Our journey in the Autism Spectrum

The Longest Season

It’s been a long, difficult soccer season from the very beginning. You can read about our rough start here. This year our two littlest chameleons, Henry and Lucy, wanted to follow in our oldest chameleon, Molly’s, footsteps by playing soccer. They did a small instructional mini-camp in August which didn’t go so well either but with Henry seemingly doing well in mainstream Kindergarten, we figured now was as good as any to give it another try. In other words, Grant and I were ready to “rip it off like a band-aid” and get this first experience with a team sport over with. We are lucky to have an instructional league in our community just for their age group and they were able to play on the same team.

If you still haven’t read about that first practice yet, go ahead now. I’ll wait…

Okay, thanks….So from that first practice, things slowly did begin to improve, relatively speaking, of course. As Henry got more comfortable with how practices were run and what was expected of him, he was able to spend more time on the field with few and shorter breaks and hardly any more meltdowns. The weekly games, however, were another story. After working so hard at practice on sharing, turn-taking, following instructions and practicing the same drills and exercises over and over…well the actual games must have felt like complete and utter chaos with very different rules!  Certainly there is very little turn-taking at this age and NO personal space! At this pre-school/Kindergarten level soccer is affectionately known as “herd ball”.

 Twice a week was not only full of anxiety and dread on Henry’s part but for Grant and me as well. Would this week be any better? How long would he practice before he would need a break? Would Henry be able to participate in the weekly game at all?  How many times would we have to redirect or intervene and remove him from the field? Would Henry’s challenges detract from the other kids’ experience and enjoyment of the game? We wanted to be fair to the other kids and parents too!

 Because we could see he was improving, we continued to make him go to each practice and game. It may sound cruel to “force” him to participate in something he clearly did not like. But we felt that since Henry was the one to say he wanted to play soccer in the first place, we wanted him to learn that even though he might not like something, once you started it, you need to finish out that commitment. Now, of course had thing continued as horribly as the first one, we certainly would not have put him through that but thankfully they didn’t. Henry didn’t want to go to soccer after the first week or so but there were no more major meltdowns and he would always end up getting dressed and ready without too much of a big fight. He was learning about commitment and responsibility. (I hope!) You know, as much my 6 yr. old boy on the Spectrum can.

 I think once he started getting the concept of the game in general, his biggest frustration was not being able to score a goal. He couldn’t take the stress and anxiety of missing the goal or not even getting a chance to get his foot on the ball let alone try to score! It also didn’t help when he would only be on the field for a minute or so before he would run or stomp off crying or mad that he didn’t get the ball. Crowds and other people touching him is a BIG stressor. Now throw him onto a field with 15 other kids all chasing one ball….yikes!

Our coach was amazing! He was always so positive and encouraging with all of the kids! He was always fair and treated each kid with kindness and understanding and respect. The parents seemed not to notice or be upset with Henry’s sometimes explosive playing-style and no one ever complained or was negative about Henry’s constant trips on-and-off the field   several times, randomly throughout the game. (At least no one was outwardly negative toward us and I’ll certainly take that!) I was so glad this was an instructional league, with the emphasis on having fun and really just getting that first experience into the game of soccer! Lucy as always, just went with the flow and would continue on playing no matter what her brother was doing. As long as she got a turn as goalie, like her big sister, she was happy!

About mid-season, Henry began wanting to count down how many more practices and games until the end of the season. At this point, Grant and I were counting too! Somehow we all managed to make it through and our last game was this past Saturday. It was cold and windy and we were missing a few players. The games were running behind so we had to wait for our turn on the field. Henry was agitated and whining and complaining before the game even started. Oh, we so wanted to just get through this last game!

Finally the game began as usual, Henry still agitated but at least on the field and playing. Then, it happened. Henry somehow managed to get the ball somewhere around mid-field and took it all the way down to the goal. He kicked it right at their goalie (because that’s what they do) and it slipped past the kid and rolled into the net. I’ll be damned! My son scored a goal!!! Everyone was cheering and our coach gave me a thumbs-up as he was running down to that end of the field! (At this age, coaches are out there with the kids~thank goodness.)

The game went on and soon Henry had enough despite the excitement of his goal. It was always just too much. After that game, the kids each got a medal, a hotdog, and lemonade! Oh they were all so proud of their medals! We were glad it was over as was Henry. We made it through the season. The longest soccer season ever! But Henry did it and improved! Bonus! He is learning about knowing when he needs to take a break and how to do that appropriately. He is learning that it is okay to try new things and it is okay not too always like those new things, but sometimes we still have to do them.

The following day, there was an e-mail from the coach to all of the parents. When I read it, I got such a lump in my throat. I knew then that we did the right thing by keeping Henry on the team. We had the perfect coach for it too! Here is what he wrote:

“Dear All, What a great season we just finished!  I hope all the kids had as much fun as I did.  Everyone really progressed and had a good time.  All the players contributed to our team and I appreciate all the hard work they displayed at practice and during the games.  I do not mean to single out any players as every player helped out a lot during the games, but it sure was special to see Henry score a goal yesterday. I have the medals for the players that were not able to attend the last game and I will get them to you somehow.  We hope you have a safe and enjoyable Christmas season and happy New Year.  Take care and thanks for allowing me to coach your kids, Steve”

Um yeah, it WAS special! More than I can say! I was so touched that the coach saw that too!

For the rest of the weekend, Henry talked about scoring that goal.

“Did you see that?!?! Did you see?!?! No one stopped me and I kicked the ball and the goalie didn’t stop it!!! No one could stop me and I scored a goal! Molly is going to be so special proud of me!!!!”

Oh yeah, my dude, we are ALL special proud of you!

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Comments on: "The Longest Season" (2)

  1. Yes, Henry, we are ALL special proud of you! 🙂

  2. Way awesome bud!! Keep up the good work!

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