Sunday, 14 August 2016

Dan TDM On Tour

J has been a massive fan of YouTuber DanTDM for a long time. He got into watching the videos at first because Dan did a lot of Minecraft based videos, and I was happy for him to watch them as Dan keeps it ‘clean’ with his language and there are always warnings ahead of the video playing if it’s going to be something which will be inappropriate for younger viewers, such as ‘horror maps’ which I don’t let J watch as he tends to have nightmares afterwards.

You may know that one of the characteristics of Asperger Syndrome is ‘obsessive’ behaviour, which I think is a bit of a negative way of saying it, I prefer to say J has ‘passions’ rather than ‘obsessions’. When he is interested in something he likes to know everything to know about it, he immerses himself in it and he absorbs a wealth of information on the subject. DanTDM is one of his passions, I would go so far as saying that he is a hero of J’s. Nine times out of ten if J is watching a YouTube video, it will be a DanTDM video, and he refers to himself as “Team TDM” and his favourite colour is diamond blue.

Some months ago, I saw DanTDM post on his Facebook page about doing a tour of the UK with a specially written show. I thought it would be a wonderful thing to take J along to, so I was thrilled to discover that the show was coming to the Ipswich Regent theatre on August 13th, exactly a week after J’s sixth birthday. What an ideal birthday gift! To top it off, there would be a limited number of special “Diamond” tickets available – you could upgrade your standard ticket to a VIP one, and have the added experience of a meet & greet with DanTDM himself, a photo taken with him, and a special goodie bag of ‘exclusive DanTDM goodies’. It was expensive, but with the help of my parents and Daddy P’s parents we got ourselves three tickets for the show, and upgraded J’s to a Diamond VIP ticket.

We decided not to tell J that we were going to the show until his birthday. This was to prevent him becoming too worked up about it by knowing about it too far in advance, so we kept it a secret and after his party last Sunday once everyone else had left and it was just our family left, I told J about his main present, explaining that it wasn’t something we could wrap, so I’d made a poster to show him with the information on it. He didn’t seem very excited at the time, but he didn’t really take in what it meant at the time. Later that evening he asked me what a theatre show was, so I explained we would go and see DanTDM on stage doing a performance – he thought it would be like going to the cinema and watching a normal YouTube video on a big screen, so the thought of seeing the actual DanTDM in real life started getting J excited about the idea.

As the week progressed he was asking us things about the show, details like what the performance would be about (which we had to explain we didn’t know, as we hadn’t seen it and it was being kept secret until you went to see the show) He refused to watch the teaser trailer that DanTDM posted on his YouTube page as he said he didn’t want to ruin the surprise. I tried to prepare him for it as best I could, explaining it would be a long, busy day, that there would be lots of other boys and girls there and it would be crowded, noisy, that it would be dark in the theatre with bright lights on the stage that would probably flash around the crowd at times. It’s difficult to prepare any child for a new experience like that, but even more so when your child is on the autistic spectrum and is very sensitive to noise and lights.

On Thursday evening, we told him that we had upgraded his ticket to a Diamond VIP ticket, and explained what that meant. As the reality dawned on him that he was actually going to get a chance to MEET his hero, and have a photo taken with him, he became even more excited.

On Saturday morning, due to the VIP experience, we had to set out early to make it to Ipswich on time. J was up at 7.30 and making a picture to give to DanTDM when he met him. It took a little while of persuading him to get washed and dressed, because we kept saying that the show wouldn’t wait and if we weren’t there on time for the meet & greet he wouldn’t get the chance. We were ready and finally left at 9am.

We arrived at the car park next to the Ipswich Regent theatre just before 10am, and from there we walked to the Corn Exchange for the meet & greet. A long line of people was already waiting outside, so we joined the line and waited. At this point we had our first hiccup of the day, because waiting in a line is boring as we all know, and J hadn’t brought his stress ball to concentrate his energy on when he became restless, so he began getting quite upset and agitated. He didn’t want to hold our hands, or stand with us, he kept dancing about and getting quite stressed. Other people in the queue started staring, and while I am now beyond the point of caring about this, J is now at an age where is very aware of how others are reacting to him, so once he noticed the staring he became more upset. In the end Daddy P took him off for a walk while I waited in line, to calm him down. Once the line started moving again as people started being let in, Daddy P and J returned to me and we played “I Spy” as we shuffled towards the door.

We only upgraded J’s ticket to the Diamond VIP version, and as a child under 14 he had to have one adult with him, so at the door Daddy P had to say goodbye to us and just J and I made our way into the Corn Exchange.

