I have really struggled with this post. I have so many thoughts and emotions on this topic, and not sure how to organize it, so please bear with me.
I wanted my twin 5-year-old boys to try a youth sport this year, so I signed them up for soccer. I volunteered to coach because I wanted my son Wyatt, who has Autism, to be taught by someone who understands Autism and how they need to be coached. Plus, I used to play soccer so I thought it would be an awesome experience for all.
We had our first soccer practice and I was so pleased to see a few other boys who were in Wyatt’s class at school and who also had Autism. I was excited that I would have the opportunity to spend time with these awesome kids and to try and give them a positive experience. Most of the kids spend hours in therapy and school, so getting them on a team, having fun, was my goal.
After the first game was over, it was clear that our boys with Autism, found it difficult to play in this kind of environment. All three of them were on the field, super excited, and really wanting to play the game but anxiety of getting hit with the ball, screaming parents, and coaches encouraging voices seemed very overwhelming. Yet, they continued to play and had a blast. They didn’t care about people staring at them, or other boys making rude comments, or parent’s being more concerned with winning, but I did.
I heard, “what is wrong with that boy?” and “why is he making such loud noises?” I heard “why are you talking like a baby?” and “look, he can’t even talk.” I will be honest, the last one was about Wyatt and took a lot of strength not to break down and cry on the field; just held on until we were home. It was about my son Wyatt, who sometimes when he is over stimulated and overwhelmed he has a hard time finding his words. It broke me. Kids were making fun of my son when I was standing right there. I kept asking myself, “where did these children learn to be so mean?”
I then heard rumblings about it not being fair that we were losing so many games and some other unfortunate comments by parents, who were more concerned about winning then FIVE year old’s learning soccer and having fun. It then became very clear that these kids learned from their parent’s.
I started to observe the parents and I was watching grown men yell at their kids to, Pay attention! Stop messing around!!! I heard a coach yell, “We are the #1 team, so let’s act like it!” Let’s remind ourselves that these children are FIVE. I saw a parent cause his son to cry because he was yelling at him.
These parents were putting pressure on their children to win at age FIVE. No wonder we live in a world of competition and judgement. I saw parents who were more interested in their child winning, then appreciating children with special needs and giving them the ability to be part of a team. I see parents who tell their kids not to text while driving, as them mom is texting while driving. I see parents tell their kids to not drink and drive, yet they drive home after a few drinks after dinner. I see parents hosting a tailgate at a high school football game and then act surprised when 79 children get kicked out of school for drinking at that football game.
Listen, I am not perfect. Not even close. But, I teach my kids empathy and compassion. I teach them that everyone is different and unique and being different is cool. I teach my kids that winning isn’t everything, and if you lose a soccer game, it means there is more to work on and we must work hard to succeed. I also teach my kids, that children can be mean and if someone is mean to you, then you don’t need them to be a friend.
Do I just need to lower my expectations? Do I just need to come to grips with reality that my son will not play well in a team environment? Maybe. I do wish that people would be more tolerant with people with Special needs and appreciate their differences. Most importantly I wish that parents would take these type of opportunities to help educate their children on kids with Special needs.