There was a time we couldn’t go into a gym without headphones because the noise was too much. There was a time we wouldn’t step away from the group of children Ben was a part of because the prospect of being bumped into or touched brought with it the assurance of a meltdown. There was a time we didn’t dare to dream of team sports because smaller children, especially curious smaller children, frightened our boy. It shames me to admit it, but there was a time I didn’t believe. I didn’t hope because the possibility of meltdowns – loud tearful, heartbreaking meltdowns were more a promise than a possibility. I’ve always told our kids to never give up, to always have a couple of goals to work toward and to never stop dreaming, but if I’m honest with myself, the truth is that I have been guilty of all of those to some degree.
Thankfully, I have been proven wrong time and time and time again as our boy continues to blow our minds. A few years ago, he wanted to play baseball, so we signed him up for t-ball and set off on a new adventure. That first year was rough, as in I had to chase him around the bases and stand by him in the outfield. (Read: Hold him up in the outfield because the sun was too hot and it took too long – yes, I felt his pain. It was t-ball after all.) But he was out there playing baseball. Despite the setbacks, it was progress.
He wanted to play again the next year and the next and the next. He’s the tallest kid on the t-ball team, but he also smiles the biggest and stops at home plate after each run to take a bow and say, “Thank you!” to those cheering for him. It’s t-ball and it’s a safe place for him to grow.
About this time last year, we happened to be in the middles school one evening for a meeting regarding one of our middles and the upcoming baseball season. I thought the meeting was in the gym, so imagine my surprise when we walked in to find it also happened to be the night all the Mini Tornado basketball teams were practicing.
Our boy stopped dead in his tracks and I braced myself for the worst. The situation presented all the trademarks for a meltdown: loud noises, lots of small children running around, jackets and bags thrown on the floor – chaos to the nth degree. Much to my surprise there was no meltdown. There was no covering his ears and cowering next to me. There was no screaming, no crying, no opposition at all. What there was was just as amazing as what there was not.
He watched in silent awe, raised his hand, and pointed a finger towards all the activity before us and whispered, “I want to do that.”
Unsure I’d heard him correctly, I asked him what he’d said. This time he laid his hand on my arm, looked me in the eye, pointed back to the kids, and said, “Mommy, I want to do that.”
Time all but stood still in that moment of chaos in the gym, but I knew the task ahead of us would not be easily accomplished as once our boy gets an idea in mind, his resolve is solid in making it happen. Signups done, teams assigned and the season already underway, basketball was not happening in 2016.
I managed to distract him enough to get out of the gym and on to the meeting we were there to attend, but a new passion was brewing in our boy. Whenever we were outside last summer, he always ended up with a ball in hand – didn’t matter if we were in the pool, out back or in the house. If there was a ball around, he grabbed it and began to toss it around, most generally flanked by his ever faithful little sister sidekick. Very few balls went through the hoop last summer, especially early on, but he kept trying. By the end of the summer, he would usually make a basket at least once each time we were out. So when the opportunity came to sign up for basketball, I checked made sure he and his sister could play on the same team and paid the fee, hoping for the best.
The early spring we have enjoyed this month has allowed for more basketball than I ever would have thought possible in February. The cheering out back is getting louder and coming more frequently as the ball is going in the hoop more and more often, but I still wasn’t sure it would be enough to endure all the noise and chaos of actually being in a gym with multiple people, many of them smaller than him, and all the noise that involves. Headphones don’t really seem to be much of an option either as we want him to be able to hear the coach. And the coach? What if the coach isn’t familiar with autism? What if he or she is a yeller or a screamer, or one who physically redirects kids? How was this going to work? My anxiety level was rising beyond compare by the time their first practice came around.
I have learned many lessons over the years as a spectrum mom, but one of the most important to date has to be to learn to trust people, expect the best, and never say never. It would have been so easy for me to say no, the chaos would be too much and we don’t know the coach, so we better just sit it out, but how unfair would that have been to our son? You see, that first practice was nothing short of a miracle in my eyes as I got to stand on the sidelines of the gym and watch my boy shoot and score and celebrate with his coach and his team – HIS TEAM, of which I am no part. There was a time I wasn’t sure this would ever happen, but especially not at such a young age. I’m not one of his coaches this time, and I have never been happier in my life to not be needed.