Sunday, July 6, 2014

Why I let me son quit playing a sport he loves

From about as early as I can remember I played sports. When I was really little I remember doing tap, ballet and then even gymnastics and baton twirling. Nothing really fit for me until I started playing softball. I started playing when I was about 7 until I was probably 11 or so. I remember playing ball with the boys in my neighborhood and generally just loving the game. Playing softball helped me make friends and kept me active outside of school.

When Alvin took an interest in baseball I was hopeful. My son who knew the rules of the game at 6 years old and could tell you who a player was simply by watching him throw had found the game I loved when I was a kid.

The first year of tee-ball was a success. While Alvin had a hard time at first watching him learn to love the game made it all worth it.

This year when the time came to register I was concerned. Due to his age he would be moving up to coach-pitch baseball. I was concerned about the increased skill it would take for him to keep up and also worried about the social aspect. These kids would talk more and expect Alvin to carry on conversations with them. Even with all our concerns we agreed tp let him play understanding that we would once again be put in the position to advocate for our son to be able to do the same things the other kids did so easily.

The first few practices started out great. Alvin picked up hitting the ball well and did the conditioning (stretching, drills and warm-up running) with only a little guidance. He loved playing all the positions he could and had even come to understand that he wasn't allowed to play catcher because of his "C" on his head.

Then things started to change. The kids started to catch on that he was different. The coaches brought out different pitching equipment and Alvin couldn't keep up with the changes. He failed to hit a ball in the rest of the practices and never in a game. I started to see the kid that used to love playing the game doing everything he could to get in trouble to not go. One day he started acting up and told me that now he couldn't go to his game because he was in trouble.

This was the clue that something was up. It all boiled over in the last game he played before we removed him from the team. Close to the end of the game on a rainy and dreary day Alvin was once again up to bat when he was hit in the hand by a pitch in the hand. He immediately got upset and prepared to take his base when he was told not to. In coach pitch rules the player simply gets another try and does not get to take his base. He was crying and the other kids thought it was funny.

Alvin was so confused and I could see it in his face. He was crying and just wanted to leave.

It was that day that we made the decision to let him quit.

The kids picked on him at times and the only thing he was learning was how to avoid being bullied. That night I got in touch with the Monroe YMCA and started to make a change.

The next few weeks of starting a new program were rough. Things had drastically changed. There were now many people on the field and the social aspect was frightening to say the least. We met so many great volunteers during the season and by the end Alvin would get to the field early and immediately start pitching.

The last game was the where it all paid off. Alvin had been through a lot and in the past month and a half not been able to hit a ball on his own. Finally in the last game Alvin got not only one, but 2 hits by himself. His confidence was back and the look on the volunteers faces was wonderful. At that point all of the volunteers had heard his story and knew what he had been through. He and all of the other kids were out there to have fun and do their best.

The moral of the story hit home though with Alvin's sister Elliot. Having to explain to her why Alvin was quitting was tough. We don't believe in letting either of them quit just because something is difficult. The goal is to do your best (and with sports at their age) have fun doing it. At 4.5 Elliot learned another hard lesson as well. Not everyone is going to accept her brother or kids like her brother the way we do. She learned that we will fight for all of them when the time comes.

So where are we now? The YMCA has a few other adaptive sports coming up such as bowling and basketball. Top Soccer should also start in the fall as well.

For us, things have changed. We always had hoped Alvin could play "normal" or "mainstream" sports. At this point we know that just isn't going to happen. While he continues to make great strides socially and physically he just isn't ready yet. So for now we let ourselves grieve at the new discovery and we move on. We move back to acceptance and letting our goofy kid learn to be himself and have a great time doing it.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Special Needs Spidy Sense

One of the things that W and I seem to have developed like most special needs parents is that ability to sense something is up with another child or adult has more going on than it might seem.

