Kids & Family

Teen With Autism Gets Magical "Polar Express" Experience

After missing a train ride when he became too overwhelmed, he got more than he could ever ask for.


Ty Swartout had one wish this holiday season: to ride "The Polar Express." It's his favorite book and movie, so his parents made plans to travel to Williams, AZ to take a ride on the Grand Canyon Railway and Hotel's Polar Express.

18 year old Ty has autism and is non-verbal, but he couldn't hide his excitement in the days leading up to the trip. Ty's dad, Lloyd Swartout, said he kept pulling out his trains and asked to read "The Polar Express" book again and again.

"That whole week was a lot of excitement for him," Lloyd told CNN.

LloydandAngie Swartout Facebook

When the Swartout family arrived at the hotel and went to board the train, Ty became anxious and began lashing out at his parents.

"He was so excited that he became overwhelmed and had an atomic size meltdown," Ty's mom Angie wrote in a Facebook post after the event.

Angie went on to explain that despite their best efforts and the kindness of others who were around, they were not able to board the train that evening.

"A wonderful woman helped us by holding our stuff while we tried to keep Ty from smashing his head on the bricks," she said. "The staff of the Grand Canyon Railway tried so hard to help. They even held the train. Finally, I had to say let's go back to the room."

The family was understandably emotional as the train pulled away without them on it, and his mom said she cried as they walked back to their room.

"She was very heartbroken and I was too," Lloyd said. "She wanted it so badly for him."

the conductor gave Ty his pocket watch.LloydandAngie Swartout Facebook

But, soon after they got back to their room there was a knock at the door. It was the maintenance man who helped them earlier and a police officer. They felt bad about what happened, and they wanted to know if they could do something special for the family. The Swartouts agreed, and later, after Angie read Ty his favorite book, the train's conductor stopped by to pay him a visit.

"We told Ty that there is somebody special that wants to come in and talk to you and he gave us the yes sign and shook his head that that was okay," Angie said. "So the conductor came in and greeted him ... and Ty actually gave him a hug."

LloydandAngie Swartout Facebook

After speaking quietly with Ty for a few minutes, the conductor gave Ty his pocket watch and a bell that came "straight from the North pole."

As if that wasn't enough of a happy ending, the Grand Canyon Railway invited the family back for another visit and agreed to pay for a hotel room, train tickets and breakfast. They even offered to take Ty on a special tour.

Angie praised the company for their extraordinary efforts to make Ty happy and thanked them for all they've done to make sure they have a great experience.

"We may not have gotten to ride a train," she said. "But, we got something even more magical. We got the gift of human kindness!"

The conductor made a personal visit.LloydandAngie Swartout Facebook

Feeling inspired by the Grand Canyon Railway's incredible act of kindness? You may not be able to offer someone a free vacation, but you can always make someone's day better by being kind. Even small gestures like holding a door for someone, or asking a stranger how their day is, can make a difference.

Let's #StartSomethingGood together.

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