The month of March was meant to kick off with a winning night at the BB&T Center. The Florida Panthers win their match against the Tampa Bay Lightning with a 4-3 scoreboard. This final score however was only a part to an already successful evening. The night had already begun hours before the drop of the hockey puck with the attendance of families with children that experience Autism. From start to finish this hockey evening was meant to be about these special families. Both South Florida Ford and the Florida Panthers hockey team joined efforts with the Autism Speaks organization to bring a night of awareness about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to our local communities and to the rest of the nation. The partnership provided families an opportunity to experience the excitement of the game in a supportive and safe environment. A section in the lower level of the arena was reserved for families and a Sensory Room with activities was created on 6th floor of the BB&T Center to allow for a quiet space.
It was an unforgettable night for families and their children. Families were able to enjoy a close view of the game and intimately see and feel the action, the thrill, and the exhilaration that the players exude when they’re on the ice. The Florida Panthers’ control and passing of the puck with team members throughout the game was a beautiful metaphor to the patience and the love that the families share with their children on a daily basis. These special families achieve admirable wins every day. These are both big and small wins that help transition children and teenagers in the Autism spectrum to successful lives once they become adults. Achieving these winning goals however are only possible with the extended caring support of family, community, and organizations dedicated to improving the lives of children, teenagers, and adults with Autism.
These wins for example are seen when spaces such as the Sensory Room are created for families to use during action packed sports events like hockey. The Sensory Room was a designated quiet space where families could step away in case the excitement of the hockey game became overwhelming. The Sensory Room was split into two areas. Children could safely run in the open space towards the back of the room or they could play with puzzles, coloring books, and other activities arranged in the first half of the room. And they did, before, during, and after the game.
When the children arrived to the Sensory Room before the game they either went directly to the tables set up with activities or to the small pool filled with colorful foam balls. These activities however were immediately forgotten when mascots Stanley C. Panther and Viktor E. Ratt stopped by to visit. Stanley and Viktor took many pictures with the children and also solved puzzles with them. However, the excitement in seeing the Florida Panthers players walk into the Sensory Room postgame was not only incomparable but the highlight of the evening. After the winning finish by the Panthers, the families returned to the Sensory Room and waited in excitement for the players. When the players walked into the room the children and parents quickly formed a semi-circle to personally meet the winning team. The players greeted their special fans individually and signed many autographs. And even after the children were greeted the players lingered a little longer to make sure everyone got as many pictures as possible. This interaction was special for everyone. And even though some children expressed their excitement differently and quietly, their excitement was palpable nonetheless.
The conclusion to the evening was the biggest win for the families and especially for the children. The winning night showed that the efforts of family, community, and organizations can bring joy and victories to everyone involved.
WORDS BY Ariana H. Magdaleno