‘Are you bleeding?!’ I felt my husband’s chest rise. KNOCK, KNOCK. With each blow, I wanted to cry out.’: Family ‘in awe’ after railway staff’s acts of kindness for son with autism

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“My son and I were sitting on the couch scrolling through Facebook looking for silly animal videos when we came upon an advertisement for The Polar Express in Williams, AZ. Ty gasped and snatched my phone from my hands. I smirked as I watched him looking so grown up staring at the phone with such a serious expression. He then looked over to me with excitement in his eyes and pointed to the screen. I held out my hand for my phone and he leaned in, snuggling his head onto my shoulder. We watched the advertisement together again and again. Finally, I asked ‘Would you like to go ride on The Polar Express?’

Ty sat up straight, squealed with delight, and nodded his head yes. I smiled as I watched my son squeal and rock back and forth in excitement. I knew if he was doing his excitement stimming then he truly wanted this. I held my arm out and said, ‘Well then, come back over here and let’s take a look at the website.’ Ty quickly snuggled back in as I typed the web address into my phone. The Grand Canyon Railway site loaded and Ty started to point at the train. I laughed and said, ‘Yes! I see the train!’ We looked through every inch of the website and watched every video until my phone died. I told Ty I would have to ask daddy when he gets home. Ty nodded his head and ran upstairs to his room and grabbed anything he had that was train-related. He brought it back downstairs and played gleefully on the floor while we waited for daddy to get home.

Courtesy of Angie Swartout

Soon, we heard the garage door going up and Ty looked at me with excitement while pointing towards the door. I nodded my head and giggled, ‘Well, go get him!’ Ty stood up and excitedly ran to his daddy. Lloyd hugged him, laughing. ‘Well, hello to you too buddy!’ Ty grabbed his daddy’s hand and pulled him into the living room. ‘Hold on, buddy. Daddy needs to put his stuff down!’ Ty didn’t want to wait on slowpoke daddy so he decided to help by taking dad’s lunchbox off his shoulder and placing it in the kitchen. He then grabbed his daddy’s hand and pulled him to the couch where I was sitting.

Lloyd sat down and smirked at me, then looked at Ty. ‘What is it?’ Ty sat between us and pointed to my phone. I explained to Lloyd about Ty seeing the ad for The Polar Express and how Ty became so excited. I told him how much it would be and what came with the packages. Ty patiently waited while we talked. Lloyd took out his phone and pulled up the site. Ty scooted over to his daddy and snuggled in. As soon the website loaded, Ty squealed with excitement. Lloyd laughed and asked, ‘Do you want to go here?’ Ty jumped to his feet and bounced up and down signing yes, over and over again. Lloyd looked at me and I smiled back. Lloyd said, ‘I guess we can go,’ a loving smile on his face. Ty flew into his father’s arms and hugged him so tightly that Lloyd groaned out with a laugh. ‘Mercy! Mercy!’ Ty sat back down with us and we watched the website’s videos again and again that night.

As the weeks went by, Ty would come home and go to his calendar to mark off the days until he got to ride The Polar Express. He lived and breathed everything train during those days. Then, the day before the trip came. I arrived at the bus stop and he flew off the school van hugging me and every other person in sight. He snatched up his bookbag and ran to the car. We all giggled at his excitement. Everyone was so excited for Ty because we all knew one of his biggest dreams was about to come true.

When we arrived home, Ty pointed to the TV and said, ‘Choo choooooo!’ I laughed and turned on the movie Polar Express. Ty watched the movie over and over again until daddy got home. Ty was so excited during dinner he barely ate as we talked with him about the train. Once dinner was over, he swiped up our plates, silverware, and cups to put them in the sink. He gave us each a kiss and ran upstairs and put himself to bed.

My husband and I stood there, shocked, wondering what just happened. I mused, ‘Guess he’s excited?’ We looked at each other andgiggled. We went to bed later that night and stayed up talking for a few hours about how excited we were that Ty was going to experience something so magical. I rolled over with a smile and closed my eyes with visions of Ty boarding the train happily, singing with the cooks, drinking hot chocolate, and meeting Santa with pure amazement in his eyes.

Courtesy of Angie Swartout

The next morning we woke up to the sounds of our son in his bedroom playing patiently and waiting for us to wake up. My husband smiled at me. My husband and I got dressed and ready for the day, then went down the hall and opened up his bedroom door. Ty was jumping up and down, excitedly ready to go. We got Ty ready and placed the bags in the car. We took Ty’s service dog Luna out for one last potty and loaded everyone in the car.

