Autism and competitive spirit.

The ability to compete is taught to us at an early age and we strive to out perform our competition as a measure of comparison and rating to our peers. In individualistic pursuits the competitive spirit is more crucial because we openly compete in a field to see where we place and we are ranked based on our performance. Sports where individualized achievement is encouraged is swimming, diving, figure skating, gymnastics, bicycling, cross country, track, boxing, bowling and certain team sports where your position is pivotal to the team’s success such as a pitcher in baseball or a quarterback in football or a goalie in hockey or soccer. Most children are introduced to sports early on and are taught to have fun and enjoy the experience.

As a child learns and becomes more interested in the sport and grows the level of competition becomes more evident and their level of achievement and success depends on how they perform in relation to the competition. In a team setting the pressure is not as noticeable unless it comes to a situation where you are in a critical role such as a pitcher in baseball and your team’s winning or losing is based on your pitching performance. It can also be a situation where you come up to the plate with runners on base and the coach asks you to bunt the runners over or swing away depending on how many outs there are. If you are down by a run or 2 and there are 2 outs and it is late in the game then you know you are trying to prolong the inning by drawing a walk or getting a base hit. You certainly do not want to strike out in that situation. That is legitimate pressure and the more you come through and achieve success the more chance you will draw attention and be respected and loved by your teammates and coach.

It takes a lot of discipline, dedication, hard work and a lot of ambition to excel and perform well in sport’s and in those pressure situations. If you are autistic then it takes a lot more to get to that level of success and if you are lucky enough to have people in your court who care and want to see you achieve success and are willing to stick by you then you may if you are lucky enough to have the talent and the discipline to enjoy the achievements and success that come with your drive and ambition. It certainly does not happen overnight and a lot of pain and frustration usually is par for the course in developing and maturing to that level of proficiency. We are always encouraged to do our very best and there are usually rewards that are given in recognition of our effort and our achievement.

On a personal level when I played little league baseball I was very keen on performing at my best and enjoyed when I came through for the team. I was a very adept short stop and could turn a double play and catch a runner off guard to pick them off. I quite enjoyed that and I was also pretty good at the plate where I was instrumental in getting some key base hits that enabled us to either tie in a game or take the lead. I used to get nervous in those situations but as I came up and encountered success I started to enjoy being in those situations. This is what practice and dedication is all about and autistic children can succeed in sport and enjoy healthy competition and draw from themselves the talent and drive they have and that is truly a wonderful thing.

I always encourage my son to bring out his best and to not be afraid. He has not yet found a sport that interests him and he still has some difficulty with conducting himself in a structured setting so I believe team sports would be more difficult for him to participate in but feel he could certainly benefit from a discipline oriented sport such as track or swimming where he can compete for merit and also have fun doing so. I know he likes bowling but his attention span is very limited and he has been known to be distracted when it was his turn. I never would push my son into something he has no interest in but certainly would encourage him to participate in a sport that he does like and I would help him achieve all he wishes if he does find a sport he has an interest in.

I believe it is very important to have a healthy balance between school work, sports, music and art. It is nice to develop talents in many areas and it helps in making a complete person. When a child has an interest in many areas they find that they have so much more opportunity and they derive so much more pleasure in their pursuits. This is what I would like to instill in my son and help him to develop those talents as they are well worth finding and can help him appreciate all the great things that we seek in our life.

Edward D. Iannielli III

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