As a child growing up in Brooklyn, New York I was fortunate to have the necessary encouragement, ability and desire to participate in little league baseball. I enjoyed the experience and learned how to play the game at a competitive level and made some good friends along the way. I was a quiet kid but I spoke with my talent as I played with confidence and with a desire to do well. I understood the team concept and was able to adapt to the structure of playing for a team and I had great coaching and great teammates.
For an autistic child it seems a lot more difficult for them to play in a structured setting and a team concept is very hard for them to adapt to. Most autistic children have difficulties staying focused and they have difficulty following instruction. It is so much harder to participate in organized sports for an autistic child and although they may have the talent to play the social skills necessary to participate are most likely lacking.
I have tried to expose Matthew to the idea of sports participation when he was 6 years old and the first attempt at introducing him to a team oriented sport was enrolling him in the Levittown youth soccer league but it was so difficult for him to follow any form of instruction as he was all over the place during the opening day parade. When it was time for the kids to report to their coaches and gather for an orientation meeting Matthew had difficulty sitting at attention and in listening in to what the coach said. He did not exhibit any interest in participating or going near the ball. He just started running in circles and falling to the ground. We had all we could to try to get him to listen and follow coach’s instruction so we had no choice but to pull him and turn in his uniform. It was a bit frustrating but I did not want to force my son against his will. Maria and I just wanted him to have fun and make friends but it seemed this was not the right venue for him so we had to look into other more suitable programs for him. My dreams of him playing little league baseball also fell by the wayside because it also was a team sport that requires a great deal of hand eye coordination and a structured setting that was not conducive to him.
I decided that Matthew needed to learn sports participation in other ways as he is required to participate in gym class where they participate in different sports drills like floor hockey, basketball, running and soccer. We also enroll him in summer camp affiliated with the Sid Jacobson JCC which runs the Camp Kehilla program where sports participation is encouraged. The kids learn swimming and also play soccer and learn basketball drills. They also spend a day at the bowling alley. Matthew is more inclined to participate in individual sports that tests character, endurance and strength. I believe Matthew would be a good candidate for track and long distance running.
I was a long distance runner in highschool and I had the benefit of learning from a very dedicated coach who encouraged us and trained us in a regiment with rigourous training drills. He taught me strength, character, internal drive and a willingness to compete to the best of my potential. My coach, Al Berkowski was a tremendous influence and he taught me a great deal that helped me succeed on the team and enjoy the sport.
I truly believe the integration of sports in a child’s development stages is very important and provides them with important values and contributes to better health. We will continue to encourage Matthew in participating but will let him make the choices as to what he likes and we will feel better that he is doing something he likes. Afterall the main desire for us is to have Matthew grow and develop in a well rounded way and to enjoy healthy competition, have fun and make friends. That is what we hope for our son. He deserves that and we will continue to encourage him as he is so precious to us.