We explained to Ty we had to take Luna to the doggy toy store to get a bath so she wouldn’t get fur all over everyone. We took Luna into the doggy spa and walked around the store looking at things while we waited for her to get done being pampered. Ty started to become upset because he wanted to go to the train now. He started to hit bags of dog food and my husband and I looked at each other in shock. I turned around and gave Ty the ‘mom look.’ ‘If you are going to be naughty, we will not go. Your hands are in time out.’

Ty looked down at the ground and placed his hands in his pockets. We walked Ty to a quiet part of the store to let him calm down and regain his senses. I walked him through taking slow deep breaths. I saw the look of disappointment on his face and knew he was telling us, ‘I don’t want to wait! I want to go now!’ I hugged Ty and said softly, ‘I know you want to go now, but it’s not time. We have to wait.’

I let go of Ty and pulled his hands out of his pockets and asked, ‘Can you wait?’ Ty shook his head ‘no’ very angrily. I sighed sadly and let his hands go. ‘If you can’t wait nicely, then we cannot go.’ I looked back at Ty and asked again, ‘Can you wait nicely?’ Ty grunted and signed yes. Soon, Luna was done being pampered and we were rushing out of the store. Ty jumped in the car and made sure he was buckled in and that Luna was safely in her seat next to him. I looked into the back of the car and asked, ‘Are we ready to go to the train?!’ Ty bounced in his seat and shook in excitement. ‘Ok! Polar Express here we come!’

The car ride was long. My husband and I talked and sang to the radio as Ty stared out the window, watching the world go by. We would stop to let Luna go potty and stretch her legs. Ty was amazing. Four hours in a car and not once was Ty ever upset or impatient. Then, we took the final exit. I looked back at Ty and he perked up and started to look around as if he was searching for something. My husband looked into the rearview mirror and called out, ‘We are almost there!’ with a smile. Ty shook with excitement and kept patting us on the shoulders, pointing out the windows. We turned into the hotel’s parking lot and there was a train engine! Ty pointed out the window and bounced in his seat.

Ty patted his daddy on the shoulder and pointed forward as if to say, ‘Come on Dad! Get a move on!’ We pulled around and parked the car. Ty patiently waited for the car to turn off and for us to give permission for him to take off his seatbelt. As soon as the words, ‘Ok buddy’ slipped from our mouths, his seatbelt was off and he was opening the door.

When we got to our room, Ty went to the window and looked out. Our room faced the Railway and Restaurant. There was no getting Ty out of the window! We explained to Ty that we had to wait to go to the train. Ty nodded his head and went back to staring out the window and waited.

Finally, the time had come. It was time to put on the pajamas, go to dinner, and then the train. Daddy told Ty that it was time for a bath so we could go to the train. We braced ourselves because normally it is a struggle to get Ty to take a bath, but to our surprise Ty went straight to the bathroom and did not protest at all! Ty quickly put on his pajamas and came out of the bathroom all smiles. I put Luna in her matching pajamas and placed her vest on. I asked Ty if he would pose for a picture, and like all teen boys, he grunted and stood looking annoyed. I laughed and took the picture. ‘Ok! Let’s go eat dinner!’ Ty patted Luna and the two set off into the hallway with daddy.

Courtesy of Angie Swartout

We walked into the restaurant and saw the front was a gift shop with everything a train enthusiast would ever want. We marveled at the toy train chugging by overhead. Everywhere you looked there were trains and Polar Express themes. As my husband and I looked around in amazement, our son became quiet. We looked back and saw Ty’s expression had changed from excitement to being solemn. We said, ‘Ok, let’s go eat.’ As soon as the words slipped from my lips, Ty went down to the ground. My heart sank and I looked around in a panic. I dropped to the floor thinking Ty was upset we were not getting on the train and whispered in his ear, ‘You will get up now or no train.’ I did the deadly mommy count to three, but my son wouldn’t budge.