It was well organised at this point. Our tickets were checked at the door, then we gave our names to a lady with a clipboard who checked us off and we got a raffle ticket, the number of which was our turn to go and have the meet & greet with DanTDM and have the photo taken. After this we went up the stairs to the merchandise table, and J chose a lanyard with the TDMTour image on one side, and a space for Dan to autograph on the other side. We went into the hall, and J chose seats to one side of the hall, where he could clearly see the big screen TV that was set up showing DanTDM YouTube videos.

There was a bit of a wait while everyone else came into the hall, and once everyone was in and seated they greeted us all and explained what was going to happen. Then DanTDM himself came out onto stage with his familiar “Hi, everyone” shout, which is how he starts all his YouTube videos, and the crowd went wild. J was sitting next to me in stunned silence, his eyes huge, and glued onto the figure on the stage. I must admit it was surreal even to me that this familiar person, whose voice I hear daily, was suddenly standing in the same room, so goodness knows how crazy that must have seemed to J.

Then Dan took his seat on the stage, within the prop used for the photos, and one of the staff announced that everyone with a raffle ticket number between 1 and 20 was to go and line up beside the stage. Our ticket number was 72 so I knew we would have a wait before it was our turn, so I concentrated on trying to ensure that J didn’t get bored while we waited. We went to the loo (I know that seems a bit weird, but I needed it by that point and it meant we spent about five minutes walking around getting to the loo, doing what we needed, and walking back from the loo again) By the time we were back in the hall, numbers 1-20 were about halfway through, so then we sat looking around the hall and I was pointing out some of the features like the circle seats at the back, the old light fittings in the big dome on the ceiling, we looked at the other people there and we admired various different DanTDM / Minecraft / various gaming t shirts, and hoodies, we spotted all the people with blue hair, those who had modelled their entire look from hairstyle to skinny jeans on DanTDM, we spotted people carrying pug soft toys (Dan’s favourite dogs), those with the official tour baseball caps on sale, those with lanyards the same as J’s, and J of course watched the video screen.

Numbers 21-40 went up to wait in line and J asked again what number we were, so then we worked out how long we had before it would be our turn to go and line up. At this point he started getting a bit anxious because where we were sitting was right by where the line was for going onto the stage, and with the full 20 people in the line, plus their parents, for their photos, they ended up blocking the view from our seats to the TV screen, so J didn’t have that to concentrate on, and he started noticing how many people there were around him, how noisy it was in the hall, and after rooting through my handbag for something to distract him the only thing I could find was a tin of mints, so he had a mint and then decided he wanted to lie on the floor under the chairs to feel safe.

People don't often see this side of J and I debated for a long time whether or not to share this photo. But this is his life. This is what he did in a packed room full of people to feel more secure and calm about the situation.

To give them their credit, I didn’t notice anyone in the hall bat an eyelid about this behaviour. If they did, they were discreet about it. While it is totally normal for me to see him doing things like this, and I could understand why he would find the cool, smooth wooden floor calming, in situations like that you normally find at least one person who gives him a funny look or stares at us like they can’t believe I am allowing him to do whatever it is he is doing, but this group of people didn’t make a fuss at all. Even the usher from the theatre who was in charge of the line of people waiting for their photo to be taken just glanced over at him and smiled at me.

By the time our group was called, J was more than ready for things to happen. If we’d not been in that group I don’t know how I’d have kept him entertained any longer. I may have messaged Daddy P and asked him to get us some lunch and meet him at the door to collect it, but as it was we just about managed to last and when numbers 61-80 were called J shot out from under the row of seats and galloped to the lady checking the numbered tickets and into the queue. We were behind another young lad and his mum who had a picture for Dan, and in front of them was a lad with his mum who had a knitted DanTDM toy that his grandma had made the night before, which impressed J no end as Grandma P does a lot of knitting so he had the idea of asking her to make him a DanTDM next time he sees her. They were both very nice and we chatted while we waited, and behind us was another family with two boys, plus mum and dad, and one of the boys was antsy about queuing as well so his mum took him to sit in front of the TV screen beside the queue, and J ended up sitting on the floor with them while I stood in line til it was almost our turn. The guy at the bottom of the stage steps was lovely and chatted to J and myself while we waited, and then when we were called up the stairs to stand at the side of the stage ready to go and have J’s photo taken he was vibrating with excitement and the guy realised that and was talking to him as well.

