Watching The Boy try so damn hard to make connections, belong, and fit in is physically painful for me. When he was younger, I could step in, help guide him. Now that he is older, playing football and being increasingly involved in peer to peer social situations that don't always involve an adult presence, I fear these differences are going to isolate him and batter his self esteem. To other's he is sometimes "weird" and "annoying". But he is only doing the best he can do in what must feel like an alien world.
Football is my way of trying to help him to belong. It's not his passion, and it is evident on the field. He does try, don't get me wrong. But he doesn't LOVE it. Dad and I have told him REPEATEDLY and emphatically that if he doesn't want to do it- it's FINE! We won't be disappointed, mad or even upset. Getting a kid on the spectrum to try new things, and step away from the video games is like pulling teeth. Just the simple fact he completed the whole season last year and is attempting another year is absolutely amazing, and awesome and I couldn't be happier! But I don't want it for me, I want him to want it. And if he doesn't, well, OK then, let's step away and find something else. But he insists he wants to play, promises to do better and it breaks my heart. Because no matter what he tries, no matter where his niche is, be it sports, music, art, WHATEVER- I am proud of any effort. And the last thing I want is for him to feel that if he doesn't do it I will feel like he failed.
I read all sorts of uplifting articles, "Teen with autism wanting to get fit finds success on football field", "Autistic football player an inspiration to many", "Autistic football player’s dream comes true" All very uplifting, inspiring stories. I love to hear these success stories, but have accepted that The Boy will probably not go that far, at least in football. But the last thing I want him to be is a "mascot" or a charity case, or a way to make an organization look good. "Look at us, we have an autistic player, aren't we great". Give him a chance, coach him, treat him like the rest of the players, INCLUDE HIM, and help the other players and coaches understand him. He will probably never score the winning touchdown, or maybe he will. The only way to know for sure is to give him that chance.
Every parent of every child has their own dream for that child. My dream is inclusion. I want my son to FEEL included. I want him to FEEL like he is valued and there is a place for him. So as long as he is making it to practice every day and putting in effort, I will expect the coach to FIND that place for him. Doing anything less is doing The Boy a disservice. I will never try and tell you how to coach football. I will tell you how I think you can coach The Boy, and how it can help not just you, but your team as a whole. At this level, every player is valuable and there is a place for them all.