Daddy then knelt down telling Ty to get up, yet nothing. Then to our dismay, Ty let out a scream. Luna immediately went to Ty. This is when we knew Ty was not being bad, but that he was overwhelmed. I sat down on the floor with Ty and had Luna lay with him. I spoke quietly and happily with Ty. Luna did her tricks for Ty and did every command Ty asked of her. Ty’s tense demeanor finally relaxed and we got him to his feet. He still did not want to go into the restaurant and the panic started to set in. I looked around the gift shop, searching for a quiet safe place for my son to go. My eyes settled on a display of rocks that children can dig through and pick out stones to place in a bag and take home. I led Ty to the display and he shoved his hands in the smooth, cool, brightly colored rocks. I lightly spoke with Ty as he ran his hands and fingers through the rocks. Lloyd calmly asked, ‘Would you like some of these rocks to keep with you in case you need them again?’ Ty started to pick through the rocks and place them in the tiny bag. We took them to the cashier where he proudly placed them on the counter.

Once they were paid for he placed them in his pocket. I asked, ‘Are you ready to eat now?’ Ty nodded his head yes and we walked into the restaurant. There was a kind woman that asked where we would like to sit that would make our son the happiest. My anxiety level dropped instantly when I said, ‘As far away and as quiet as possible.’ The woman smiled and led the way. As we walked, she leaned in and said, ‘I have a child on the spectrum as well.’ She smiled a smile that said, ‘I know and understand.’ My husband and I thanked the woman over and over again. While we ate, Ty became himself again, laughing and having fun.

That’s when my husband asked, ‘Did you see what they did when he was having his meltdown?’

‘No,’ I mumbled with my mouth full.

‘They routed everyone around us so we would have room for Ty.’

My fork made a loud CLANK as I dropped it in amazement. I gulped down the bite I had been working on and gasped, ‘You’re kidding me!’ My husband took a bite of his mashed potatoes as Ty was placing a napkin on his head and shaking his head no.

I leaned back in my chair in amazement. ‘Huh,’ I uttered in disbelief. I was shocked. Normally people stand around staring at us and saying horrible things under their breath. This was the first time I had ever experienced a business that actually helped with the situation. I wiped my mouth and said, ‘I’ll have to make sure I email the manager and tell them about the amazing job the staff did at the restaurant.’ Lloyd nodded his head and then tickled Ty for snatching a roll from his hand.

Courtesy of Angie Swartout

When dinner was over, we all got up and walked to the door. I thanked each staff member we passed for helping us the way they did. As we walked out the door, Ty looked around in amazement at all the Christmas lights. Lloyd and I happily pointed everything out. We reached the train platform early. We were worried after the first meltdown that we should test the waters when not so many people were there. To our delight, Ty was excited and fine. So, we walked around, admiring a train engine and taking pictures.

Ty was way too busy looking at everything to be bothered to smile, let alone look at the camera.

Ty’s head shot back and forth from the conductor to the train. The train let out a mighty hiss as it settled into position, and then you could hear the conductor yell out, ‘The Polar Express!’ We looked at Ty excitedly and our hearts immediately sank seeing our son’s state. Ty threw his hands over his ears and started to rock back and forth, moaning. I shot up quickly, knowing what this was. This was the start of a meltdown. I tried to get my son to his feet to get him to a quiet place, but it was too late. Ty slid off the bench and onto the ground.

Luna hopped to her paws, her ears on alert with a look of ‘time to work’ on her furry face. She hurried over to her human to nuzzle him and Ty shoved her away. Luna attempted to lay next to him to give him deep pressure therapy but Ty swatted at her. I looked at Lloyd with panic in my eyes and told him to take Luna way. Lloyd refused at first, not wanting to leave me alone. I leaned in and whispered, ‘Take her now. I don’t want her to get hurt.’ My husband shook his head no. I knew he was thinking, ‘I  won’t let you get hurt,’ but I knew if anyone was to calm him down it was me. I placed my hands on my hips giving my husband the death stare and pointed for him to go. My husband, reluctantly, took Luna away to a safe distance.

I knelt down next to my son and tried to talk to him.

‘We have to get up. The train is here,’ I said softly.

Courtesy of Angie Swartout

He screamed and threw his elbow. I leaned back quickly and felt the whoosh of his elbow whizzing past my face. I knew being down on the ground was not smart, so I stood up. I stood behind my son and placed my legs against his back so in the event he was to throw himself backward he wouldn’t hit his head on the bricks waiting below. I slowly inched him towards the train happily saying, ‘There’s the train! I can’t wait to get on it!’