At last, it was J’s turn. He skipped across the stage to Dan full of confidence, and when Dan said hello he was laughing and said hello, and the pair of them sat and had a chat – J told Dan all about the picture he’d drawn so they had a chat about that and Dan complimented him on what a good picture it was, and thanked him for making the effort, then he signed the lanyard, and they had their photo taken and finally J got a high five from Dan and we left the stage. The whole thing had taken only a couple of minutes but J was so excited and so happy. Immediately after we got off the stage, we went to the lady in charge of the printer, and J’s photo rolled out of the printer as we stood there and was put in a special DanTDM Tour card. We went to the table where the goodie bags were set up and J gave his name, received his goodie bag and then it was time for us to head back outside and meet up with Daddy P.

One very happy little boy finally meeting his idol!

To be honest, I had hoped for the price we paid, the goodie bags would contain more goodies. Inside was a special edition DanTDM Tour t shirt (we’d emailed weeks in advance for what size would be required), a small packet of jelly beans and a bag of flavoured popcorn. The bag itself is a sport-bag style with the DanTDM logo on it so that can be used again, but after all the hype about the “special goodies” and the promise of “a limited edition t shirt and much more included” I had been hoping for a bit more. Luckily J wasn’t disappointed and was still skipping about because he’d actually met and spoken with DanTDM.

We were out of the Corn Exchange around midday, which meant we had an hour and a half until the show started down the road at the Regent Theatre. We walked back to the car and popped into McDonalds on the way to pick up some lunch, which we took back to the car to eat – though disappointingly J’s Happy Meal was missing the drink and the sauce which caused a bit of a hiccup as he started getting really upset about it until Daddy P shared his milkshake. We chose to eat in the car as McDonalds itself was so packed and noisy that even the brief time we were in there was an issue for J – he was spinning, trying to run away to find somewhere to hide, wanting to lie on the floor (not practical in a crowded McDonalds!) and was generally becoming quite a handful, so we took our food and went to sit in the car where it was familiar, and peaceful.

After eating lunch we headed to the theatre, and to be honest this is the bit of the day that was the most stressful. Although everything else up to that point had been busy and noisy, it had at least been well organised and because we had been told what was happening we could guide J and as long as he knows what is going on and what is happening next he copes well even in new situations. This wasn’t well organised and we didn’t know what was happening.

There was a massive line from the doors of the theatre down the road. So naturally we joined the end of it, thinking this is the line to get in. Ten minutes later, a guy selling programmes for the show came down the line and announced, “This is the line for the merchandise, so if you don’t want merchandise and just want to go straight in, you don’t need to be lined up here”. Well thanks for that, man selling programmes, but why wasn’t that clearly marked by some rope and a sign of some sort? So half of us who’d been patiently standing in the wrong queue then went around the line and through the doors into the foyer of the theatre.

In the foyer it was packed. There were people everywhere, it was noisy, it was confusing, and it was hot. We had tickets for Circle seats, and the doorway to a staircase marked “Circle” had a line coming out of it that went back out of the theatre doors, that seemed to include people waiting at the bar to buy drinks. We really didn’t know where we were meant to be going or who to queue up behind, so we kind of stood in amongst this mass of people to wait. Again, no guidance what was going on, who was waiting for what, a lady did come and ask us all whether we had Circle seats as she didn’t want Stall seat people waiting in the wrong place, but everyone did (apart from those who were queuing for the bar) but other than that it was very disorganised. J became agitated, we were in a massive crowd of noisy people and it was hot and sweaty, and he wanted to find somewhere quiet to relax but we had nowhere to go, it seemed ridiculous that they were letting people into the foyer and not letting us into the theatre itself because we just ended up getting more and more packed in and getting hotter and hotter, it was getting noisier and noisier … The inevitable happened, J started spinning and covered his ears and started walking backwards, which meant he was bumping into people, he didn’t want to hold hands with me or Daddy P and instead wanted to run around Daddy P in circles which was impractical because of how crowded it was, but the more we tried to explain the more distressed he became. Daddy P gave him the DanTDM Tour programme to look through to distract him, but he wanted to lie on the floor of the foyer to read it, which was impractical due to the crowd of people walking about.

I was on the verge of marching over to the bar and demanding that they let us into a quiet room for J to calm down as I could see he was teetering on the edge of having a meltdown due to this huge sensory overload, but fortunately at that point they started letting people into the theatre, and the line started shuffling up the stairs. J was still not calm and it was difficult getting him to walk slowly behind the group of people in the queue ahead of us, but we managed well until we got to the bottom of the stairs, when a couple came down the stairs against the rest of the crowd of people. Of course everyone else shuffled to the side to get out of their way but J had his hands over his ears and was staring at his feet so he didn’t realise the woman was coming straight toward him, and when I tried to tap his shoulder to get his attention to get him to move he freaked and stepped sideways, even more in the path of this woman – so she barged past him, a six year old kid with his hands over his ears looking at his feet in amongst this noisy, hot crowd of people, and she just marched by knocking him sideways into me as she did so. Of course Mama Bear raised her head and I growled at this woman about knocking my child out of the way and she could have said excuse me and how rude of her to be so obnoxious to such a small child, but of course she ignored me and instead her husband looked suitably ashamed as he scuttled along behind her.

