all of them thanked us with tears in their eyes.
It was an incredibly meaningful evening. One of the best events in my career.
This morning we're planning the next one.