Ty screamed and rammed his elbows painfully into my legs again and again. With each blow, I wanted to cry out in pain, but I didn’t. I kept the pain in and kept singing softly, ‘Let’s go! It’s time for the train.’ As I sang, I looked ahead at all the staring faces and whispers. I kept my head held high and kept singing and holding back my tears each time my son’s bony elbows would meet my shins.

As we slowly inched towards the train, I felt a soft hand on my shoulder. I look over and there was a kind, smiling face of a woman. ‘Is there anything I can do to help?’ she asked softly. I wanted to cry. I was so thankful someone cared enough to actually offer to help. ‘No thank you,’ I said with a sad smile. I didn’t want to take the chance that this nice woman would get hurt if my son got any worse.

The woman squeezed my shoulder and said, ‘I have been right where you are countless times. My son is autistic as well.’ She pointed and my eyes followed the path of her finger until it landed on a young man standing with an older woman. The young man had a look of great concern on his face. The older woman wrapped her arm around the young man’s shoulder and smiled a kind smile. My heart filled with hope. I looked over to the woman and all I could say was, ‘Thank you.’ At least I think that’s what I said. My mind was working at the speed of light to come up with multiple plans to get my son on that train.

As the woman walked back to her son I walked in front of my son. I playfully placed my hands on my hips and said, ‘Mister man! It’s time to get on that train. I know you want to ride the polar express.’ I saw my son fighting his emotions. He grabbed ahold of his slipper and tossed it. My husband jerked to go get it and I raised my hand to stop him. Gasping in a playful way I asked, ‘Oh my goodness, did you see that slipper magically fly?’ My son watched me as I ran and got his slipper. I trotted back waving his slipper in the air. ‘I caught that silly slipper!’ To my surprise, I saw a smile cross my son’s face. I looked at his slipper and pretended like I was having a conversation with it and then looked at my son pretending to be shocked.

‘The slipper said he’s hungry!!!’ I leaned down, making hungry monster noises while I placed his slipper back on his foot. Ty started to laugh and smile. After the slipper successfully ate my son’s foot I asked, ‘Are we ready to get on the train now?’ My son looked at the train and the smile turned to determination. He took off his slippers and socks and tossed them behind himself and hopped to his feet covering his ears and started to run towards the train. I looked back and the nice woman that offered to help yelled out, ‘I got it, you go!’ I ran behind my son with excitement as the train car came closer and closer.

Then it happened…

My son had to stop because there was a line of small children loading onto the train. And all forward progress stopped. Bless his heart, he knew it was rude to cut in line and knew he couldn’t just run in front of them.

Ty fell to the ground. With his hands to his ears and his knees to his face, my son started to sob. I fell to the ground beside him. My heart ached for him. My son never cries and yet here he was sobbing in front of his dream….the train. My husband came to our side and sunk to the ground next to our son. My husband tried to hug Ty but was shoved away. I wanted to hold my son. He tried so hard to get on that train. He tried so hard to push through all of the sounds, lights, smells, and cold. Luna tried to get to her human to console him but I had to pull her away and make her sit and stay. I look over and the kind woman was by my side taking my son’s book from my hands and my purse whispering, ‘You worry about your son.’ I was so thankful for the help and inched closer to my son talking softly. Then I heard new voices. I look over and there are two young women that work as Chefs kneeling down talking softly to our son. They offered him to wear their hat or to play with their bell, but it didn’t work. A man quietly walked up and leaned down asking,’Do you think a lift will help?’ and pointed over to a wheelchair lift. My husband nodded his head yes and the kind man and his crew hurried over to the lift, brought it over, and set it up.

As they were setting it up, I heard the horn of the other train coming in. My heart sank and in a panic, I looked at the girls in charge of our train car. They smiled and said, ‘Don’t worry about that. Take your time.’ I sighed in relief. Just then, the gentleman said, ‘We are ready whenever you are.’ I asked Ty if it would be ok to get on the lift so he did not have to climb the steep steps, but Ty thrashed away screaming. I looked at my husband shaking my head no. My husband wasn’t in the mood to give up just yet. He took a deep breath and said, ‘I’m going to try and pick him up and get him on the lift.’

