No one understands the tumultuous, yet exhilarating, ride that is life with a child with special needs more than someone who lives it. Freelance playwright, columnist and author Madelyn Sergel understands, as she is part of such a family. Her 13-year-old son Lucas has autism, and her 10-year-old daughter Isabel is neurotypical. Madelyn’s journey with Lucas and Isabel, and the stories of other families she has met along the way, served as inspiration for her play, Special Needs, which completed its run at the Clockwise Theatre in Waukegan, Ill., on March 27, 2011.
Special Needs is the inspirational story of a Midwestern family whose journey down the ever-changing path of raising a son with autism is held together by a mix of friends, faith, humor, and the steadfast support of one another. Madelyn uses the powerful storytelling ability of the stage to give her audience a candid glimpse into the inner perceptions and experiences of a teenage boy with special needs and the family members who accompany him through his not-so-typical life. “I believe every child, every person, has special needs,” she said. “We are all struggling to make sense of the world through our own particular fragile body and undulating senses.”
The play’s fast pace, mixed with humor, sympathetic characters, and even some video-game-inspired fight sequences, has allowed Special Needs to hit home with adults as well as teenagers. Explaining how the play successfully appeals to such a wide cross-section of people, Madelyn said, “Adults connect with the struggles facing the parents, the emotions of wanting to help others in their life but not knowing how, as they also juggle the multitude of everyday tasks we all face. Teenagers are engaged by watching fully realized, complex characters their own age on stage, traversing personal, school, home and sibling issues in a unique, honest way.”
Madelyn’s hope is that audience members will come away with an understanding that every person deserves the same amount of respect and courtesy, regardless of whether they behave “differently” in their everyday life. Realizing the importance of patience and empathy when interacting with individuals with special needs, and taking the time to understand that a person’s challenges are only one small part of who they are as a complete human being, is a part of that understanding. “I also hope that families which have a special needs member leave the theatre feeling validated and less alone,” she said. “The noble battles are the ones fought in the most common places.”
Having families feel validated and less alone is also the goal of Protected Tomorrows. We know how families can feel overwhelmed and unsure when making important decisions about their loved one with special needs. Protected Tomorrows helps these families prepare for every need they will encounter, both now and in the future.