Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Sports Star

When Sky was four and five, we signed him up to try various sports. Over the course of a year or two, he did swimming, basketball, soccer, gymnastics, and T-ball. Given his status as a not-yet-diagnosed kid on the spectrum, I guess it isn't surprising that most of these endeavors were horrifying failures. Week after week, he would run into people and walls; he would be oblivious to swinging bats and rackets, hurtling balls and bodies. And, of course, he could have cared less about whatever any given coach was saying. Looking back, I'm amazed we kept trying. It was a traumatic time for all of us.

Of course, now we know about the autism, and now we know what his triggers are, but that year of watching--over and over, week after week--as he barely avoided causing or receiving grievous bodily injury made it hard for us to find the courage needed to enroll the younger two children in any kind of sports activities at all.

So, when Stow said he wanted try basketball, I hesitated. I wasn't sure we could go through that again. When he insisted, I relented. At least this time, we'd know what to expect.

Go team!
The universe has a way of really messing with me, though, because the first day of basketball practice coincided with Stow's final 3-hour evaluation at the autism and developmental disabilities center at the research university not far from our house. The final evaluation not only confirmed that he is on the spectrum but also gave us excruciating details about the ways this impacts him. My guess is that anyone who knows us or who reads this blog isn't surprised to learn Stow is on the spectrum. After all, we'd already been told that by a pediatric neurologist. But, even as the neurologist was giving Stow the diagnosis, he admitted that autism wasn't his area of specialization. He wasn't able to answer any of the questions that had sent us to him to begin with.

Instead, the diagnosis from the neurologist became the impetus we needed to pursue a thorough evaluation. Before that, I worried that I was just imagining everything and that the people at the autism center would dismiss our concerns. The evaluation took close to a year to complete; it was a year during which Stow was seen by a wide range of specialists who were amazingly adept at putting their fingers on all of the things I'd seen but couldn't quite explain. Maybe it seems strange to make Stow go through all those tests when we already had a diagnosis in hand, but deep down I hoped that if these people who see kids with autism day after day could help us understand Stow, it would be easier for us to help him.

Either way, I didn't expect the confirmation of the diagnosis to hit me so hard. I went into Stow's first basketball practice feeling pretty raw with an odd combination of emotions. I was sad that no matter how hard we tried, we couldn't help Stow avoid being on the spectrum (which I know sounds weird). I felt stupid that I didn't trust my maternal instinct from the start. And, I felt scared that Stow would struggle in all the ways Sky has struggled. Honestly, the last thing I wanted to do was see how Stow handled a roomful of hurtling bodies and bouncing basketballs.

Then the most amazing thing happened. Practice wasn't a catastrophe. Stow tried hard to follow directions and to do what the coaches asked of him. He didn't crash into anyone or anything. He generally stayed where he was supposed to be. I mean, it wasn't perfect--he was unnecessarily goofy (a coping mechanism), he had a hard time grasping most of what the coaches were saying, and the ways in which he is different from his peers was really obvious. Even so, he tried hard and showed a pretty amazing ability to compensate for the "holes" caused by his autism.

At their game on Saturday, Stow guarded his opponent on offense and defense. When a teammate finally passed the ball to him, he didn't come close to catching it. But, when the score was tied going into the final stretch of the game, his coach put him in and told him to guard the best player on the other team. "Follow him around and don't let him get the ball," his coach told him. Stow is nothing if not literal, so he did exactly what the coach said. He stuck to his guy like glue, and that kid didn't touch the ball for the rest of the game.

Watching your kid play a sport he doesn't necessarily grasp and in which he is not particularly talented can be hard. Stow will most likely never be a sports star. He may not even make the team when he's older. Still, I'm grateful for those two years with Sky all those years ago (and all of the years in between) because they helped me learn how to see. Autism parenting has taught me find the positive in every developmental phase we go through, and it is teaching me to reign in my outrageous expectations and to be more patient with myself and (more importantly) with my kids.

If that's not winning, I don't know what is.


Stephanie said...

Stow is already a star!

Mama D said...

Been there. So happy for you and him both!! Hope Ren is recovering well...