I've heard plenty of other moms talk about how busy they are shuttling their kids to various friends' houses and activities, but this has never been a "problem" of ours. I've always known that life goes on without Sky in some ways. There are birthday parties and baseball games and school skate nights that he misses out on. And, some days I worry about his atypical-ness and the fact that he is being left behind by his peers.
But to be honest, most days I don't. See, all of those things--sports practices, overnights with friends, and birthday parties--are outside of our daily routine. And, doing anything outside of the routine can make life a lot harder than the pangs of regret I feel when I know he's being left out. A lot harder. When you're trying to raise a kid on the autism spectrum, there's not a lot of time to worry about the things you can't change.
We tried sports when Sky was younger--baseball, basketball, and soccer. In baseball, Sky couldn't begin to grasp the point. He spent his time lying in the grass trying to understand the habits of ants. The sounds echoing through the gym during basketball made Sky crazy, so any time he was in the game, he would run around like a madman and crash into the padding at the base of the goals and on all the walls of the gym. Soccer resulted in a combination of both those behaviors. He would by turns study the grass and then crash into other players as if he was a pinball and they were the bumpers. It didn't take an autism diagnosis for us to figure out baseball, basketball, and soccer weren't his thing.
But, he cares about sports and about the fact that most of his classmates are on teams. He can tell me which kids play baseball, and basketball, and football, and he wants to do what they do. So, we came up with a list of sports he'd like to try that might be better suited to his particular challenges. We are working through the list one sport at a time. Right now, it's gymnastics.
In theory, gymnastics should give Sky better body awareness and fulfill his need to jump and crash by enabling him to get the same kind of input in more socially acceptable ways. In theory, the set-up of the gym and the classes should not overwhelm his senses. In theory.
In reality, there's still a lot of crashing and spacing, and since he's in a class with several other boys, this can be a problem. It's hard to watch. It's hard to get the coaches to remember that Sky doesn't have the same ability to hear instructions and do what's being asked with his body. It's hard to convince them that his dramatic flopping on the floor is not to get attention but because he's experiencing a breakdown between the words and his body parts and the hard crashing on the mat makes it easier for him to regroup and concentrate. It's hard to take him every week when I know exactly how it's going to go.
Enter Kevin. Kevin recently finished an advanced degree in special education and is in the process of making a pretty significant career change. He works as a paraprofessional in one of the local junior high schools, and we first met to discuss the pros and cons of public and private education in our area. Somehow the discussion turned to my frustration with gymnastics. I knew I wanted Sky to keep with it and to get better so that one day he could be proud of himself and the work he's done there, but I also knew that the constant frustration of not being able to follow the rules and do what was being asked of him made him feel like he was failing.
Just as I was thinking we'd have to stop gymnastics, Kevin offered to help. On a completely voluntary basis, Kevin has become our gymnastics paraprofessional. Every week, he joins Sky on the mats and acts as a translator for him: giving him instructions in easier-to-process ways, making suggestions for the coaches to help them relate better to Sky, and even facilitating the interactions between boys in the class. And, for the first time, Sky loves gymnastics.
Kevin won't always be able to be with us. He already isn't with us in all the other parts of Sky's life where he faces similar misunderstandings and frustrations. But, I am grateful for his willingness to step in and help and for the reminder that I really can't rest until my son is truly understood. I know one day we will get to a place where Sky can be more independent and successful on his own, but until then, I am so thankful for people like Kevin who offer to walk beside us for part of the journey.