A teen with autism who has a thing for vacuums recently had a dream come true: a vacuum salesperson gave a demo at his birthday party, then told him the vacuum was his to keep, and it moved the room to tears. The story's winning hearts around the country, and has special meaning for parents like me who have children with special needs.
Dylan Johnson has loved vacuum cleaners since he was two years old, reports WTVR. Kirby vacuums, in particular. As his 14th birthday approached, his mom, Jodie Green, emailed the Kirby Company. "I am reaching out to you in hopes for an answer to an unusual request for my son who is autistic," she wrote. "He has always been obsessed with vacuum cleaners. His favorite is the Kirby. He spends hours every day watching videos on his tablet about different Kirbys. When he isn’t watching videos about them, he is talking about them. I really would LOVE to get a demo done for him for his birthday. In fact, I am even getting him a cake made that looks like a Kirby vacuum. I am writing to you in hopes that you can get me in touch with a way to get him this demo."
What happened next is web history: Kirby sent salesperson Al Archie to do a vacuum demonstration at Dylan's party. "He knew more about the Kirby that I did," said Archie, who's been selling Kirbys for 25 years. "I have never experienced anything like that."
Oh, but I have, along with parents of kids with autism and other special needs. My 12-year-old, Max, has cerebral palsy. He has cognitive differences as a result of his condition, and over the years he's had various obsessions including the color purple, car washes, spaghetti, and currently, fire trucks. Max could easily show anyone all the parts of a fire engine, and also does an impressive imitation of a siren. For Max's recent birthday party, a local fire truck showed up at our house and escorted him to his party.
So, yes, I know what it's like to want to satisfy the interests of a child with a disability. For any parent, it's part of your general job description: Make your child happy. But like Dylan's mom, I also know that it takes a village—including firefighters and vacuum salespeople.