When my youngest Autistic son was in early days of elementary school he decided he wanted to learn how to catch a football. He and I worked all summer throwing that ball and him doing his best to catch it.
Every single evening we worked together on his goal. He never became frustrated and he was always having just such a blast. It never occured to him that he might not have the body coordination yet, or ever, to accomplish such a sports feat. It didn’t matter to me if he ever caught the ball as long as he was enjoying the process.
On the very last evening of summer vacation, and on what I thought was going to be the last football toss before it was time to start the school-time-bedtime routine, he caught the ball. He caught the last ball I was going to throw for the whole summer … and the look on his face, the excitement and the celebration dancing … I wish I had a video of it to show. He was just so happy.
Instead of calling it quits, I threw the ball for him again, and he caught it again. That prompted another round of celebration and cheers for us both. He demanded I throw him the ball more. So I did, over and over again. After that first catch, he didn’t drop another throw that night. He caught that ball 75 times consecutively. He’d gone on all night but I had noodle arm and simply couldn’t throw another at that point.
This is the same energy and focus my youngest had when learning to read. He had no idea it was difficult for him to learn and was always so happy to have me read to him, and to see the words (CC) on TV with his favorite shows. He loved, loved, loved going to the library and checking out books to bring home. It took more years and many different approaches before he could go from knowing his name and recognizing the alphabet to actually reading, but just like with catching the football, once it clicked, it clicked. Literally, the next thing I knew he was bringing home chapter books like Goosebumps.
And now that my son is 18, he’s graduated high school (something the professionals did not imagine for him as a toddler, they gave me such dire predictions for his future) he’s taking on life skills, work skills and independent living skills with the same eagerness and determination as he’s done with earlier challenges. He’s decided he wants to go to work before college (his choice always) and has connected with the local independent living center here and started creating a Person Centered Plan with his goals for the future.
His dream is to work with animals (but not snakes), and I know full-well know he’s going to never give up on that goal until he accomplishes it. It won’t matter to him the extra steps and challenges, the stigma, ableism and inequity he faces — he’s just going to keep trying, and keep seeking support until he achieves his dream.
I do my best to keep my panic and fears in check. It’s not easy. Society can be incredibly cruel to those who are different. I can’t protect him from that always – and to do so would disrupt his journey to adulthood and interdependence (all people are interdependent). It would stunt him from growing, evolving and living a good life. It would leave him with learned helplessness and incapable of self-advocacy and survival after I’m gone.
So now the focus is life skills, self-care skills, work skills – not just for him but for all of us in the family. We all have room for improvement, and we’re all adapting to giant life and routine changes. It hasn’t been easy, and it won’t be easy going forward – but we’re going to do it together as a family and as each other’s support network. We’re just going to keep trying until we do. ❤
Though, these days, I’m starting to think my Autistic Family Life could be a sitcom with some of our antics, humor and workarounds as we journey forward. 😂 🤦♀️
(Note: I’ve permission from my son to share about this, otherwise, I’d not.)
For a short-time my youngest son, after he caught his first football, wanted to play on a team. Unfortunately, while he had some fun, this wasn’t a good space for him and he faced a lot of rejection by his typical peers on the team. Thankfully, much of it he didn’t understand, but I did. After a few weeks, I decided the harm outweighed the benefits for him and removed him from the program. We still played catch at home and he loved it. So that’s what we did.