This is part six of this story. If you are new and want to catch up click here.
I stewed and struggled over the best ways to teach my 8-year-old autistic boy. I had heard all kinds of horror stories about anger because communication was hard, other kids picking on these kids because they were different, and just a general sense of no direction or goals. I didn’t want these things for my son. Even though he was now stuck with the autism label for the rest of his life, I wanted him to grow and achieve as much as possible.
Because his first grade teacher showed us that he was perfectly capable of hard work, we started adding his name to the daily job list. He didn’t like that, but he usually did whatever I asked him to do. When the anger started pumping through his veins, I would calmly say, "One hard job…." If he didn’t control it himself, it was "Two hard jobs…." There were times we got to ten hard jobs before he finally pulled himself together. Then I would present him with a list and he would start working. As long as he held it together and started on his list I would take jobs off the other end. I don’t remember him ever completing all ten jobs. Most of the time he would end up with fewer than five things that might include unloading a dishwasher or vacuuming a room. The best part of that was not the clean house, it was that he was learning to control it by himself.
To deal with our second issue, I tried early on to involve him in all kinds of activities with all kinds of kids. Our biggest thing was sports. He played t-ball (although not with the best results), soccer (that was even worse when he was little) and basketball. One of our therapists had suggested that there was a link between learning and exercise for autistics and if we pushed the exercise, his brain might expand along with his other muscles. We figured it was worth a try. So at age 9, we signed him up for peewee football. He absolutely hated it!
In the Gremlin leagues he was forced to try out with about 150 other kids. He didn’t understand the drills or the coaches and just the physical part was way more than he had ever done in his entire life. He was finally placed on the platinum team. It was a rag-tag group of kids that were likely to be the last ones chosen in a neighborhood pick-up game. We were fine with that. He had a couple of coaches who were absolute saints. At the parent meeting I got to give my speech about how he might say something inappropriate or quote movies and to please let their boys know so they didn’t get angry with him.
It was a difficult season. Our little guy spent many lonely moments on the bench, but he did get in his required plays and he learned a little bit about pushing on the line. The most important thing he got from football was friends, and lots of them. He played football for eight years with different boys every year. Because these boys spent so much time sweating together, they look out for each other and help each other. Once when the Dog Walker was in 6th grade some kids started picking on him on the playground. A couple of his football friends stepped up and told them to take a hike.
I rarely go anywhere with my son that we don’t run into someone he played football with. There are always high fives and "How ya doin’?" My boy usually can’t remember their names (I think I told you before he was about 8 when he finally knew all his siblings’ names) but he knows they were on the same team and who the coach was and what year they played and where. I’ll give you more specific football stories later, but for now, just remember that football was an incredible journey for our autistic boy.
The last part of my huge worries was that he wouldn’t have any goals or hopes or dreams. We watched other kids in the cluster class and their parents seemed to want to coddle them and just keep them babies. They were not expected to be like other kids, so they weren’t. I’m not saying that is wrong, I’m just saying I didn’t want that for my son. Then one night while I was helping the Gym Rat with some stuff he needed to do for a merit badge, my light bulb turned on…the thing that might expose my little guy to all kinds of experiences and skills could be scouts.