Two weeks ago was engineers week and with my current job I have the opportunity to go out and present to local schools and talk about what it means to be an engineer and do a small design competition. I've been doing this for 3 years in a row with the same 2 guys and its always fun. This year though during the second class we were presenting at one certain boy caught my eye.

The second class we taught was twice the size of the first and as the kids came into the library  a young boy caught my eye. He was socially more awkward than a the other kids and seemed to be a bit of a loner. Even the table he sat at the kids didn't acknowledge him much.

During the presentation though is when it all clicked. I called on the young boy to answer a question and as he started to answer the other kids in the class began to whisper. He was instantly frustrated and said he couldn't think with all the other kids talking. Without blinking an eye I told him to think about it and just raise his hand when he remembered and I would give him a turn to answer the quest. After just a minute he was able to collect his thoughts and give his ideas on the topic.

Once we got the activity started I mentioned to one of the teachers that I felt bad for him. I figured something was up but didn't want to say anything too straight forward in the chance that I was way off base. Sure enough the teacher confirmed that he has autism and is in a special program that allowed for kids on the spectrum to be in class with typical developing kids.

Later as we were leaving the school the senior manager presenting with me asked how I knew what was going on with the boy. I told him about Alvin and he seemed so impressed. To me it was just second nature to just give him a minute to collect his thoughts but to manager I was with it was far from normal. He then told me he as panicking when it happened because he didn't know what to do.

I guess when you live with a child like this you just have a sense when something is up in others. W and I have always just been able to feel things like this out when we are out in public, but this was the first time I've dealt with it directly in a social situation that wasn't geared for special needs kids.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Therapy Cat

Back in February we had a little incident where Alvin let our 12 year old cat out of our sliding glass door one morning and we never found her again. I was heartbroken because we had Katie a female calico since Will and I met and while she was old and temperamental we loved her. Back in early August our good friend brought over about 6 balls of fluff. She had 4 kittens that were ready to be adopted and had 3 that still needed a home I wasn't completely ready for a new cat, but I turned the decision over to Will since he would be home with it more than I would. That day Schrodinger joined our family. He was the last one out of the kennel and the first thing he did was curl up on Will's chest.
Their first meeting
Surveying his new territory

What has transpired over the past few months is amazing. Alvin wasn't one to show affection to anyone or anything. He was always reserved with his emotions to some degree. When we got our dog Ophelia we thought she would be the perfect companion for him. While she has been a great addition to the family,she didn't bond with Alvin the way I expected.

The cat has suddenly changed things though. From the time of his first vet visit Alvin started showing more compassion and attachment to this cat. When we took him to get fixed Alvin was comforting him the whole time and showed compassion that we were not expecting.

Playing with the dog
 The cat  himself fits in well. He plays with Ophelia all the time and keeps her on her toes. With the kids he is gentle and loving.

What really got me about this cat was when Alvin was hospitalized last month. I've never had a cat that was horribly affectionate or social with us. They were aloof and didn't seem to care much if we were around or not.

When Alvin was in the hospital Schrodinger just seemed confused. The boy he slept with part of every night was gone.

Once Alvin came home he was beside himself happy. Alvin wasn't allowed out of his sight most of the night and as soon as he went to bed the cat was right beside him. This cat now even has a small bed in Alvin's bed and he uses it. Most days you can hear Alvin walking around saying "I love this kitty."
He loves this kitty and I think the kitty loves him back

Never before would I have thought that a cat could be a therapy animal but I have been proven wrong. The cat follows Alvin everywhere and slowly but surely seems to be helping Alvin come out of his shell emotionally. An example of this was just last night he asked to have a sleepover in Elliot's bed. Granted this only lasted for about 20 minutes but he snuggled with Elliot. Elliot was beside herself happy that he wanted to and cried her eyes out when he left. 

So I guess I've now come to realize that any animal cat, dog, horse whatever can benefit a child with autism or other brain disorder can really help as long as the child/adult has a bond. In our case it just happened to be a furry little grey fluff ball that needed a home.