But as I also have another son who is "neuro-typical" and his weekned afternoons are spent like most children his age - on the baseball diamond playing T-ball.
Today, in the middle of his game, I observed a young boy on the team that I determined to be on the Autistic Spectrum based on the simple observation that while the rest of the team sat together during the game, talking to each other - this one boy sat by himself carefully inspecting the dirt in front of him as he mumbled to himself. Each inning when the team was at bat he woud find that solitary clump of dirt and when it was time to take the field, he father would gently steer him towards right field while calling out for him to, "Pay attention, Jessie!"
When Jessie came up to bat, his team - trying to cheer him - started clapping in unison and shouting, "Let's go, Jessie, let's go" in unison. Their simple chant turned to something painful in Jessie's mind as several times during this at bat, Jessie would step away from the T-ball stand to tell the children to stop teasing him or to be quiet. The confrontation between Jessie and his teammates came to a head when the father, clearly feeling the anxiety and frustration of a father who simply wants to participate in the American custom of watching one's son play baseball, walked over to the plate, escorted his son back to the dugout and signalled for the next kid to take his son's turn at bat - Jessie's 1st bat - cancelled halfway through.
I watched as the father lovingly implored his son to "Remember what we talked about... You said you were going to try your best..." and what I wanted to say, "But he is trying his best - that's the best he's got at this time". This is not any proof of knowledge on my part but rather a shared history with this father as I have - more times than I can remember - implored, urged and even yelled at my son to, "Be good", "Do what you're supposed to" and "Don't be difficult".
|"Can't you show some initiative and do it my way?!'"|
That's the difficult challenge of parenting an Autistic Child: They are born, they bang their drum and instead of marching to their beat, we, as parents, urge them to see their beat is wrong and focus all our efforts on changing the rhythm of their lives.
I saw on the father's face the same same fears, frustrations and personal shame that I have felt too many times to mention as a parent of a child on the spectrum. I wanted to say something to him but discretion is the better part of valor so instead I walked over to his son - carefully focused on the dirt in front of him.
"You think any ants could live in this dirt?" I don't know what made me ask him that but it just seemed like the most logical thing to wonder when inspecting dirt.
"Yes", he said without looking up at me.
"I don't know", I continued, "It's awful dry dirt - don't they need water?"
"Do you like Toy Story 3?" he asked me.
"Yeah", I replied, "I even cried. Did you?"
"No. The hook saved them..."
And we were off.... Trading notes on Buzz, Woody and the whole crew - even the alien toys.
Jessie's father looked over and later, I shared about our Toy Story 3 conversation. We shared a laugh about the tearful end and I think we both realized - sometimes in life we think we're playing T-ball but we're actually looking for bugs or thinking about Toy Story 3...
The rhythm with our special kids may seem off but it works for them and all we have to do - if we can remember - is to not try so hard to get them to march to our beat but keep trying to learn to dance to theirs....