July 27, 2013

Autism, Dorney Park and the Kindness of Strangers

A day at an amusement park with a child who has autism can be challenging and stressful, though not so much when the destination is Dorney Park in Allentown, Pennsylvania.  My son Justin obsessed and talked about little else for weeks.  He was so excited that we moved up the date.  On an unseasonably chilly summer morning, Justin, his sister, her friend and I headed off to Dorney Park. 



Justin knew which rides he wanted to go on and in what order.  Which brings us to the Stinger.  During that one minute and 30 second roller coaster thrill ride, Justin's prescription glasses flew off his face.  This is where the day could have ended in disaster.

I took Justin to the car so he could be in a quiet place with little stimulation while his sister and her friend searched for the missing glasses.  From the parking lot, I called ride services and spoke with a supervisor who told me there was nothing he could do and that we would have to wait until 10:00 pm when the park closed and the rides were turned off before we could get any help in our search.  I was crushed.  I thought that weeks (four) of anticipation and planning were down the drain and that we would be heading home.  I didn't cry.  Not yet.

Imagine my surprise when shortly after returning to the ride, a crew of uniformed employees arrived to help us in our search.  A supervisor gave instructions and the reinforcements were off.  I don't know if they closed the ride to clean up throw up (which they did in fact do) or to look for the glasses, but either way the Stinger was out of commission long enough for them to search the places we couldn't go.   

One young male employee ended up saving the day.  He, on his own initiative, started searching moments after Justin finished the ride.  He said he wouldn't stop looking and, by golly, he was true to his word.  He found one lens and, eventually, the other which was far away from the first.  I wish I would have hugged him and given him a reward because he deserved both.

The frames never resurfaced, but with the assistance of two first aid employees, I was able to tape Justin's prescription lenses on top of a pair of weak reading glasses I found in the bottom of my purse.  His sister said he looked like a minion from Despicable Me, but the MacGyver fix worked and we were able to stay and enjoy what was left of the afternoon. 

Here is Justin wearing his minion glasses.    


I would like to thank Keith Koepka, Director of Operations, for his kindness, and all of the employees of Dorney Park who worked together to make Justin's day a happy and memorable one.  Thank you for the tears of joy and relief.

~Merrill

Note:  Many people with autism easily become anxious and overstimulated, Justin included.  If you have a child with autism and are planning a trip to Dorney Park, I recommend you check out their Tips for Guests with ASD page, as well as Ann Schlosser's and The Autism Society's amusement park guides. 

22 comments:

Kim Mckeown said...

Merrill - we are season pass holders and have thought their employees are so nice! In fact my teenage boys have commented on how "cool" some of the ride attendants are. Reading your blog warms my heart and confirms there are good people in this world who help to make a difference! And knowing Dorney Park goes out of their way to make people feel welcome and cared for makes me want to continue going year after year. Big hugs to them for caring enough to make the world a little brighter!! :)

Anonymous said...

it is so nice to hear of kindness and employees going above and beyond to serve. The recipient of the good deed may not be able to thank you, but his many friends and family appreciate the extra effort.

Mary Ellen Mahan said...

Kudos to the Dorney Park employees who were so helpful. When customer expectations are exceeded we tend to be surprised and grateful these days. Share your story and your reader's comments with park management so they know how their team affected your visit, your experience and your delight with Dorney Park. One last point....let me know when you go back this summer. I want to come!

superbeena said...

This is a great story! The Dorney Park associates did not HAVE to do what they did, but clearly they saw how important it was to you and Justin and did the right thing. I love hearing stories like this. Too often we hear negative stories, but these great morsels are more important, showing people have hearts and do care about strangers!

And Merrill, you are so clever! I love the glasses. What a great Mom you are to Justin. Looks like everyone had a great day and now you have a cool story to share.

Fran said...

How wonderful! I learned something new today about special services for park visitors. Way to go Dorney Park employees!

Anonymous said...

Love to hear when people go out of their way to do nice deeds ... it makes us all feel like we should share the kindness .... kudos to Dorney!! I think Justin should be in their next commercial!

Fran said...

I learned something new about park services today. Way to go Dorney Park!

Pamela Wentzel said...

