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  • Writer's pictureHannah Johnston

A mother's plea for neurodiverse visibility; Leo's story.

Laurina V’s 5-year-old son Leo, like most children his age, loves trains, merry-go-rounds, and trips to amusement centres. As much as he grins from ear to ear when he's on the merry-go-round or riding the train, the road to get there is often stressful and exhausting, especially for Laurina. Leo is autistic and non-verbal. Understanding concepts like wait times and lineups is difficult for children, especially those with autism.

Leo's frustration when he has to wait in long lineups can boil over into what Laurina refers to as intense "meltdowns," which can lead to physical violence, screaming, and crying. Laurina has lived through these at many children's events, such as a fair whose long entrance lineup resulted in an unfortunate end to their day. The "meltdown" had become too much to endure, and she had to carry her son away from the site as he was kicking, screaming, and clawing at her arm, which she later realized was bleeding heavily.

These lineup-induced "meltdowns" have become reoccurrences during activities that are meant to be enjoyable for children and their parents. Most recently, at an incredibly busy pumpkin patch, Leo had his sights set on an electric train running through the patch. The lineup and volume of passengers meant they didn't get a spot the first go-around. A distressed Leo was relieved when the train returned, but moments later, a "meltdown" ensued when they were kicked off.

Laurina was unaware that tokens had to be purchased. When she pleaded with the train attendant and explained her son's situation, he refused the money she offered him and insisted that they would have to wait in a lineup for tokens.

Laurina burst into tears as her son was in extreme distress, which elicited dirty looks from other attendees. When a good samaritan offered her tokens to Laurina, they were let back on, and instantly, her son's day was made.

Now, she wants to raise awareness about the conditions that neurodivergent children face and how more needs to be done to accommodate their varied needs:

"A lot of autistic children's parents feel ashamed to ask for help and suffer in silence. I want to help other parents so they don't have to endure what I've been through."

She proposes offering a lineup alternative for neurodivergent children, much like the accommodations in place for children with physical disabilities at parks such as LaRonde.

Laurina no longer wants to be held back or hold Leo back from activities he loves.

"There needs to be a lineup specifically for neurodivergent children at fairs, amusement parks, and children's entertainment centres. I want to spread awareness so that there can be support and compassion from others. If they witness a similar situation, they can empathize with a parent's struggle."

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