We all moved back to give my husband some room. My husband stood up and hooked his arms under my son’s arms. My husband lifted, but Ty’s 6’3” frame was too long for my husband to get fully off the ground. I ran around and tried to get my son’s legs. As I grabbed them my son kicked and screamed. With determination, we tried to inch towards the lift. Then my son suddenly arched his back, dug his nails into my husband’s hands,  and kicked with all his might. Ty’s foot found my stomach and lifted me off the ground. As I flew backward Luna jumped up to put herself between me and the ground. Me being me, all I could think was, ‘God please don’t let me fall on my dog and squish her in front of all these poor children.’ It was as if God had heard my plea and I found my feet and landed on the ground. My husband was terrified at the sight and lightly set Ty back on the ground. I knelt down next to my son and gave him a hug. My son hugged me tightly sobbing into my shoulder. I tried to pull away and Ty pulled me in closer sobbing. I stroked his hair and looked up. I saw the train cars sitting in wait with the windows brightly lit. Tiny faces stared out at us confused and possibly scared.

Courtesy of Angie Swartout

‘I can’t do this anymore,’ I thought to myself. Visions of my son screaming through the entire train ride flashed through my mind and I knew I couldn’t put those families through that. I hugged my son tightly and softly asked, ‘Do you want to go bye-bye?’ My son’s shoulders dropped and he shook his head yes as he wept into my shoulder. I stroked his head and gently said, ‘Okay.’

I looked up and thanked everyone for trying, and let them know we were going back to our room. Everyone sadly nodded and started to make final preparations for the train to embark on its magical adventure. I quickly turned and walked away with Luna by my side. I could feel the tears coming and I couldn’t stop them. I had to get away so my son wouldn’t see me sad. I found a bench and sat down. I watched through the train windows as the Chefs started talking excitedly to their passengers. I watched as the children clapped and smiled. I watched the parents smiling lovingly at their children and started to cry. It was as if a movie started in my head. I was on that train with my son laughing and clapping. We were excited and laughing then suddenly the train’s horn screams out announcing its departure and the movie went up in flames. I hugged Luna crying at the thought that my son was not going to realize his dream.

I heard footsteps approaching and looked up. It was the woman that tried to help us! She came up to me trying to give me words of encouragement. As she spoke I tried to hold my tears back and smile. I could see my husband and son walking up sadly behind her. I wanted to thank her and hug her, but I couldn’t. I was afraid if I talked the sobbing would start and never end. All I could do was nod my head and try to smile. I felt a tear roll down my cheek and quickly stood up and walked away. I felt horrible. I know she thought I was the rudest woman on the planet. I wanted to stop and turn around and apologize, but if I did my son would see me cry, so I kept walking. As we crossed the street I felt light-headed. I have lupus and I was struggling throughout the day and, of course, it had to act up now. I braced myself against an electric box and my husband placed his hand lovingly on my back asking if I was ok. The tears burst from my eyes. I hid my face and nodded my head and hurried forward to the room. I kept my face hidden as we entered the room so Ty would not think he made me sad.

‘Get yourself together,’ I thought to myself as I took a slow deep breath. I stood up straight and walked into the room with my head held high. My son was laying on the bed with a look of pure sadness and defeat on his face and my husband sitting at the foot of the bed rubbing Ty’s legs sadly. The sight was too much and I turned around and went into the bathroom and closed the door. I sunk to the floor and placed my head in my hands and cried. I felt like a failure. I shouldn’t have set Ty up for failure. I felt like I was the worst mother ever. What mother would take such a big risk knowing this could be the outcome?

I heard my phone buzz. I swipe it open and see a Facebook notification. I had been posting updates for very excited friends and family wanting to know how things were going. I reluctantly opened Facebook and posted, ‘The trip is a bust. Ty melted down and beat up me up pretty bad. We couldn’t get him on the train. I’m heartbroken.’ As I pressed the post button I sobbed. I started to cry so hard I had to cover my mouth so I wouldn’t make a sound. My husband came in the bathroom and pulled me to my feet and hugged me saying, ‘You did such an amazing job.’ I cried even harder. I saw my husband’s hands bleeding from where Ty dug his nails into Lloyd’s hands. ‘You’re bleeding! Are you okay?’ I felt my husband’s chest rise as if he was going to say something when we heard KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK.


