One of the consistent struggles that I have in life is how do I help Tucker find balance?
To not let autism hold him back – but, at the same time, to be realistic about the challenges that autism brings.
The best example I can provide is what happened when he was in 6th grade.
As you know by now, Tucker loves football. He loves the Minnesota Vikings – but loves everything about the game. He was drawing plays before he was writing his name. He loved to play at recess. He was in flag football, he was in touch football, in 4th and 5th grade he played in a youth football league – complete with pads, plays, and real tackling. He loves every part of the game.
He also loves to read sports news and watch ESPN. When it was time to sign up for football during his 6th grade year, he told me he didn’t want to play. I was shocked. Usually he was the first in line. I waited and tried again. No deal. I told him I would coach – the thought of that nearly made him say yes….but still no deal. I tried one last time.
I couldn’t understand – why did this boy not want to participate in his very favorite thing?
Finally, he said, “Mom, you know I have autism – I know that my brain doesn’t quite work the right way. I mean I know it’s fine and it’s just different. But, Mom I’m worried about all of the news about concussions. Really. If my brain sometimes struggles now – what if I got a concussion? Would that make it worse? I just don’t think it’s a good idea.”
Wow. Really? That’s quite an argument. An argument to which I couldn’t argue. At least not then. It’s not that I’m football crazy – but I need for him to understand that this thing that he has shouldn’t hold him back from participating, from doing the things he loves.
Why? There is danger in everything we do. He could get a concussion at recess, at lunch, walking across the street. I understand that the danger is heightened in the game. I also understood that being on a team is what he needs most. He needs the ‘forced’ peer interaction. He needs to learn to take direction from another adult. He needs to be a part of something.
I knew (and know) that immersing him in activities where he has opportunities to be social is incredibly important for his continued development and growth.
It’s one of the moments that a parent of a child on the spectrum struggles with. Honestly – that every parent struggles with. Trying to find that balance – don’t let it hold you back, but don’t take unnecessary risks. It’s one of those times that I wish I had a book to walk me through the right thing to do, the right thing to say.
Between 6th and 7th grade we did a lot of reading and researching. We read about helmet design, we read about tackling ‘form,’ we read about ways to avoid concussions, and we read about the rules in concussion recovery.
When 7th grade came he decided he would make a more informed decision. He decided to take the ‘risk’ and play. He had a great year. He had fun. He was part of the team. He loved that – and they loved him right back. I have no idea what 8th grade will bring – but I know that I will continue to push him to not allow autism to make decisions for him.
#39 is in control of autism – autism will never control #39