Fortunately the line was moving quite rapidly by that point, so we continued to go upstairs and as we got closer to the door into the theatre J began to visibly relax. As soon as we were in and found our seats he was staring at the stage excitedly and bouncing in his chair, completely at ease again. It was darker than it had been in the foyer though the lights hadn’t gone down yet for the performance, it was noisy with the chatter of the audience filing in, but it was cool and now we were in the theatre and he could see the stage, J focused on that to help keep him calm.

Once again, the familiar “Hi, everyone!” rang out over the speakers as Dan came on stage and the whole place erupted – but instead of being bothered by the noise, this time J was well and truly part of it and he screamed, clapped, stamped his feet, cheered and booed his way through the show, completely immersed in it all. He was completely and utterly under the spell of DanTDM and all that was going on during the show, and he loved every minute of it.

I took the opportunity during the second half to pop out and visit the ladies room without the queue of hundreds, and while I was out I stopped at the merchandise table, which was also free of the crowd, and picked up a TeamTDM armband and an official TDMTour t shirt (J had seen other kids wearing them and announced they were cool and he liked them – since he hadn’t actually asked for anything from the merchandise stands and had coped so admirably with everything that had been going on, I thought it would be a nice additional treat to compliment the less than wonderful goodie bag)

After the show, we exited the theatre from the circle seats via a side door that lead us straight outside rather than going through the foyer. We got back to the car and took a moment to have a drink before we set off for home. J sat in the back talking about the show until we started off for home – then he was very quiet. It’s normal for him to chat constantly in the car, but if he’s particularly tired he will be absolutely silent, and that was how he was yesterday on the way home (with the exception of telling me as I did 60mph down the Bury Road from Ipswich that he urgently needed a wee … thank goodness I am prepared for events like that, so we pulled over and he used the Coke bottle from the boot!) After that he was quiet again til we got home – he was his usual bouncy self at home, chatting away and playing with a variety of toys for 30 seconds each before they were abandoned in favour of something different – I did his dinner and Daddy P took Baby A up to bed, then I took J up to bed at 8pm. I had been expecting him to still be very hyped following the day, but instead he collapsed in bed without argument and after I read him a couple of chapters of James and the Giant Peach he wanted to listen to his BFG audio book until he fell asleep – which was only a few minutes later.

As much as he enjoyed the experience on the whole, I think if I were to take him to an event like that again I would make sure we don’t leave the stress ball at home (I only had Chloe the cat in my bag and he announced after trying to use her to calm down that she just didn’t help) I would make sure that I had more to entertain him in the long queue, as I was woefully unprepared for the amount of waiting that had to be done, though it would have been hard to do much in the queue perhaps a pad of paper and a pencil so he could do some drawings while we waited would have helped. Also I would have taken his noise reducing headphones with us, except they have mysteriously gone missing so I am going to need to invest in another pair since they were so useful.

The confusion at the theatre I hope they will consider looking into for future performances to prevent children like J becoming overwhelmed, because he was so close to meltdown and if he had gone into one at that point I would have had to take him to a quiet room to calm down or else taken him out of the theatre and back to the car which would have been next to impossible once he was in full blown meltdown. I think it would have been better controlled with clearer signage outside for the merchandise line; not allowing so many people into the foyer until they were at the point of letting people into the theatre so it didn’t get so packed; perhaps an idea could be for them to adopt a similar idea to Manchester airport, which offers a ‘Blue Band’ option when you book your flights, which alert staff to invisible issues such as autism and allows autistic customers and their families to go through the airport without queuing and to be provided with a quieter space for calming down when necessary (Personally though I think most places like the theatre, all airports, train stations, bus stations etc should adopt this idea as it’s not easy getting a child like J out and about for events without meltdowns due to his sensory overload in those situations).

Altogether it was a very enjoyable day and I am very pleased we managed to get tickets and, more importantly, that we were able to upgrade J’s ticket to a Diamond VIP one. It really made the day extra special for him to meet his idol. It was an exhausting day for us all, but it is one that we will all remember for a very long time.