I looked at my husband confused and he shrugged his shoulders. I moved towards the door to answer and Lloyd placed his hand sweetly on my arm. ‘I’ll get it,’ he said softly. I dried my eyes and nodded. Lloyd slipped out into the hallway and I went back into the room, knelt next to the bed, and silently stroked my son’s head. My husband came in and hurried over to me saying, ‘Someone is here wanting to do something. You need to go talk to them.’ I wanted to shout, ‘Really? I look a mess!’ but instead I got to my feet and walked out to the hall. There standing before me was the man that offered to help with the lift and another man that appeared to be a police officer. I smiled a confused smile at the two men.

‘We saw what happened and feel horrible. We want to do something special for your family. Do you think you and your family can come with us?’

I started crying yet again and nodded yes.

‘May I hug you?’, I sobbed.

The maintenance man smiled opening his arms and the other gentleman looked confused and a bit scared (I don’t blame him I was a crying mess!) I wrapped my arms around both men and sobbed, ‘thank you,’ again and again. I turned around and quickly went back to the room. In my best happy mom’s voice, I tried to get Ty motivated to move, but Ty was not having it. I did not want to push him, after everything he had been through tonight. I couldn’t put him through more. Sadly, I looked at my husband and asked, ‘Can you go let them know we appreciate them trying to do something special, but Ty has had enough?’ My husband nodded his head and headed out into the hall.

I looked down at my son laying on the bed sadly staring out the window. I could see he was in emotional pain. I looked around the room to try and find something that would get his mind off of what had happened. I spotted a picture on the wall that had three images on it. I walked over to the picture and started to stare at it.

‘This sure is a really cool picture,’ I said.

I dart my eyes over and see Ty looking at me. I point to the first picture of train wheels on a track.

‘These are the wheels of the train,’ I said looking at Ty.

‘The train wheels make this sound,’ I said, then made my best attempt at train wheels click clacking on the tracks. Ty smiled and raised himself onto his elbows. I felt the tears pooling up in my eyes, but I continued and pointed to the next picture.

‘These are the train tracks,’ I again made the sound of a train and then I pointed to my son and we said ‘CHOO CHOOOOO!’ together. The tears started to roll down my face as I smiled with him. I pointed to the last picture of the inside of a train car.

‘If we were on the Polar Express we would be sitting right here!’ I pointed to a certain seat in the picture and my son smiles.

‘While we are on the train they would read us the Polar Express!’ I said, as I reached for my son’s favorite book.

I curled up next to my son in bed and read him The Polar Express with tears falling down my cheeks. My son snuggled happily into my arms and listened as I read.

Just as I finished the book my husband came back into the room and happily said, ‘There is someone special outside who wants to meet you, Ty.’ I looked down at my son as he pulled away from my arms and nodded yes. My husband looked at me to get the final ok and I smiled nodding. As my husband walked to the door I got out of the bed and walked to the other bed. I heard the sound of the door open and I watched my son’s face. Ty lit up seeing the Conductor walk through our door.

‘Hi Ty!’ the Conductor called out.

Ty looked at me in disbelief and just smiled and stared at the man standing before him.

The man dressed in a finely pressed blue suit with a sharp hat perched upon his head walked over to my son’s bedside and sat in a chair next to him.

‘I heard you had a hard time earlier,’ the Conductor said softly to my son.

My son turned away from me and his father to face the conductor and slightly nodded his head.

‘We all have hard times sometimes’, The conductor whispered to my son.

I cried as this perfect stranger was talking to my son. I watched this man make my son smile as I had never seen before. Ty hung on every word the Conductor said.

‘I’m sad you missed the train so I thought I would give you something special,’ he said while he patted his vest.

He reached into his vest pocket and pulled out a golden pocket watch. He unclipped it from his vest and opened it up, showing it to Ty.

‘I would like for you to have this. It’s right, most of the time, and it is very special.

Ty’s mouth gaped open in awe as he gently took the watch into his hands. He stared at the watch lovingly and looked at me with a smile as if to say, ‘Oh my gosh can you believe this??!?!’

I cried tears of joy.

‘May I take a picture?’, I asked.

Courtesy of Angie Swartout

The Conductor agreed and posed with Ty. He then stood and bid Ty farewell. Ty watched as the Conductor walked out with his daddy.

I ran over to his bed excitedly. ‘Oh my goodness! You have the Polar Express watch!’ I exclaimed. Ty smiled proudly staring at his first gift of Christmas.

Lloyd slipped back into the room and I scurried over to him.

‘Did you know this was going to happen?,’ I asked.