I have been going to Dorney Park for as long as I can remember. Our experiences have always been wonderful. It is so nice to hear that there are still people (teenagers probably) that did this for you and Justin with nothing in it for them. Especially after the Dorney "officials" said there was nothing they could do. I am so glad you and Justin got to enjoy a full day at the park and didn't have to cut it short.

Nancy said...

It is so good to know there are businesses and people, especially young adults, who care and are sensitive to others' needs. Going above and beyond to find this young man's glasses is the kind of news that should be headlines and front page. I like that the park also has programs and plans in place to help those in need of special services. You are all to be commended and I will recommend your park to others traveling in your area! God bless you!

Tami said...

So glad your day with Justin was saved - kudos and thanks to the park employees! It's always nice when employees go out of their way to help and these folks should be recognized/commended by their employer for their above & beyond efforts. Much ♥ and hugs to you!!

Anonymous said...

I have been going to Dorney Park for as long as I can remember. Our experiences have always been wonderful. It is so nice to hear that there are still people (teenagers probably) that did this for you and Justin with nothing in it for them. Especially after the Dorney "officials" said there was nothing they could do. I am so glad you and Justin got to enjoy a full day at the park and didn't have to cut it short.

Anonymous said...

Great to hear! Nbm

Anonymous said...

So glad to hear that Dorney has employees that are willing to go above and beyond. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. I am especially glad that what could have been a "terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day" for Justin was averted and he was able to have a wonderful experience instead.

susan cleaver said...

What a great finish to what could have been a very rough day! I love when employees anywhere go that extra mile to help an individual - esp for someone with special needs! Thank you Dorney Park for recognizing what needed to be done, and getting it done!

Anonymous said...

It is inspiring to know that Dorney has such caring employees. I am sure it can't be easy to stay enthusiastic when working the same rides all summer long, but I have always felt that the youths they employ put their best face forward from the beginning until the end of the season, remembering that although it's Dorney Day every day for them, for some, like Justin, it is the best day all summer. I am so glad to hear that the workers were able to find both lenses! It would have been so easy to give up, but instead they did the seemingly impossible and saved the day for Justin.

Anonymous said...

You don't have to go all the way to Walt Disney World to feel the magic.

Accidents happen. Things get lost. But how do you explain that to a young man with autism who, for weeks, has anxiously anticipated his Dorney Park roller coaster adventure? It was the wind that grabbed his eyeglasses and sent them flying. But all was not lost. With Tinker Bell nowhere in sight, the park supervisor, workers, and strangers swung into action. Even firstaid people supplied tape to his brilliant mother who, minus the missing frames, creatively attached the retrieved lenses to a low strength pair of her own glasses.

My friends, in a world committed to warring with one another, love and selflessness ruled the day. Magic wands all around.

BA

Tracie said...

It's always great to hear when people go out of their way to help others! So awesome that the park employees even tried to help, and that they were successful in finding the most important part of Justin's glasses -- the lenses!! I'm so glad his memories of the day will be happy ones. And even better that you have such a positive story to share!! :)

Sue Petura said...

Merrill, my heart is so warmed that the attendants at Dorney Park not only heard the pain in your voice, but knew that they were the only ones who could help by stopping the ride and searching for the glasses. Thank them profusely for all the other "Justins" who will come to Dorney Park knowing they have friends who will help them when they are in crisis - friends who understand the urgency and immediate need for assistance.

Anonymous said...

It's nice to know the kindness you share comes back to you! Kudos to Dorney Park employees for making Justin's day everything he was hoping for! So heartwarming.
Linda

Katherine Nolden said...

I love this! This is the way a business should be run! Love you both and I wish I could visit Dorney Park!

Susan Gorn said...

What a great story! I'd been wondering if 2 doddering grandparents would be up to a day at Dorney Park with a 5-year old, This makes me confident the great staff would gladly help us out, f need be. Definitely putting this on our summer to-do list.

Laurie Gable said...

With the times we live in, this story was a breath of fresh air. This park should be honored to have gone above and beyond all expectations to assist one person so Justin could enjoy his special day. Being a Mom, I know the gratitude I would have felt to the employees had they gone to such lengths to make one of my own feel so happy.
This is one of those stories that restores my faith in the human race. We ALL need more of this.