Susan's Blog

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Just Play Along With It

Here’s why I hate competitive sports. In the end, it is all about winning. Winning by definition means somebody loses. Oh, right, so that next time they’ll try harder to be the one who doesn’t lose.

Except when you’ve got a person who only just recently figured out how to play a game, and why it’s a good thing to throw a ball away, so that it lands in one particular place as opposed to another. It turns out you have to do something with that ball if you catch it. Push it out of your hands, and everyone around you cheers. Get it to go into the basket, and they cheer even more. Plus, if you do that, you get to stay where you can run with your friends, rather than sitting still on the bench.

No problem, thinks Nat, or some facsimile thereof. For once in his life outside of classroom schedules and routines, he has figured out the gigantic puzzle of what people do together. (We think we are dealing with a puzzle, but let me tell you, the puzzle Nat has to put together of how things work makes our autism puzzle look like a four-piecer.)

But things must move forward, taking shape in one way and then, when that shape no longer fits its surrounding circumstances, breaking up and reforming. And so the Boston College Bobcats will no longer exist; now the entire team is being moved closer to Nat’s House because everyone on that team is actually from the House and not from around here. The rest of the Boston College team, the Cougars, which are Nat’s social group friends, will stay at BC, because they are from right here, Nat’s hometown.

But it is more convenient for the Bobcats to be a team close the where they live, near the House. The first problem with this is that we would have to bring Nat back to the House one day early for his practice; he usually stays with us until Sunday after lunch. Now he’d have to go back Saturday late morning.

The second problem is the real problem. In terms of skill, Nat belongs more with the Bobcats. Yet, Nat could conceivably stay and be a Cougar at Boston College with his social group friends. But wait: those guys are “higher functioning.” Would he be bringing the team down? And while functioning levels don’t matter when you’re going out together on a Friday night to mini golf and pizza, when it comes to Sports — well, let’s just say that the guy who only just learned, after three years, what to do with the ball — he maybe should be on a team of guys of “similar functioning levels” to him.

Knowing Nat, he will just go and play wherever he is sent. One more thing he has no control over, and yet one more thing he will most likely transition to with grace and smiles. I think it is exactly that which makes me feel that pierce of pain, which goes in through my throat and spreads into my belly. That right there is the disability: this passiveness, this inability to master your own fate, and the mute acceptance of what is done to you.

Maybe it bothers me more than it bothers him. This is also where I don’t know where I begin and where Nat begins. His disability binds him to me way beyond teenage rebellion years. I am told to let him go, but the fact is, he must always be somewhat attached to me, a thin, invisible umbilical cord that stretches across city borders and basketball courts.

The disability is also manifested by all the doors that close, heavily or quietly, in your face or over time. That preschool has no one-on one; time to find a special classroom. That classroom is academic, not vocational, but he can’t do academics anymore. Time is running out. He needs to learn pragmatics. No more history or science. Well, who needs that anyway…

Or — that team is inconveniently located, and besides, the kids are at a different level. Slam, move to the next doorway. Pick up the ball and run with it, run to where they will cheer. It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how — or where — you play the game.

4 comments

We've opted for sports that aren't team based just for those kinds of reasons. We attempted soccer long ago and after one day it was a bust. Actually, the anxiety, claustrophobia meltdown b/c of how long it took us to get out of the parking lot was more of a problem than the kids that wanted to play on city teams not just for fun.

We've done gymnastics and swimming with the little one. Still in the swimming, gym's too far away without funding. He's having a blast and they don't care if he stays in level 2 forever.

Swimming and Karate with the elder. We started a little later, started a little slower… and his NLD is no longer noticable.

In all cases we have been lucky to have program leaders that are only their to teach. They don't care about dx's, ABA, politics…. just having fun.

And in the end… IMO that's all that matters.

— added by farmwifetwo on Wednesday, November 4, 2009 at 8:48 am

Man, it must be hard to play basketball and not trip over that umbilical cord. Kidding, kidding.

That picture says it all to me. Playing any sport offers multiple areas of growth, and having Nat on their team offers his teammates the opportunity to hone their sportsmanship skills. To me, that's the critical lesson that each player takes away with them or not. Nat will give his all no matter who he plays with, and that is a beautiful thing. Those Cougars would be lucky to have him. Lisa

— added by Anonymous on Wednesday, November 4, 2009 at 10:15 am

That pesky passiveness problem. It is all the more troubling because the corollary is the fact that *all* the decisions are yours (and your spouse's) forever. Since I don't always make perfect decisions for myself, some days I feel especially lost navigating the maze of disability and autism for my daughter. She did however make the decision to opt out of challenger baseball (the only draw to it for her was the outfit — I know you can relate!), but then wonder if I should continue to push this kind of thing as an antidote to too much unstructured time.

— added by toadysmom on Thursday, November 5, 2009 at 11:18 am

Thank you Susan. You have identified the core issue that affects our kids and adults. Generally, they have not been given the right to choose – the system has not been set up that way. In my state, there are bold changes ahead that attempt to give control back to the individual. The question now is, how can we help them express their needs and desires effectively? Many have never been asked before. -Jane

— added by Anonymous on Friday, November 6, 2009 at 6:46 pm

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