‘No!’ he gasped in disbelief.

He then told me the story about letting the men know that Ty wouldn’t leave the room and thanking them. He said  the man that helped with the lift was the head of maintenance and offered to reschedule our train ride. Lloyd explained we more than likely wouldn’t be able to do it again this year because it was difficult for both of us to get the time off work. He explained that both men wished there was more than they could do and asked that he walk with them back to the train depot to see if they could get the ok to have our tickets refunded. When they reached the depot the head of ticketing was already gone for the night and the men were sad they couldn’t get a refund. Lloyd said we were touched they were willing to reschedule. They then said they could offer a reschedule with special train car accommodations for a calmer car. Lloyd told the men that he would talk it over but we were unsure if we would try again.

As he was talking out of the building he heard a man running up behind him and it was the Conductor. He had told my husband that Grand Canyon Railway always wants to make sure that each guest experiences something special and magical and asked permission to come to the room to talk to Ty.

‘I’ll be honest,’ Lloyd said, ‘when I first answered the door and saw those men I thought someone called the police.’ I nodded my head in agreement as this is the normal outcome for families like ours.

‘I have to go to the bathroom,’ my husband groaned.

As he went into his ‘Man Cave’, I sat on our bed watching my son admiring his treasured gift. I snatched up my phone and got on Facebook. I started to type out a post to let my friends and family know what all had happened. I ended the post asking them to share so everyone in our autism circle would know what an amazing place this was.

My husband came out of the bathroom, I showed him the post, and said, ‘I hope the staff here will see this. I tagged them in one of the pictures.’

Then there was another knock at the door. Ty sat up straight in his bed. Lloyd answered the door and there was the Conductor with his lantern. Ty ran up to him excitedly.

‘Santa gave me a special gift for you,” the Conductor said proudly as he handed Ty a sleigh bell.

‘Santa wanted me to make sure you got this.’

Ty bounced with excitement and smiled bigger and bigger with each jingle of the sleigh bell. Ty gave the conductor a hug and then the Conductor leaned in whispering to my husband, ‘Stop by the ticket office tomorrow for a refund for the train tickets.’ He then shook Ty’s hand and bid a farewell and left.

Ty jumped in bed and curled up with his bell and watch.

‘Oh my gosh! They didn’t have to do that!’ I whispered.

‘I know,’ Lloyd said in disbelief.

We laid down watching our son falling asleep while holding his bell and watch.

‘For the first time in our life, a business treated us like ‘normal’ people. For the first time ever, we didn’t feel judged. My goodness, this is a special place,’ I thought to myself as my eyes closed and I drifted off to sleep.

As we drove home the next day I stared out the window of the landscape whizzing by. I knew  people were probably talking about ‘that family’ they had watched the night before. I know  they were saying we were horrible parents. I could hear their voices now

‘Did you see that spoiled brat?’

‘They need to spank his butt! A grown adult should never act that way!’

‘If I was his parent, that would have never of happened!’

‘Those people should have never taken him out to a place where there were other people! He’s a danger to others!’

I squeezed my eyes shut to drown out the thoughts. The angry voices started to fade away and the kind faces of the people that helped us started to glow in my mind. I pictured the face of each caring person that helped.

‘Everyone has a hard time sometimes.’

‘You aren’t alone.’

‘I have been there.’

‘Don’t worry about them we want to help.’

‘You don’t need to apologize for anything! He did nothing wrong.’

I stopped and thought about those last kind words that passed through my mind. ‘He did nothing wrong.’ My heart filled with hope and joy.

‘Maybe there is hope for Ty after all,’ I whispered to myself.

What?’ my husband asked.

‘After last night and seeing everything  all of those different people did….Maybe there is hope that the world will accept Ty for the amazing, kind-hearted young man he is,’ I said happily.

‘I think you’re right,’ Lloyd said as he reached for my hand.

I looked back at Ty showing Luna his pocket watch and smiled. I look back out the window smiling knowing there are still kind people in this world and content with the knowledge that one day my son will not be judged, but accepted.”

Courtesy of Angie Swartout
Courtesy of Angie Swartout

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Angie, Lloyd, and Ty Swartout. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read more from Angie:

‘My autistic son had an atomic meltdown. ‘Can we so something special?’ My heart is so happy.’: Mom in awe after railway staff’s acts of kindness, ‘you truly made a difference in our lives’

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