Saturday, April 2, 2011

Where everybody knows your name

Last year, I signed up our Spencer for a special-needs baseball team. He was thrilled to participate in an organized sport and had a wonderful experience.

This year, I took a chance and signed him up for a "typical" (a.k.a. regular kid) basketball team. I knew it was a risk, but I was willing to take it. I volunteered to be the assistant coach, since I know some stuff about basketball.

Before each game, I would pull the referees aside and explain that my son has Asperger's Syndrome and ADHD. Though the rules of the league dictated that he always play man defense, I wanted the refs to know that he might struggle with the concept. Thankfully, the refs were very accepting and would even instruct my son during the game with what he should be doing.

"Should be" doing was tough. The gap between a child knowing what they should do and what they can actually do is wide for a child on the spectrum. Each time I sent Spencer in to play the game, I wondered what would come of it. I could never tell.

Sometimes he would just stand in the middle of the fray, no facial expression, no movement.

Sometimes Spencer would leave his team and come plop down in my lap as I sat on the bench. He would curl up in the fetal position and start humming. I had to peel him off my lap and nudge him back out onto the court.

Sometimes Spencer would run in enormous circles that would encompass the entire court. The poor child who was assigned to guard him would get so confused. I could see it on the child's face, "Am I really supposed to follow him all the way over there?"

Other times Spencer would simply watch the person he was supposed to be guarding as they dribbled past him or made a basket.

I spent most of my energy calling his name. "Spencer, go find your man! Spencer, get the ball! Spencer, come back in the gym and play with your team!" It was exhausting.

Maybe I'll enroll him in track and field next year, I thought. We'll just finish out this season. No one will miss him next year.

But I yelled his name often and loud enough that everyone in the gym learned who he was. Some parents would even try to help me by calling out to him, too. It was both exasperating and entertaining.

Not everyone was positive. One game, I had to chase my son back onto the court multiple times. I saw the opposing coach roll his eyes, turn to his assistant, and wonder out loud why a kid like that was playing in this league. I had to bite my tongue. Hard.

However, most of our experience was great. As the season progressed, we played every team. Everyone heard me calling my son's name at one point or another.

During one game, my son had a chance to dribble down the court, all alone. As he struggled with the mechanics of it, every muscle in my body was tensed. I couldn't call out to him because I was so nervous for his sake. Then I heard a voice yell,

"You can do it, Spencer! Keep going!"

It was the opposing coach, who was clapping as Spencer struggled past his bench. That tiny act of kindness meant so much to me.

Go to Part II


Sally said...

Love your stories! They always bring a tear to my eye. Yeah for Spencer! And kudos for being a brave Mom!

ctarbet said...

How wonderful! Strange how if Spencer was in a wheel chair or had some other obvious (physical) disability, everyone would be understanding. However, when you get to more "internal" differences, everyone tends to be less than patient. I'm glad you found a good one that day, it does restore some faith in humanity.
I often wonder why more people don't cheer for players on both teams, they're all just kids. Kids need encouragement, no matter who it comes from. I do it when my kids play soccer, especially if I know the name of the kid on the other team. I also try to compliment the child(ren) after the game. I want them to love sports, not hate them. They should have fun.
If you think the special needs league is a little more his speed, then do it. Please don't take him out of the regular league because you feel like it was too hard on anyone else. Having him there teaches the other kids, the coaches, and the refs a little compassion and probably some patience - compassion and patience are 2 things this world needs more of! You are doing an awesome job - you are an amazing mom!!