Local Autistic Teenager Receives the Biggest Birthday Surprise of His Life
By Allison Williams
Local Lake Wales teenager, Nate thought he would be spending his birthday this year at Universal Studios, but COVID-19 forced his plans to be cancelled. The Lake Wales community rallied with a new idea to keep his birthday special, by putting together a drive by birthday show. Cheryl Reed, Nate’s mother originally reached out to an Autism Support Group asking for group members to share some birthday wishes for her son, Nate. Patty Hilton, one of the owners of the Autism Acceptance Truck/Car Club saw Cheryl’s request and jumped on the opportunity with a lot of help from her husband, Leroy, who is co-owner, and also from Sarah Frederick, an advocate for autism awareness.
This opportunity was huge for Cheryl and her husband Michael because their original plan was to take Nate to Universal Studios. “Nate has never been able to visit Universal Studios before,” Cheryl said. “He has been asking to go to Universal Studios every single day for almost a year now. We were saving up so that we could make his birthday special. He was absolutely devastated when his birthday came and we told him we couldn’t go. Due to his autism he doesn’t understand why he couldn’t go. He asked us if Universal was gone and he even asked if he was bad. It is so hard to explain all of this to an autistic child.”
Unknown to Nate, people gathered at the Lake Wales YMCA and lined up to put on a big birthday surprise of driving by Nate’s house. The parking lot filled up within minutes. It started filling up even before the meeting time.
There was a huge turnout. The Autism Acceptance Truck was colorful and decorated, ready to go. Fancy Corvettes, sports cars, old timey cars, jeeps, SUVs, etc joined in, along with community members, and even Lake Wales Police Department and Lake Wales Fire Department joined in on the fun. Several car clubs traveled from near and far to take part in the parade as well. Some neighbors were out in their driveways with signs and cell phones, while others heard the sirens and came out to watch the show.
People decorated their cars with balloons and birthday signs, hoping to make Nate smile and feel special for his birthday.
Nate and his family made their way out to the front yard, and the parade kicked off with the loud sirens of the Lake Wales Police Department and the Lake Wales Fire Department. Members of the Lake Wales Police Department even got on their speakers and sang the Happy Birthday song to Nate.
Waving as cars drove by, Nate ran around the yard in excitement waiting to see which car would drive by next. Some cars even came with an extra surprise and dropped off gifts or gifted their Happy Birthday signs for Nate to have as a keepsake.
“Nate loves logos and loves to draw and collect them,” Cheryl said. “His favorites are Universal, Nickelodeon and WWE wrestling. Love of logos is something a fair number of autistic individuals enjoy. He was given several different kinds of logos and stickers that he is sure to love. He was also given signs and cards, many of them with the logo designs in them.”
This was the biggest birthday bash Nate has ever experienced. Whenever he had parties in the past, his mother said only five people or fewer would show. “He has a very difficult time expressing himself and that makes it very hard to bond with peers,” Cheryl said. Though making friends is a challenge for Nate, he made a ton of new friends and memories at the car parade.
“This outpouring of support really helped show Nate that he has many people that care about him,” Cheryl said. Nate added, “I had fun! I loved seeing all the Happy Birthday posters, especially the ones with Universal Studios Logo!”
Not only was this a special and exciting experience for Nate and his family, but also for everyone who participated. They will always be a part of Nate’s special birthday surprise, and it was also something safe and fun to get out of the house to do. It was also a great way to spread Autism awareness, as April is Autism Awareness month.
“Knowledge is power and education is key. The more we can educate those in our community, the better lives our most vulnerable community members can live,” Frederick said.
“It is very fitting that Nate’s birthday is in April,” Cheryl said. “We try to do what we can to help spread awareness and acceptance. It is one thing to be aware of autism, and it is another thing to be accepting of autistic individuals and try to understand their view on the world! We have been very lucky in finding an amazing special needs community here in Polk County. With the Facebook Special Needs Playdate and Support group page, the amazing advocates of Lisa Miller and Sarah Frederick and Victory Ridge Academy, my boys, both autistic, have found an amazingly loving family.”
A special thank you from Cheryl:
“I would like to thank everyone that came out and helped to make this possible! A huge thank you to the Lake Wales Police and Fire Departments for taking the time out of their very important schedules to help show us some love and support. Thank you to everyone that came out from The Autism Truck/Car Group and to all of the amazing Teachers and Staff at Victory Ridge Academy that support the special needs families of Polk County every day!”